Bootleg Book Selling: How to Aggressively Market Your Book Using Alternative Means

Article by Eric Dondero

Selling your book through bookstores, whether major chains or independents, should certainly be a major part of any self-publishers business plan. However, in order to get an edge in sales, alternative means of book selling must be employed.

Bootleg book selling is becoming an increasingly popular alternative method of boosting sales for self-publishers.

Self-published authors are constantly seeking alternative outlets for selling their books. Most have bought into the hype and thrown themselves aggressively into selling on the Internet. These authors have undertaken some serious cutting edge Internet sales techniques; working up snazzy web sites, trading links, taking out classifieds, buying pop-ups, signing up on book promotion efforts that promise lots of hits and quick sales, and even signing on with sites that promise top media interviews. Despite the hype, however, Internet book sales have not lived up to expectations, and have largely proved to be a huge waste of time and money.

Ironically, these same authors who have had little problem with being edgy on the Internet, wouldn’t dream of undertaking any cutting edge book selling techniques face to face. When it comes to hand selling their books, they are perfectly content with an occasional book signing at a homey Barnes & Noble/Borders/Tattered Covers type of store, complete with the bouquet of flowers, the big cushy chair, free latté and the souvenir pen.

But there are a few brave soles, mostly younger authors, who have had no problem with standing out front of a concert hall with a small sign that reads “Young starving author, Please buy my Book.” For these few brave soles that make the effort, stronger overall sales figures are bound to result.

What is Bootleg Book Selling? It means hand-selling books face to face in an enthusiastic and somewhat aggressive manner at a variety of alternative locations. It could include perfectly legal more mainstream book selling at a festival booth or fair. But it could also include some techniques that may press the limits and some times even break the rules.

Let’s start with the perfectly legal variety. A technique that I have frequently employed is to scan newspaper, alternative weeklies, and web site calendars for regional events where I might be able to sell my book. This works best of course, for events that closely or somewhat closely match the theme of my book. Naturally, as Author of the “Worldwide Multilingual Phrase Book” I pay particularly close attention to events that have a travel or international theme. But even events of a general variety might be good outlets for book selling.

Once I identify an event and check my calendar to see that I am open on that date, I contact some of the vendors who are getting booths and ask them if I could latch onto their space. I offer to either help with the booth or pay a small fee to help with the overall costs. If they agree, I set up my easel with my big sign that has a cover shot of my book, at the edge of the vendor’s space and sell my books out of a box.

I once piggybacked on the Libertarian Party booth at a Street Festival in downtown Houston. The Libertarian candidates were real happy for my assistance and being a libertarian myself, this was a natural match. I handed out literature when they were engaged in a conversation with a potential voter and would watch the booth when they took breaks. When I wasn’t assisting them I handed out flyers about my book and pitched passersby to buy a copy. I ended up selling about 30 books.

Of course, you could always pay for a booth. But why dish out $300.00 when you can just piggyback or share a booth with someone else of similar interests?

More recently I took this a step further. Every year there is a huge book festival held in a particular city that attracts thousands of authors and book buyers from around the State. The cost of a booth is nearly $500.00. The event lasts all weekend long. On one particular weekend I had a book signing at a major chain store in another city on the Saturday. But my Sunday was free. I didn’t think $500.00 would be worth it for only one full day of book selling. So, I attended the event on the Sunday, and set up my easel and poster with a big box of books at my side, right outside one of the 6 tents set up for book sellers. I was a little careful at first, but soon I realized that nobody cared. Nobody questioned me as to why I was there, not even the festival Volunteers who had certainly spotted me. Only one bookseller, the closest one to me inside the tent, even bothered to talk with me. And he was supportive and deeply amused by my “ingenuity.”

I stood there for hours, making a pitch almost as loud a carnival salesman, to every book buyer who entered the tent. My simple pitch was, “Welcome to the Festival, and please check out my book.” It worked like a charm.

Eventually towards the end of the afternoon I gained a great deal of confidence and worked my way over to the entrance of main tent where it was extremely packed with book buyers. I thought for sure I would get busted, but didn’t care figuring that the hour was late. Once again, not a single person said anything to me. At the end of the day I had sold nearly 40 books, more than enough to pay for all my trip expenses to the Festival and the book signing in the other city the previous day.

Another location where I have sold many books is at nightclubs. Given that my book is travel-oriented I scope out the alternative weeklies in each town for “International Music Nights.” In my hometown of Houston, this falls on a Wednesday night at a particular club in the trendy section of town. I arrive at about 9:00 pm with a handful of postcards that have the cover of the book on the front and a description on the back, plus my backpack full of books. While the band is playing I go from table to table handing out postcards. I make another round, and for those who respond, “Dude, this looks like a cool book,” I give them the full-blown pitch. I’m careful to point out that the price of the book is equal to the price of two beers and that I’ll even autograph the book for them. Works nine out of ten times. In advance, I am careful to give a free copy of the book to each band member, so as not to create any conflicts. At this particular location I can sell as much as 20 books a night. I now scope out all of the International Music Nights in other cities that I visit on my book tour.

Another excellent location for similar selling techniques is Starbucks. When I’m in a particular town for a signing and I have some time to kill I’ll hang out at a Starbucks, set up my laptop and spread my books out on the table. I pretend to be immersed in some serious literary pursuits. Sure enough, as time passes someone will come up to my table, ask me if I’m an author and ask to see my book. I can sell as much as 3 copies an hour at a Starbucks using this method. Once again, no Store Manager has ever asked me to leave or even inquired as to what I was doing.

There are a number of other ideas I have for bootleg book selling that I have yet to try, but are in the planning stages. They include: selling books on busy street corners downtown during the lunch hour, setting up shop right in front of the main library, walking around and handing out postcards at various festivals, hanging out at hotel bars where travel industry conferences are being held, and international music concerts.

The more luck that I have had, the bolder I’ve become. I’m still waiting for some security guard somewhere to ask to see my pass or to kick me out for not paying my booth fee, but it hasn’t happened. Until that time I plan to continue selling my book at every conceivable location that I can.

Eric Dondero is the Author of the “Worldwide Multilingual Phrase Book; Survival Skills for Over 40 Languages.” It is available at all major bookstores and on He is a Multilingual Interpreter who speaks over 20 languages and a Certified Language Instructor. For more information visit

For more information and tips on bootleg book selling sign up for the Yahoo Discussion Group – Booksigners moderated by Eric Dondero.

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