Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Yard Sales and Book Sales

This past weekend was not only the Arts Fest; it was also the weekend of our neverending yard sale of doom. (Alternative title: the learning experience that made us minimal money.)

We’re not big yard sale people, but we were excited about the prospect of getting rid of all of that stuff I was complaining about (We WILL fit into that 10x10 moving van! We MUST!) and making a little money in the process. 

Unfortunately the giant indoor community sale we prepared for got postponed until September. So, at the last minute we snagged a $10 space at another community sale half an hour away. I say “snagged” as if it was an exciting accomplishment or a lucky deal, which is how we felt until we lugged three carloads of stuff to the address. 

Turns out we would be selling alongside a mere four other people in a park pavilion in the middle of nowhere. 

The good news: I had time to read an entire book and start on a second, we met some fun and friendly people from a very different world than downtown, and some buyers did find their way through the forest.

The bad news: Though we were probably the most successful sellers there, subtracting the $10 that we had to pay for the sad affair, we only made $16. That may or may not have covered the gas we used. After five hours, we headed home with heavy hearts, heavily weighed down cars, and about a dozen bug bites each.

We then decided to hold our own yard sale that evening and the next day on the front porch. Of course we decided this after we had moved almost everything up to our third floor apartment. Doh! By the end of it we'd made about $60, which we could look at two ways. (1) More than triple our original earnings! (2) Still not even close to minimum wage for the two of us.

At least we met some really interesting people. There was the insistent 6-year-old window shopper (“But daddy, I’m just looking!”), a fascinating former army lieutenant/scientist/conservationist/entrepreneur/CIA consultant/a dozen other things, and a man whose father had been born in our house in 1905 and had great stories about Frederick back in the day.

And I learned some important things from this weekend, like that yard sales in the middle of nowhere are a bad idea, and if your lack of success is going to make you too cheap to buy the overpriced chili dogs and brownies, you should make sure to bring your own food. 

But I also learned some things about myself that actually apply well to publishing. (No, really, they do. This is not just me trying to keep my writing blog from turning into a moving blog...)

(1) I am not a fan of direct self-promotion. I hated hanging up signs on the main streets under the eyes of crowds on the sidewalks. I hated yelling to people as they walked by, trying to lure them up to our porch (usually I settled for a smile and an awkwardly loud “Hello”). I was definitely one of the quieter sellers at the community sale (me and the two senior citizens).

What this means for writing and publishing: I would not be good at self-publishing. At all. While it’s becoming easier to succeed without the traditional publishing house machinery, you usually have to promote yourself incessantly and effectively and I just wouldn't have what it takes. I don’t want to turn my blog into a promotion tool or organize my own book signings or beg new virtual friends to spread the news on Facebook. Plus I’m not even on Twitter yet, which puts me roughly in the Stone Age when it comes to writer self-promotion. 

(Granted, the analogy isn't perfect, since I will hopefully be more enthusiastic about selling a book I wrote than selling old picture frames and vases, but still. I never considered sales as a profession for a reason.)

(2) However, I really enjoyed talking to people when they were already on the porch. I was also comfortable selling the heck out of something after they showed interest in it. I would cheerily explain its origin and features and multiple uses and anything else that could get them to commit. (“Why yes, my grandmother’s Mickey Mouse camera strap could totally become a child’s belt, and that sarong would be ideal fabric for doll clothing; let me look for more!”)

What this means for writing and publishing: My hypothetical future agent and publisher can rest assured that, once they put their stamp of approval on my book and take care of the big awkward stuff, I will do my cheery part to promote it alongside them. I will love interacting with fans and going to book signings and making a snazzy website and chatting about the book with anyone willing to listen. (And I won't even tell them that it would make a great doorstop or dollhouse wall.) Who knows, I might even join Twitter.  

So are you a fearless salesperson? Or are you a more hesitant one who needs some professional support like me?

And does anyone want a small Christmas tree? A box of VHS tapes? Parcheesi?


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