Selling Your Book: The Carnival Barker and the Writer

I attended the Filmore Steam Train Rail Festival 2018 Saturday on April 28. They had a good crowd. People like riding on steam trains. Of course they had The Frontier Gnnfighters performing regularly scheduled train robberies.

I had just arrived and a lady, with a couple of kids in tow, asked where she could buy tickets to the carousel. Having just got there, I didn’t know. There was a carousel set up at the end of a row of vendor stalls, but you couldn’t buy tickets at the carousel. There were not many vendor stalls and I could not see any sign that said buy tickets here. I was kind of embarrassed that I didn’t know where to buy tickets.

I started at one end of the vendor stalls and was half way down the line of stalls looking for the typical steampunk things. You know; brass, brass gears, gaudy-shiny-sparkly-things and maybe a vest. When two different people came in the stall and asked ask the proprietress where to get tickets for the carousel. She said that the tickets for the carousel were available at the stall next door.

Curious, I stepped over to the next stall and looked for something that said carousel tickets here. There was no banner or sign high up above the heads of the crowd so people could see it. There was no streamer or feather flag banner along side the vendor’s stall fluttering in the breeze to attract attention. I did find an eight and a half by eleven sheet of paper in a holder sitting on a small table near the front of the stall. The crush of the crowd often hid the sign. The sign had colored lettering but was easily over looked.

What has this to do with writing steampunk? You have a book and you want people to read it. It’s just like the sign for carousel tickets. If the future reader doesn’t know your book exists or what it’s about then she’s not going to buy it, or read it, even if it’s free. You got to advertise and advertise effectively.

Think about it. An old time carnival barker on the Broadway of the county fair has to get your attention before you’ll even think about coming into his attraction. He does this by dressing in loud miss-matched clothes, so he stands out from the crowd. He stands on a raised platform, so he can be seen. He talks loudly, so he can get the attention of those with ear buds on and head down looking at their cell phones.

I have seen people in the middle of the Broadway studying their cell phones so intently that they were blocking the flow of other people.

It takes more than loud clothes, garish voice, and waving your arms around. A barker will have over sized pictures behind and around him. Those pictures are designed to draw your attention, to tease you, interest you. To give you a sample of what’s inside. That’s just like a good book cover.

Would a author dress up in a loud garish costume to sell books. If you said no, then you have never been to a steampunk convention sellers room, or to a Gail Carriger book signing.

I recently read a blog where the blog writer complained about a book author at a science fiction convention. The science fiction book author would ask people as they walked past his table, “Do you read science fiction?” The blog author felt that if you are at a science fiction convention you read science fiction. I have to side with the book author a little. So many people now days watch videos and may not read books. That’s their loss, and the book author/seller does needs a better line. He needs a tease, something to interest the passerby, he needs to know his audience better. He needs to find out what his readers want and what will get their attention.

As a book writer you need to think about how a carnival barker does his thing. As we grow up we develop blinders to block out the incessant ads that surround us; the billboards, commercials, videos ads disguised as tutorials. You have to get through those blinders, and it’s difficult. Take lessons from the barkers. Put yourself on display, but let them see who you are as an author. Give them a hint to what your book is about. That will turn some readers off, but those that you turn off are not your type of readers, not the readers you wrote the book for. Figure out what readers of your book want, and work hard to give it to them. And the hardest thing you can do is learn to enjoy being a carnival barker. It’s a fake identity and you complain that you are an author. Will you be an author for very long if you don’t sell any books?

We don’t have trustworthy book reviewers out there to recommend books any more. The reviews I’ve seen lately are from old style book publishers or reviewers that have agendas, at least they don’t recommend stories I like. They seem to recommend stories that are more high brow and literary.

So to sell your book, you have to;
1. Get the readers attention
2. Tease them
3. Offer them something they want.

It’s not easy.

Get readers attention by; being bigger than life (loud dressing, loud talking, loud gestures) not a sheet of paper sitting on a table that everyone walks by. You can offer free samples, or related freebies, give advice or background about the story or lesson you learned from writing the story, tell them stories about yourself, make friends with them.

Tease them with samples of related stories, character sketches, or the first chapter of you book. Give them an outline or blurb of what your book is about without a spoiler.

Offer them something they want, work as hard as you can to make your book the best it can be, hire a editor, study writing, steal like a writer.

Stay strong, write on, dress up like a carnival barker and sell.
Professor Hyram Voltage

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