I think I’m getting how to sell books (after the SanFo FilBookFest)

I did two kinds of selling this weekend at the FilBookFest. And both were pretty exciting, especially doing them in a totally different place (which was just wow, man, I mean San Francisco is such a beautiful city and I enjoyed wandering it the few hours I could get away from the sales booth). Thanks to the Literacy Initiatives International Foundation, the Asia Foundation, the Book Development Association, the good people in San Francisco, the people who put the event together (and put up with my incessant queries) like Gemma Nemenzo and Lirio Sandoval, and UP for helping to partially fund the trip. Also to my relatives, cousin Vinah who coordinated my SanFo trip, Ryan who scored a samurai sword on a walking trip, and their parents Tita Crys and Tito Jun, who were my very cool and fun companions from LA to SanFo and back. Right now to talk about that selling.I had flown to San Francisco thinking that I would be there merely as an author. And as an author having participated in similar events in the Philippines, I’d show up, attend some of the sessions, give my own talks, and then maybe wander about, go around meeting and talking to people.

I was not aware that at the FilBookFest I’d be doing double duty as a publisher. But as I sauntered up Market Street to Fulton, I was asked by some people why I was only there just now. And informed that the UP Press books had yet to be set up. So I started getting boxes, and with the help of some good people like Nila Mata from Vibal Publishing and the Almarios of Adarna, along with some cool BDAP peeps, I was able to get the UP Press books ready and going. I was situated between Vibal Publishing and Adarna, and a little ways down was USTPH (they didn’t have a representative, unfortunately, but I did try to help out as best I could because I still feel really good about the work I did there) and after them Ateneo Press represented by Maricor Baytion and all the way down doing some major selling were Gwenn Galvez and Karina Bolasco of Anvil.

We all spent the weekend working together, helping out manning the BDAP booth, where we all were placed. It would have been an impossible task if we weren’t all helping each other out (and well I needed the most help as it was my first time doing anything like that so I am so thankful to everybody who helped me, especially when I had to leave the booth to give my presentation or go and talk to some people).

I wound up spending probably 90 precent of my time at the Filbookfest (and 85%) of my time in SanFo at the booth trying to sell books. It was a pretty challenging thing and I’m happy that I was at least familiar with the books we had brought. I never would have thought I’d make a good salesman, but I guess I’ve overcome a lot of that natural shyness and being reserved. Or maybe I just had to step up in that time. I don’t know, but whatever it was, I was talking people into buying a lot of books. I was also trying to employ some of the techniques that I had read about in Paco Underhill’s amazing, must-read book, Why We Buy. I’d let the customers browse and then try and make suggestions and ask them to come back and all that. Well it was more complicated than that, but hey, yeah, it was really something for me making sales pitches for all of these other people’s books. It also helped that a number of authors were there promoting their books, especially Criselda Yabes, who has got two books published by UP Press that are nominated for the National Book Awards this year.

Beyond manning the booth and selling other people’s books, I was also able to witness how my book is able to sell. I tried not to tell people who were browsing that I was the author, or tried not to tell them right away or unless they asked (though sometimes the people I was with would say, “Bilhin mo na ‘yan, ayan yung author o!” and then point at me) just to see how people would respond. A funny moment was when a 6-8 year old kid who was looking at Adarna books drifted over to the UP Press books, saw my book, and screamed to his mom, “This is what I want mommy!” The good job that Josel Nicolas and Adam David did on the design is still showing its strength (and sometimes becomes a problem as people are picking up the book thinking it’s a YA book). I was able to convince the kid to get some other Adarna books instead of mine.

When I released Kobayashi Maru of Love, people were buying it not only for themselves, but they would sometimes buy an extra copy for a friend. It’s one of the reasons the book sold so quickly, it turned out to be the kind of thing that people would give other people. I saw that with Geek Tragedies. A woman who was probably in her 40s started looking at the books saying she wanted something for her son. I let her browse, and then she saw my book. She said, “My son is a geek. I’ll get this for him.” Then I told her I was the author and offered to sign the book. When I did, she bought three more copies, for her son’s friends. Wow man, that was almost half the stock of GT that was brought over, with just one purchase. Earlier in the day organizer Gemma Nemenzo promised to buy any copies of GT that were left after selling time because she wanted to give them as gifts to the volunteers. But as luck would have it people kept coming and buying it, and Gemma wound up getting her copies before selling time ended because they were quickly running out.

And I guess that becomes a kind of goal now for my writing. It’s not merely getting someone interested in a book, getting them to like it, but getting them to like it enough to give it to a friend. When we think of it this way, we come to a new insight for selling books in general.

Let’s be honest, most people don’t buy books. Book buyers are a minority in any country. Which is to say that people don’t really go out of their way to hang out in bookstores, to go and find new great books, that just isn’t the thing for a lot of people. But often if you give someone a book, they will think it’s important for them to read it, because someone had picked out that book and bought it and given it to them. And even if they aren’t usually book buyers or book readers, they’ll probably take the time to read the book.

That’s the kind of thing I want to aspire for. It’s a lofty goal, but best aim high right? I want to write the kinds of books that people will want to share. Heck, writing is sharing, it’s sharing language and ideas and my imagination. And when you have something good, you want to share it with people. I hope that people will want to share my writing. And this is a new aspect to add to the things I consider when I write and when I sell books.

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