Saturday, December 09, 2006


Writers should know how to sell their books.

They should also know when to sell their books. And when to sell their peers' books.

As a writer, you will have countless opportunities to meet potential fans and try to interest them in your writing. Booksignings, book festivals, conventions, conferences, library talks, and speeches all offer opportunities to pitch and sell.

But, sometimes, your kind of book isn't the right kind of book for the person you're speaking with. They may only read historicals, or hate books about serial killers, or enjoy cozies with mystery solving cats, or only read female protagonists, etc.

That's a perfect opportunity to pimp your friends.

The situation arises all the time. You're chatting with a potential buyer, discussing the types of mysteries she reads, and your book clearly isn't her cup of tea. But over the course of the conversation, you realize she'd really like X written by your good friend, so it is your duty to put that book in her hands and talk it up.

I do this all the time, and have sold many books written by many of my peers. I've also gone into bookstores and faced out friends' books, and recommended them to the booksellers, insisting they give it a read.

People genuinely respond to recommendations. When you sell your books, there's obviously self interest involved. But when you sell other books, you come across as selfless and helpful.

I go so far as to approach people in bookstores who are buying a book, and telling them about other books they'd like that are similar.

For example, any time I see someone buying Clive Cussler or Tom Clancy, I pimp James Rollins and David Morrell. If people are buying John Sandford or James Patterson, I pimp Tess Gerritsen, PJ Parrish, MJ Rose, and Rebecca Drake. If someone is holding a Lee Child, I tell them about Barry Eisler, JD Rhodes, Harry Shannon, and Mark Terry. If someone has a Robert B. Parker, I mention Harry Hunsicker and Jeff Shelby. If someone has a historical, I steer them to Tasha Alexander. Chick lit readers get Melanie Lynne Hauser. Evanovich gets Karen E. Olsen and Brian Wiprud. Hiaasen gets James O. Born, Bob Morris, and Tim Dorsey. Grisham or Turow get David Ellis. YA gets Alexandra Sokoloff and Wayne Thomas Batson. And so on, with dozens of other writers that I know and like.

While on tour with the Rusty Nail 500, I tag-teamed many stores with many authors. While we pitched to booksellers, we'd invariably run into some customers.

What I did a lot of, during these tag-team drop-ins, is pimp the author I was with. Not that I didn't want to sell my own books, but sometimes I had a feeling the reader would like my companion's books more. Or sometimes I'd be Mr. Selfless, and try to help my friend sell their books. Or sometimes I'd pop my head in while my friend was doing their pitch, and reinforce it, assuring the customer it is a worthwhile purchase.

On many occasions, my friends did the same thing for me.

This holds true for any occasion when there is more than one author present. Yes, we all have an overwhelming desire to sell ourselves, but sometimes it's damn cool to pick up your buddy's book and tell someone, "You'll love this, trust me."

I can't count the number of times I tag-teamed a bookstore and a customer wound up buying both of our books.

As you forge lasting friendships with peers, you'll soon fall into a natural rhythm and be able to sell their books automatically, without even trying.

This isn't a competition. We're all in the same boat, and helping each other is smart business. It reminds me of an old church sermon about heaven and hell.

Hell is a huge banquet, with every possible delicious food imaginable. But everyone seated at the table is miserable, because the only way to eat is with forks that are ten feet long, and no one can feed themselves.

Heaven is also a huge banquet, with delicious food. And heaven also has forks that are ten feet long. But in heaven, everyone is happy, because they're feeding each other.

Feed each other. Pimp your peers.


Anonymous said...

Good advice, Joe. Showing up at fellow author's signings and buying their books is a nice gesture as well.


Stacey Cochran said...

Keeping on topic, I have started doing an interview series out of my kitchen with other authors. So far, I have done two of these in the past couple of weeks, and I know they have already helped sell at least one copy of the interviewees books.

Another thing I have begun doing is setting up group bookstore events. I set up one for January 20 for five other authors with Lulu and I. The cool thing is, one of the authors wives is a PR person. She drew up flyers, sent out press releases, and has helped me begin calling radio stations to set up interviews.

You will find that helping others a lot of times comes back to help you. If there is one area of thinking that has changed dramatically for me in the past year or two, it is the realization that helping other writers and aspiring writers is the way to go.

That said, Check out my interview with Lulu suspense novelist Jon Batson and go buy his book.


Anonymous said...

Oh gosh, I owe my entire career as a freelance musican to friends. What's lovely, is that you can't always do every gig, and you don't have room to teach every child. I love when that happens, because then I get to pass the names of my friends along.

I've tried "regular" advertising, and it has probably netted me one gig over ten years. Word of mouth has given all of us careers.

There's plenty of room, you're right. And it's such a great feeling to be able to 'give back' and help others find a way to make money at what they love, too.

There's just no advertising that approaches the success of word of mouth. Not even close.

Jim said...

Joe, I pitched your books while I was speaking with a book group at a Barnes & Noble event a couple of months back. What goes around comes around.

Anonymous said...

I've hand sold a couple of yours, Joe, and managed to get my work book club to do Kevin Guilfoile's "Cast of Shadows."

I'll happily pimp all my writer friends, but if somebody is holding the last Lee Child book in the store, it's war. And I'll win that war.

Jeri said...

Regarding "facing out" books (your own or others'): I thought I read somewhere that booksellers resented this, as it messed up their system, and that the resentment would pass to the authors whose books had been faced out. Is this true?

JA Konrath said...

Unless the bookseller catches you moving stacks of books, it's unlikely they'll even notice.

If they do notice, it's very unlikely they'd take any sort of revenge out on an author because someone else moved their books.

Ty said...

I'm not published (yet), but I've gotten into a habit of facing out certain authors' novels when walking through bookstores. So far, none of the booksellers have noticed or said anything to me about.

And yes, whenever I run across a Konrath novel, I face it out. :-)

Anonymous said...

Aw, Joe, thanks. You know I pimp you every chance I get!

Mark Terry said...

"If someone is holding a Lee Child, I tell them about Barry Eisler, JD Rhodes, Harry Shannon, and Mark Terry."

I love you, man. Really. If you were here right now, I'd give you a big kiss--with tongue. Okay, maybe not.

When I give talks I'll also do a spiel about other authors I like. Sometimes I'll do a little Q&A at the beginning, asking what authors people there like and recommend others similar.

Although there's some competition out there, in general I've found authors to be the least cut-throat competitors, perhaps because although there's a limited number on "that list" there's actually a ton of room for all of us.

So let me recommend you pick up my friend J.A. Konrath's books, and if you haven't read anything by John Ramsey Miller, damn, get started. And I just read an ARC of Robert Gregory Browne's "Kiss Her Goodbye" coming out February 6th, which is pretty great. And I can recommend Dick Francis's latest, "Under Orders," and the novels of PJ Parrish, well, the list goes on...

Mark Terry

Mark Terry said...

Oh and for God Sakes!---if you're into sci fi or just damned imaginative writing, check out Tobias Buckell's first novel, "Crystal Rain." It blew me away. I've never read anything like it.

Allison Brennan said...

I agree with Tess. I have a much easier time selling my friend's books than my own.

Anonymous said...

I thought I read somewhere that booksellers resented this, as it messed up their system...

Speaking as a bookseller who often faces her own favorites when passing through the aisles, I can second Joe's response. Most times, they won't even notice, and even if they do, the annoyance would be for the messy customers, not the authors.

Great Post! :)

Martha O'Connor said...

For a bookseller's view on people who move around books, read the Bookseller to the Stars entry ... here...

I do often recommend author friends' books to other friends. And I am headed for the poorhouse due to all the author friends' books I purchase for myself! :D

Anonymous said...

I was one of those author's who tag teamed with Joe on his Gi-Normous Tour--something like 18 bookstores in Maryland, we did. And true to his claims, Joe faithfully pimped my Door Within books to any and all. This was a great learning experience as I was sort of a "Driveby signing" neophyte.

Now, I'm a wily veteran, so I pimp Joe wherever I can. It's amazing how many times as I'm talking to customers, I'll ask, "Do you like to read Fantasy?"

The kids and teens say, "YES!" The Adults usually say, "I'm more into_________." If it's mystery, I'll immediately say, "Oh, you have got to check out JA Konrath's new mystery series!"

I totally agree with the "Thou shalt help thy fellow author" philosophy. I don't get authors who have this competitive, I've got to sell more than you, thing. I think there's always room for more good books. And as a reader, I'm always hungry.

Can I get an amen?

Anonymous said...

If you don't believe we pimp each other's books, check the photo:

I know, I're thinking, mannnnn alive, what a couple of studly men. {ahem}

Jude Hardin said...

Great post, Joe. I agree 100%.

Tell me something, though...

Is there beer in heaven?

Anonymous said...

An excellent post, Joe. I edit some of the names you mention, and none of them got to where they are without word of mouth. I recommend books not my own all the time, because, strictly as a fan, if I've discovered a writer I like, I want that writer to do well and be happy and keep writing on and on (currently at the top of my recommendation list: Julia Spencer-Fleming). Success lifts all boats!


Ann Voss Peterson said...

Is there beer in heaven?

Of course not, silly.
That's why we drink it here.
And when we're gone from here,
Our friends will be drinking all the beer.

PJ Parrish said...

Okay, we all do the face-out fandango, but how many of you are going to confess to taking someone's books and moving them to say, the JUST PUBLISHED table at the front of the store or the No. 2 bestselling slot at the drugstore? (Which aren't really about sales but are co-op bought slots like everything else).

On tour once, we had this terrific escort in LA (Ken whose last name escapes me but all authors know this dude!) And this guy was a master book mover. But he always played fair and never covered up or moved authors whose publishers had paid for the placement. But Ken was a wiz at finding creative ways to "rearrange" the shelves.

And Joe, thanks for the pimping, man! I've touted your stuff as well whenever I got the chance. (BTW, Okemos/Lansing Ladies Book Club was asking about you last time I visited them!)

And Joe Moore is dead-on when he sez authors should support other authors' signings. Sometimes, your fellow writers are the only folks who show up and that can make things a lot less depressing! But it just rots my socks when I see writers show up and slink out without buying a book. Karma, man...

Samantha Ling said...

This is kind of amusing. I first read Barry Eisler and then asked a B&N employee for suggestions and they said Lee Child. I'm moving backwards!

Tawcan said...

Hi I added your site on my blogroll. Hopefully you could do the same. Thanx.

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