Authors keep their eyes peeled for buyers

Four writers share the sharp, unexpected ways they sold their books.
By Kristine Hansen | Published: September 29, 2011


A few hours before Jen A. Miller’s book signing at a New Jersey bookstore, she and her boyfriend were driving near the beach in Sea Isle City when a driver crashed into her from behind. Fortunately, nobody was hurt.

“The police officer took so long to write the accident report that we just started talking. My boyfriend mentioned that I’m a writer, and eventually I went into the car to get a copy of the book, and [the other driver] bought it,” explains Miller, of Collingswood, N.J., and author of The Jersey Shore: Atlantic City to Cape May.

Miller isn’t the only writer to report a weird encounter that led to a book sale. Arin Greenwood, a Washington, D.C., writer—her first novel, Tropical Depression, debuted in January—has an odd story to tell, too. After reading from the pages of her book at a local salon hosted in someone’s home, she celebrated with friends over drinks at a bar.

“It turned out that the guy who was hosting the salon had given [some] people the wrong address for his house,” Greenwood says. And at the bar were the occupants of another house, amazed to be face-to-face with the reason people had rung their doorbell earlier that night, expecting to be invited inside.

“Some of them ended up buying copies of the book from me,” she says. “My husband had to run back to the car to get the books for them.”

Jackie Dishner, who, like Miller, published a travel guide about her home state—Backroads & Byways of Arizona: Drives, Day Trips & Weekend Excursions—is not at all shy about promoting her book. Because many resort bars are in the Phoenix writer’s backyard, and where tourists hang out at night to discuss the next day’s activities, she’ll often “set up shop” in a resort’s bar.

“When I go, I bring copies of my book, plop it on top of the bar and order a glass of wine,” says Dishner, who promotes the book on Travel & Adventure in Arizona . “Inevitably, someone sees it, and conversation ensues. I’ve probably sold 20 books that way.”

Boosted by those successes, she never leaves her house without at least one copy of her book—just in case she spots a buyer. “I’m a big believer in carrying a copy around and seizing those spontaneous moments,” Dishner says.

Internet message boards are another popular place to have unexpected encounters with book buyers. Just ask Cheryl Alkon, author of Balancing Pregnancy With Pre-Existing Diabetes: Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby, who has to reach a little further to find her narrow demographic.

“I follow Google Alerts that tell me when women in diabetes online communities are talking about pregnancy, or have mentioned that they are looking for a book for someone with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, and I either write a very humble note about my book or occasionally I email the posters directly telling them about my book,” Alkon says. “I never want to come across as seeming ‘spammy.’”

Taking the time to write those personal, heartfelt notes has paid off: “People from all over the world have contacted me about buying my book,” Alkon says.

For those authors selling books in person—whether it’s along the roadside or inside a bar —it isn’t necessary to carry a wad of cash to make change. For example, Miller installed Square on her iPhone. The combination of the small credit-card reader and smartphone app allows users to accept major credit cards as payment. It’s a technique she highly recommends—and was able to use after the infamous fender bender.

A freelancer since 1999, Kristine Hansen co-authored The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Coffee & Tea and is currently writing a novel.