Lessons from a garage sale

Saturday my town held a town-wide garage sale. We participated, since we once again expect to put the house on the market this spring. (That’s a story for another time.)

Photo: Garage Sale Day

Saturday dawned damp and chilly and it occurred to me too late that we could have made a lot more money selling hot cocoa. We did manage to make almost a hundred bucks, though. More importantly, we cleared out a lot of stuff, including a weight bench and weights nobody wanted to have to drag back into the house.

Just before noon my next-door neighbor Chris brought her toddler granddaughter over to say hi and do a little shopping. After checking on our cats up in the house (always a high priority), Lily made it her mission to make sure the scant supply of toy cars and trucks on offer was successfully sold.

In fact, she didn’t want to leave until the very last one was gone. Every person who walked up our driveway she immediately accosted with, “Wouldn’t you like to buy a truck?”

Under that uniquely adorable sales pressure, quite a number of shoppers happily shelled out the required 25 cents, even those who really didn’t need a toy at all. Finally there was only one little truck left, and her grandmother and I agreed it would make an excellent present for her older brother. (Anything to help our ace sales girl and Nana get some lunch!)

Lily put me to shame. In fact, after I saw her in action, I realized I should have had my little postcards for my book out, ready to hand sell to anyone who looked interested in the books we were selling used.

So I went and got them and handed them to a couple of folks who were clearly readers. This may not have resulted in any sales, but the conversations were fun.

Now, I suspect that darling toddlers can get away with more salesmanship than middle-aged authors. Some of my friends are no doubt getting weary of my marketing at this point, though a few will even pitch in, bless them.

But there were other lessons, too. One is that when you really want to get rid of stuff, you price it lower or just give it away. A lot of our crap just disappeared from the end of the driveway in our free pile, even that rusty outdoor table and umbrella set.

Oddly enough, after I took down the “garage sale” sign and piled free stuff at the end of our (long) driveway and started putting other stuff away, we suddenly got more customers than before. And they were actually buying.

Maybe the weather had just improved, or maybe advertising isn’t as straightforward as you’d think. Did the pile suggest there was a lot more available down the driveway? Did it suggest the prices would be good? I don’t know. All I know is that it seemed to make a big difference.

A lot of successful self-published authors say the number one thing they had to do – other than writing good books and making sure they looked professional – was get to a critical mass of published titles. Once they achieved that, one title could sell the others. Sometimes putting one free for a while was the best way to goose sales for the others.

But a free solo title can’t sell anything unless it really goes viral, which clearly hasn’t happened to my book at this point. Otherwise, once it’s been given away, there’s nothing to sell. (I certainly could have tried harder to get a mailing list out of it, though — oh well.)

Giving my book away free earlier this month wasn’t a total bust. I netted seven lovely new Amazon reviews from strangers (okay, make that eight lovely ones and one moderately cranky one — and this figure may change regularly) — plus a tiny little burst of sales. I also had some fun conversations. Hopefully more reviews will come, and sales will be at least slightly better than they were before.

But I won’t be feeding as many Americans as I’d hoped. Unless something radical changes, Feeding America is going to have to make do with the $100 bucks I put in when I started this month’s campaign. Hopefully it will grow over time when I add their 10% each month. But I now doubt that will happen in any way that is the least bit impressive until I hit that critical mass of titles.

Then, with any luck, the books can sell each other. Because selling on Amazon when you’re nobody is sort of like having a garage sale at the end of a long, heavily-treed driveway. Sometimes you just have to put out that pile of free stuff to get some buyers to come down and check it out.

So I need more books up. Now if I can just figure out how to fit all this in with the four comp classes, a garden full of produce that needs preserving, and a house that needs to be readied for sale, I’ll be all set.

If you’re interested, here’s my September postcard (I’m mostly proud of finally figuring out what the heck QR codes are and how to use them!):

postcard330resfrontAnd the back (hurriedly revised after my free days appeared to be going kerplooey):



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