Making a living wage selling books on the sidewalk outside a book store for four hours on a hot, busy Saturday is not easy but can be done with the right tools and approach.

Brittons Book Store    pPoto by Amanda D,

Brittons Book Store, 846 Bank Street, Ottawa. Photo by Amanda D.,

Here’s what worked for me:

  • 1. A sandwich board with my name and title on it put outside early in the morning so people knew I was coming and slowed down when they saw I was there.
    2. Being conspicuous by wearing a red dress, and my wide-brimmed, wacky, khaki hat to keep the sun off.
    3. A table and cloth with a dozen of my books neatly displayed (one turned over to show the back cover blurb), bookmarks, business cards and my best pen — to show I was a professional signer!
    4. A stool. This was the key. Store owner Ted Britton had provided it for me to sit on.If you look at the outdated picture above, I was in the shady alcove to your left. All my prospects were scurrying by, picking up provisions so they could get on with their real day. I soon realized I should stand and leave the stool at the side for a customer to sit on while we chatted. A seat in the shade was a good come-on. If I wanted to sit in order to put the customer at ease, I could use the window ledge behind me.
    5. An ‘elevator pitch’ (what you would tell a stranger about your book if you went up in an elevator together.) I was ready to blurt it out in a concrete, interesting, enthusiastic, friendly way. I found that dropping clue words like ‘war’, ‘college’, ‘up north’, ‘my parents’, ‘letters left to me’ resonated and started a conversation.
    6. Eye-ing the circumference. On my left I could stop people going in and out of the bookstore. It was better to get them going in and at least have them promise to stop on the way out. To my left and my right I watched who was coming and going and tried to catch the eye of anyone who looked at all relaxed and sympathetic. I saw two women who I thought were likely prospects and I was right. One of them was the wife of a member of my writers’ group and had already read my book!
    7. Saying “Hello” to everyone. This usually was not enough but one young woman who was in tears quickly collapsed onto the stool and told me she was having a bad day. She did not buy a book but when her boyfriend came by with her dog (that must have been the problem!) he said he was interested and picked up a bookmark before they rushed off happily.
    8. Framing a good invitation question. Making a gesture towards the stool and saying, “Won’t you take a moment to find out about my book?” worked best for me. At first I started by saying, “If you have a minute …” but it was too easy for someone to answer, “No I don’t.” The pace of life is really fast these days; some people were honestly in a rush to catch a bus or get the food home to the fridge. Others were impenetrable because they buried their heads  in their iPods or smartphones.
    9. Being ready to talk about anything. The dilemma of loving to read from hard cover books but not having room to buy any more is on many people’s minds. Several told me they are not on the internet and don’t plan to learn to use a computer, although they are tempted to get a cell phone because it is cheaper than a land phone.
    10. Closing sales with customers who felt something in common with my family history book:
  • a woman my age who remembers both world wars
  • a middle-aged poet and Methodist minister’s daughter who planned to read the book before giving it to her Aunt Muriel
  • a retired man who told me his stories about his checkered college career and successful children
  • a young woman who simply knew she would like the book as soon as she saw the cover and listened to  my ‘elevator pitch’
  • a friend who knew about the signing and came to buy a book

11. Friends and contacts. Thank you friends from the Ottawa Independent Writers Club, particularly Dr. John Last, for supporting me and buying my book. My take home pay for five books was $80, with $20 having been deducted for the privilege of selling in the store and using their services. Copies of A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void remain for sale on the shelves, in case some of the 100 or so people I talked to come back to buy a copy.

12. A supportive bookstore owner. Ted Britton goes all out to make his book store a wonderful haven for book buyers and authors. He played a CD of dance music from the world war two era while I was there and started to interview me over the heads of his browsers so people would be aware of what I was doing there.

It was my second book-signing at his store. In fact, the first two men I spoke to turned me down with the best of all possible excuses. They had bought my book the last time I was there, four years ago! That ‘s what I call a steady clientele. Book stores are a wonderful institution and they don’t come any better than Ted Britton’s.

Thank you for dropping by. This blog for all lovers of life and language aims to be useful and entertain. Topics vary from how to build a canoe to how my mom moved from “prince to preacher and fog to bog” as a war bride after world war one. Writing advice is squeezed in between. Find out more about A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void, Kathleen’s Cariole Ride and Eating at Church on Amazon, Goodreads or my website.

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!