Selling a book? The number one tip to success for writers.

Maureen Milliken here. One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Edison: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

I remind myself of that often, because the point is that no matter how brilliant and talented you are — even Thomas Edison! — you have to work it.

Even Thomas Edison couldn't sit around being all talented and waiting for opportunity to come to him.

Even Thomas Edison couldn’t sit around being all talented and waiting for opportunity to come to him.

This is something writers sometimes forget once their book is published. They worked so hard to get there (at least most of them did, but that’s a blog for another day), that they want to relax and rest on their laurels. Well, for most of us, there really are no laurels. At least in the conventional sense.

Saturday, I drove down to Boston to spend one hour at the Sisters in Crime New England booth at the Boston Book Festival. It was a six-hour round trip, and since I didn’t want to try to find the one parking garage that would take the BBF voucher, it also included a 20-30 minute ride on the T — carrying a box of books that I knew would probably be almost as heavy on the return trip.

An acquaintance pointed out that I needed to sell a certain amount of books to even cover the gas, and even more to make it “worthwhile.” Technically the gas part is true.

But the worthwhile part?

I’ll add to Edison’s quote that not only don’t we recognize opportunity when it’s in front of us, but we also expect it to come knocking. Possibly because someone a long time ago coined that phrase then left it there for us to believe was reality. But how often does it really come knocking for people like me and you? You got it. Rarely, if ever. You have to go out and hunt it down, and it’s going to be wearing camo and hiding behind a tree.

When I began my career as a journalist more than 30 years ago, I vowed to never say no to an opportunity when it did come knocking. I carried that into my recent and brief (thankfully!) sub-career as a freelance editor. And now I have the same philosophy as a recently published author — a sub-career that I hope will carry me through the final decades of my life. And the thing about opportunities “knocking” is that you have to, as Edison pointed out, recognize them. And realize the knock isn’t going to be on your front door and isn’t going to be accompanied by another hand clutching a big bundle of cash for you.

My feeling about that trip to Boston is if I sold any books, great. But it was about more than that. It was about getting out there, meeting people and talking writing, books — my book and other people’s. It was about showing up. Another wise and talented person (it’s credited to everyone from Woody Allen to Mario Cuomo, but you get the idea, someone witty and wise) is that a certain percentage (80, 99, 50, whatever) of life is showing up. That’s certainly true for selling your book.

Whoa! Someone likes my book. Fellow writer John Radosta stops by to say hi at the 2015 Boston Book Festival.

Whoa! Someone likes my book. Fellow writer John Radosta stops by to say hi at the 2015 Boston Book Festival.

Some of that can be done from the comfort of your living room. The Internet has made it possible for people like you and me and my small publisher to get the book out there, to blog (like this!), tweet, Facebook, email, sell online, hope people blog about you, review you on Amazon, add you to their Goodreads list.

But you gotta show up in person, too. I always feel that I never know what conversation I have, what postcard I give out, what book I sell, is going to make a difference. And on top of that, every single person I talk to and event I attend builds a foundation. I’m not going to go home and find that I sold 500 books on Amazon after an event, or see a review of my book in People magazine. I know that. The benefits of the event, though, will show themselves in ways big and small.

I have never gone to an event and regretted it. In fact most of them not only boosted me as a writer, but as a person. I feel lucky to have the opportunity, no matter what it was wearing.

And speaking of opportunity, I’m on my way today to the New England Library Association Conference, another six-hour round trip. By the time you read this, who knows who I may have talked to? Who may have taken a look at my book and loved it? I can’t wait.

Because who am I to overlook an opportunity?

Maureen Milliken is the author of Cold Hard News, the first in the Bernie O’Dea series. She is also a newspaper editor in central Maine. Follow her on twitter at MMIlliken47, check out her Facebook page, Maureen Milliken mysteries. Thanks for reading!


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5 Responses to Selling a book? The number one tip to success for writers.

  1. Michelle says:

    I think you just have to do what you like and get your name out there. An event might not sell any books, but if you had fun and talked to people then someone you didn’t know before now knows your name.

    I had a great time speaking with a former colleague on her radio program. My novel might have only been mentioned once or twice, but I had a blast talking about writing and what moves me.

    This blog is also great. I might not have read a particular author’s publications, but I’ll read a blog post because the topic interests me.

  2. I agree with this 100%. Especially in this early stage of our writing careers, you have to embrace whatever chances you get to be out in the world meeting readers and other writers. Internet promotion is fine, but there’s nothing like in-person connections to build your base.

  3. Arlene Kay says:

    Your observations are right on target, Maureen. I enjoyed meeting and talking with you at the BBF. It was a chilly day (BRRR) but communing with other Book People warmed everyone up and enlivened the event.

  4. Amy M. Reade says:

    Great post! Being a writer isn’t anything like the romantic notions most of us had about it before we started and it’s important to realize that we have to seize opportunities wherever we find them. From bookstores to libraries to schools to local community groups, it’s all about getting out there and having conversations with people we haven’t met. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. I wholeheartedly agree. Showing up, meeting people, giving them business cards or book marks with your information on them, asking them to sign up for your newsletter, all is important. Great post.

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