Sunday, June 10, 2012

Garage Sales and Self-publishing

I am not a garage sale person. Not in any kind of way. I don't really feel like it's worth my time to go poking around in other people's junk looking for the rare gem lost in there amongst the trash, and I'm not really for throwing my own junk out in the yard and trying to convince people to buy it. Either it's something I want, or it's something I'm not willing to let go of at a price someone shopping at a garage sale is willing to pay.

When I was a kid, though, my mom would, sometimes, take me to garage sales. I don't really remember if she ever bought stuff at them, though it wouldn't surprise me, but I do know she never bought stuff for me at them. Not toys and, especially, not comic books. There was always the "you have enough toys" and there was never a reason for not getting comic books. My aunt, though, always bought us (my cousins and me) comic books at garage sales, but they had to stay down at the farm where all of us had access to them. And, when I was older, a different aunt and my uncle would always give me books they bought at garage sales for Christmas. I hated it. Crappy copies (as in beat the hell up) of books I didn't want to read. But they just assumed that because they were books and I read books that I would want to read them. Never did they give me anything I wanted to read, not even the trashed copy of The Clan of the Cave Bear I got one year that I might actually have read if it hadn't been completely destroyed already. I'm not even sure what happened to all of those books, because they never made it into my room.

At any rate, none of that has ever endeared me to garage sales.

Having said all of that, we had a garage sale this weekend. It wasn't my idea. It wasn't even my wife's idea. Evidently, it's an annual event that our HOA "hosts" and does all of the advertising for, so my wife said that we may as well participate. We didn't really do a good job of it, though. As we were setting up our paltry items, because we didn't take the time to go through the boxes of stuff we haven't unpacked like we should have, on Saturday morning prior to the 9:00am starting time of the event, we watched some people a few houses down setting up a rather spectacular event that included their entire driveway and the interior of their garage. It almost made us decide to just put our stuff away.

The most interesting thing was all the people driving by early in the morning before 9am. Of course, the people down the street had enough stuff out by 8am that they already had people wandering around, but we didn't even start setting up until, like, 8:15 or something. The heaviest traffic all happened before 9:00 even thought the event was scheduled from 9:00-2:00. People out looking for bargains. Looking for lost gems amidst trash.

And I get it. I do. I think it was just last summer I read about a guy that bought a box of comics, a couple hundred loose comics in a brown box, for $5, and it had in it some very rare Silver Age editions in pretty decent condition, stuff he ended up making over $35,000 on. The guy who sold it to him got pissed and tried to claim that the sale wasn't legal or something because he hadn't known what he was selling. I think the judge called him an idiot. No, I'm just kidding, but they did tell him he had no case, and it was his own fault. Also in the last year, some guy sold a safe that he got at an estate sale. He never bothered to open it. The guy who bought it (for a very good price) found $75,000 inside it. The seller was trying to force the buyer to give him half the money. And you have to understand that that guy was the second guy that sold that safe without bothering to open it. So I get the whole allure of garage sales and flea markets (which we also frequented when I was a kid (and I do remember my mom buying stuff at those)).

But what struck me on Saturday morning as I watched the faces peering out of car windows as they rolled slowly by was that this whole garage sale business is rather like self-publishing. It's like looking for those few good books amongst heaps of trash and drivel. Of course, then, there are the people that like that stuff, as I witnessed on Saturday. Some people just looking for a good deal, "I'll read it because it's cheap." Some people looking for lost gems, "I'll read it because this one might be good." Some people just enjoying the hunt and looking at what other people have out (a surprising number of people, actually, that you could tell were really just there to look (unless, maybe, they would have been willing to buy something that they felt was "worth it;" although, it's hard to tell), "I'm just browsing the titles just in case something catches my eye, but I don't expect anything to." And a few people actually looking for things they could use, "I'll read this because it's got some good reviews or someone I trust told me it's good."

Mostly, though, people just don't go to garage sales. And, mostly, people don't buy self-published books. Unfortunately, looking at my own view toward shopping at garage sales, I completely understand why most people don't want to take a chance on self-published books. And this extends to people that review books. If you go around and look at sites that focus on doing book reviews, they pretty much universally say that they don't review self-published works. The one site I did find that said "I do" changed that to "I don't" between me finding the site and me sending in a request (which happened within the week). And it sucks, but I get it.

So I'm sitting here, right now, realizing that I'm holding a big garage sale for my written work, and I don't know how I feel about that. Not that it makes me think that I don't want to self-publish, because I want to not be involved with traditional publishers a lot more than I don't want to be holding a garage sale, but it's making me, sort of, re-think my approach to what I'm doing. Well, it's made me think that I need to re-think my approach, because I'm not really having any new thoughts about it yet.

But here I am, sitting in my driveway with a stack of my books looking at all the other signs of people sitting in their driveways with their books, and everyone has up the same sign, "But my book really is good!" Or, to put it in garage sale terminology, "My junk is better than their junk." [And, yes, I know how that sounds, but really people... You just don't need to go there.] Small, independent publishers aren't much better; they're the guys with booths set up at the flea markets.

This is what it boils down to I guess:
If you do the whole self-publishing thing long enough and are able to build up a reputation, you can get the regulars to come by. I do know there are people that sort of have garage sales on a weekly basis. People that shop at garage sales come to know those places and go shop there on a regular basis. Developing that reputation is good, because getting the regulars to come buy your stuff is a good thing, right? Well, yeah, it is. But I don't think that's where I want to stop. I don't just want the people that shop self-published. So how do you get people that have the attitude about garage sales that I have to come shop at your garage sale?

I don't have an answer to that, but that's my new question.

Oh, and just to keep people from asking: $25.00.
And for those that didn't have that question, that's how much we made.


  1. Wow, only $25? That sucks. I used to go to garage sales as well, mainly when I was building a DVD movie collection.

    You're right, once I had a moving sale that was scheduled from 8am til whenever. In my ad I simply had the newspaper print the following: "What I don't sell, I'll burn."

    Bad mistake.

    I heard a knock at 5am. Some old goat of about 80 wanted to buy my TV.

    The traffic didn't stop trolling until around 11am. NEVER again...unless I ever go broke. lol

    Too, you're spot on with the self-publishing thing. People will take a peek at what you have if you can get them to "drive by" your site or Amazon, although they don't necessarily buy.

    You can, however, make more than $25.

    Have a good one, my friend.

  2. I was starting to wonder if you live in our neighborhood! We're just outside the local HOA, but this weekend out of the year, I sent my kids out with $10 each and then hide in my house to avoid all the traffic! :)

    Good luck with your publishing... I don't know the answer to that one either. As a consumer bookbuyer... when it comes to buying books online, I don't think I'm prejudiced against self-published book in themselves. But if I'm going to buy one online (and I don't know why this is), I want to know it's a good one. Whereas if I'm strolling through a B&M bookstore, I'll buy anything if I like the cover and the bookjacket synopsis. Totally different requirements based on how I'm buying... but it's hard to get a self-published book in FRONT of someone like me.


  3. And I apologize for the complete lack of verb tense agreement in that entire paragraph. Wow. More sleep.

  4. I hate garage sales. Brings out the oddest people.
    I really don't notice if a book I purchase is self-published or not. I refuse to pay over ten bucks for an eBook, so I'm sure I've picked up a number of self-published books. In fact, I know I have, because many were published by my blogger buddies. And so far, most have been good.

  5. I hate having garage sales, they force me to set aside my natural tendency to be a grouchy hermit, but I can't deny I've made some fab money at them. You gotta have the goods people want though. Quality stuff, not junk. Just like a regular store, it's all about merchandise and price. :D

  6. The way I look at it, the stuff I self-published I couldn't get published the traditional way, so I might as well put it out there and try to make something off it. That and at least then someone might read it at some point. I mean there's not much point writing books if no one is ever going to read them.

    Anyway, I used to go to garage sales when I was younger. Mostly I was hoping to find Transformer toys and the like. That happened very rarely. One time though my brother and I got a broken Bluestreak Transformer from a garage sale, which we then used to repair our Bluestreak because he was one of those originals with die cast metal and screws and things that could be kind of flimsy. Nowadays you can just go to Ebay or Craigslist or something if you want something like that.

    Of course some people take it to the next level by buying whatever's in those storage barns. I think they have like 3 "reality" TV shows about people doing that and that "Pickers" show and whatnot so I guess you can make a living at that.

  7. Indeed it is hard work self publishing. I probably haven't read more than 5 self published books in my life, all of them people I know (yourself included). But you're right, even as a self-published author, it would take a lot for me to read a self-published book by a stranger. Like you said, most of it is garbage. So how do you convey to someone that what you wrote ISN'T garbage, especially when everyone else is saying theirs isn't garbage either?

  8. I love garage sales.....but then I end up selling my garage sale purchases at my own garage sale. It's a never ending evil cycle. I think now with the success of a few self published authors people will be more inclined to give self published work a chance. Look at that Fifty Shades of Grey lady. She published the first book on her blog as fan fiction. Then she self published and now everyone is reading it.....Even though I have to say the first one is very poorly written. I don't know about the rest because I did not continue with the series. Either way good for her because I think this will help all self published authors.

  9. $25 instead of throwing away things isn't bad. You should listen to Jake Johannsen talk about garage sales; he's hilarious. (He's even better on going to the dump: "So let me get this right. I pay you $25, and I get to leave my trash here? Just wanted to know how that works.")

    Anyway: people view self-publishing that way in part because you say "self-publishing" instead of "indie publishing." (Words matter) And in part because writing is somehow seen as different from other "arts." Nobody says "Boy, that painter sucks, he doesn't have a patron who pays him to create works." All painters are self-published.

    Ever heard of Ani DiFranco? She used to cell CDs out of her trunk. Maybe she still does. That's music self-publishing and these days it's considered cool.

    Louis CK self-published his comedy special last year and made a million bucks. In show business, "self-publishing" is called "Being a producer on your own show."

    So you could avoid self-publishing tags by starting a publisher. I don't self-publish anything. All of my books are published by The Trouble With Roy books.

    One thing: there were some significant barriers to just anyone "being a band," because in the past studio time was expensive and you had to have CDs to sell. Now, computers make it possible to instantly record and publish your music and you can sell it online with little startup costs. That hasn't destroyed the music industry, even though if you go to websites where people can post songs for free (I did it, in my songwriting days) much of the music is terrible.

    It's becoming easier to break into movies, and look at Youtube: How many "self-published" videos are worth watching, 1 in 1,000,000?

    But when you think of it, how many BOOKS are worth READING? Yes, traditional published books are vetted, but I've read a LOT of crappy traditional-pub books, including David Foster Wallace's joke of a book "Infinite Jest," and I was never able to get past the first 70 pages of "Dragon Tattoo," so that books sucked, and I put down "The Law Of Nines" because if I buy a book in hardcover I expect it to read at more than a 6th-grade level and have a plot that isn't just a Narnia ripoff, but I learned MY lesson.

    So in the end, "self-pub" indie publishing is given a bad name by booksellers and publishers, who don't want to face an incursion into their market, which is how my feud with Stephen King (the one he doesn't know I'm having with him) started: The attempt to demonize ebooks is a pernicious new marketing campaign that, watch my word, more and more "authors" will try.

    Want to fight it? Read indie books and promote them, and promote yours. You'll always be the little guy fighting the big guy, at least until there are no big guys anymore.

  10. In Utah, people are always looking for really cheap stuff. Knick knacks are very popular. Books not so much.

  11. Jeremy: Well, we might have made more than $25 if we'd put out more stuff, but, really, we had almost nothing out in comparison to the other houses participating.

    I have made more than $25 self-publishing, except most of that has gone back into the whole thing and paying for copies of books to give to people. Technically, I'm up $30, at the moment, so I guess it's not that much different.

    Jo: That's an interesting distinction with your book buying. I tend more toward books that come with strong recommendations that I trust or books that I become curious about because of hearing about them so often.

    Alex: But have you picked up any self-pubbed books that you choce without knowing the author?

    L.G.: Well, yeah, but quality stuff for cheap, and that's the thing I have an issue with. We had some quality stuff out, but people wanted it, basically, for free.

    Grumpy: Ebay and Craigslist are just online garage sales and flea markets.

    ABftS: Yeah, that's the question I'm trying to figure out.

    Jennifer: I do agree that self-pubbing is becoming more acceptable, but, still, it's something most people stay away from.

    Briane: Yeah, perception is a lot of it. Not to mention intelligence. My wife put the Dragon Tattoo book down, too. And she hated Time Traveler's Wife so much I didn't even pick it up. Usually, though, you can count on that traditionally published stuff to get the grammar correct.
    Oh, and my books are published under the StrangePegs banner. :)

    The promotion stuff is what I'm working on. It's not really my strong suit. However, I'm hoping this "garage sale" approach will give me some better ideas as to how to go about it.

    Michael: I think people are looking for cheap crap pretty much anywhere. What surprises me is people's willingness to buy crap -because- it's cheap.

  12. Andrew, I linked over here from where you made a comment about Rogue Waves, since you seemed to be the only one who understood that they are not in fact random events. We're just not very good at predicting them. For that reason, I've decided to follow you.

    But also, I'm an aspiring writer, and I've been thinking about this self-publishing thing a lot, and I'm pretty interested in seeing how it all works out for you. Best of luck.

  13. The last garage sale I went to, I found a copy of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in the original middle English that was printed in the 1800's. I paid a quarter for it. I was pretty happy.

    I read and review self published books. Probably most people wish I didn't though. I don't know if this will scare you or not but I'm currently reading The House on the Corner...

  14. I think my first time negotiating was at our HOA garage sale. A woman asked me how much for these two dresses. They were the dresses my sister and I wore for Easter the year before: these pale pink lacey things with a creamy slip. They were gorgeous, and I had felt very grown-up wearing it with my first pair of heels. But they were much too small for either of us to wear again, and we didn't have room to be keeping things around that weren't usable. So we put them out for the HOA garage sale, thinking maybe they'd sell.

    This woman tried to buy them from me. I was willing to negotiate, but I told her the two dresses were for $25 together. She offered me $10 for one of them. I said no, and countered with 1 for $15. She was very pissy about it.

    We ended up donating those dresses to the church second-hand store, and I bet a couple little girls ended up feeling like princesses and were very happy with the dresses. Who knows what that woman was going to do with them, but if she was only offering $10 for something I loved, I didn't think she'd appreciate it very much.

    I wasn't even upset that I didn't get $10.

    This might be a metaphor, but I'm not going to say what it's meta for. (I'm on fire with the lame jokes today.)

  15. neal: Glad to have you aboard, by the way. I'm still waiting to see how it all works out, too.

    M.J.: Wow! That's a great find! I have a copy of Le Morte d'Arthur from the early 1900s that I got from a library sale.

    Callie: I'm the same way. I'd rather donate something than let someone steal it from me even when it's the kind of stealing where I get money for it.

    That metaphor joke is worthy of me! :)

  16. love the garage sale analogy! This may sound weird, but despite being traditionally published, I still have that "garage sale feeling." I still have to stick a sign on my lawn and try my best to get noticed. Maybe I should try offering free brownies...

  17. Sam: That would probably be good for attracting people to a garage sale. I'm not sure how well it would work with a book, though. Does it come with the book? Do you mail it out to people once they buy the book? Why didn't I get a brownie?