I’ve been rather surprised to discover that I seem to be pretty good at selling books. It doesn’t hurt, of course, to have books that people want to read. But a huge part of successful selling is to have a pitch that lands with the prospective buyer. And that’s what I seem to be good at.

I think it derives from the years I spent doing educational assemblies. To make those performances work, you need to hone a series of stories and statements so that the wording and timing resonate with the audience and they get caught up in the performance. When it works best, the audience will play along and you can hear them respond and engage with what you’re saying. It’s not a conversation, but you can hear through their laughter or groans when they’ve understood something or gotten the silly joke you were trying to tell.

The first step is judging when to engage with someone approaching or at the table. Some people stand back or refuse to make eye-contact. Or are clearly focused on looking at the books themselves. I usually just offer a quiet “Hello.” Or “Can I help you with anything?” Or, if they seem unsure, I might ask, “Would you like a tour?” Or, occasionally, “What do you like to read?” I’d rather not ask that, because I want to steer them to what I want them to read.

When I’m selling Revin’s Heart, I often begin by pointing at the Airship Pirate ribbon and asking, “Would you like to be an airship pirate?” Most people at science fiction conventions would like to be an airship pirate, although there are exceptions. The ribbon is particularly good because its instantly recognizable to LGBTQIA+ folks who can tell immediately that the book might appeal to them.

I leave a beat while they consider the ribbon and then, as they take it, I say, “It’s for my steampunky fantasy adventure with pirates and airships and a trans protagonist.” I usually tick off on my fingers as list the items.

I leave another beat and say, “It was serialized as seven novelettes. They’re five dollars each, but — if you buy all seven as a bundle — you can get them for $25… [beat] which is like two free!”

If they express interest in the first one, I point at the Third Time’s the Charm and say, “Pro tip: don’t name the first book in a series ‘the third’ something.” This almost always generates a smile, if not a laugh.

At this point, I generally point to Better Angels and say, “This is my newest book. It’s about a group of non-human biological androids [beat] that look like pre-teen girls [beat] and serve as magical girl singing-and-dancing idols [beat] but they can change up their programming [beat] and become a covert military force.” Usually, by this point, people are totally caught up in the pitch and are expressing wonderment or laughing. When I did this pitch at the Steampunk Isn’t Dead panel at Arisia2024, I had been honing it all weekend, the audience responded, as I performed it, with a rising volume of amazement, “aaaaaAAAAAAH!” ending in laughter and applause.

I’ve got a few other pitches. I learned an effective one for the Grimaulkin series from the author. And for two of the Water Dragon anthologies, I will say. “The Future’s So Bright is the bright, hopeful, optimistic stuff while Corporate Catharsis is all the dark stuff you wish you could do to your boss.” This usually generates a laugh and immediately helps the prospective buyer situate those books in their mind.

After making the pitch, there are plenty of other things I can tell buyers about the books. But I’ve realized that having an effective pitch that’s delivered as a performance, sets the stage for everything that follows.

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