Do You Want to Sell Books?

This question came to me quite unexpectedly. I was trying to decide whether to spend several hundred dollars to be a vendor at a conference for home schoolers. The goal is to open up my market to a larger audience, because of course, I do want to promote The Writer’s Compass. I had already decided to spend the money and was in the process of filling out the paperwork when I realized I needed to get a sales tax license for the state of California. Okay. So I started filling out that paperwork, which required placing a call to the Board of Equalization where I learned I had to continually update every location where I sold books. Say, what?

Then I realized–wait a minute: How am I going to get paid for these books? Cash. But this isn’t a cash world. Checks? From previous experience I know checks are risky–especially when every sale counts to recoup the money you’ve spent. This is a credit and debit card world. Even I rarely spend cash. Now I have to get a method for credit transactions. But my booth isn’t going to have electricity or internet, so how do I handle these credit transactions without taking the same risks I would with checks? And how often and how much time am I going to spend doing this?

It suddenly occurred to me–I was going into the book selling business.

The question came up again on Saturday when I did a book signing at a book fair. I sold a handful of books. I didn’t mind the few sales, I had a good time and liked the people at the fair. So, why wasn’t I more upset. For one the booth didn’t cost me anything because I was an invited participant, so I wasn’t dependent on the book sales to cover costs. And two, the people were nice and I enjoyed the crowd. I sold to 75% of the people I talked to, most of the rest only had credit cards, and I suggested they go online.

Then it hit me. I really don’t want to be in the book selling business. Even at the office when people stop by and tell me they want to buy a book, I always suggest they go online because right now there are some good promotional sales on my book. A few days later, when they bring me their copy, I’m happy to sign it.

I also remembered refocussing on my dreams just before I got an agent. I love writing and teaching writing–that’s what I want to do. Book sales transactions aren’t really part of that dream. Who wants that hassle? If you do, you might be a good candidate for self-publishing. Now it made sense why I went the traditional publisher route with a built-in distribution system.

Aha! I don’t mind being in the book promoting business, I just don’t want to be in the book sales transaction business.

Next year if the book fair invites me back, I think I’ll offer to do a free writing workshop and let a local bookstore handle the sales of my book.


“The Hero”

In 2002 actor and producer Kevin Sizemore told me he wanted to produce “The Hero” a short story that I wrote and had turned into a play that took place during the Vietnam War. He connected with Shawn Fornari to direct the film and they asked me to change the setting to the conflict in Afghanistan after 9/11, which I did. The film received some recognition at short film festivals and is 34 minutes long prior to credits. Click the blue image to the left or go to
The Hero

"The Hero"

Story and Screenplay by Nancy Ellen Dodd (Nancy Dodd Cates)
Directed by Shawn Fornari
Actors Kevin Sizemore, Anthony Griffith, and Roy Cummins
Directory of Photography Steven Fraasa
Film Edited by Dave Craig
Music by Jeff Vincent


Traditional or Self Publish?

If you haven’t tried the traditional publishing route yet, I would vote for doing that first. Make sure you have the best book you can write and that you also have a good editor go through your book. Good editing is key as a poorly edited book will do you more harm than a rejection as far as publishers, agents, and readers go. Everyone is turned off by a book that hasn’t been edited for typos, punctuation, and grammar. Especially if you opt for self publishing.

There are several types of editors, those who are freelancers, and those who work for publishers or magazines. Freelancers can be concept, line, or a mix, with varying degrees of each type and varying degrees of skills. In my experience, editors do not always know what their strengths are or when they don’t have any. You should ask for references and see if the editor you are considering will edit a few pages or a chapter so you can assess how they would approach your work. You want to be sure that you and the editor are compatible.

Next I would research agents and publishers and see if you can make a connection. If you keep getting rejected for reasons such as the book still needs work or too much telling and not enough showing or other valid comments, then the book needs more work. Comments such as “I couldn’t relate to the characters” is not necessarily a valid comment, rather an indication that this agent is not your target audience (unless everyone tells you they can’t relate to the characters). If the criticisms you are getting from agents and publishers’ representatives seem to have more to do with their own biases than with your book, then proceed with self-publishing (SP).

My first choice wouldn’t be SP unless you are the type who is somewhat of a perfectionist and a stickler for details, and willing to spend the money for great cover art, type-setting, and publicity. If you are entrepreneurial, than SP could be perfect for you. You’ll know when the work to find a publisher is more than the work you will have to do to self-publish. One of my best friends, C.B. Shiepe who wrote Cliff Falls, has gone the (SP) route, but he approached it as a serious business and not as a hobby. Promoting the book is a full-time job in itself, and as others will tell you, SP sucks time away from your writing.

And by the way, both traditional and SP are very demanding as far as self-promotion goes if you want your book to sell. Some feel if they are going to spend that much time and energy on a project, they’d rather it be SP and make more money per book. Some feel that they will make less per book, but possibly have far more sales because publishers have distribution channels, which is probably as important as the editing. Either way, the ability to market your book is imperative for success.

Good luck with your book.

What Others Are Saying


Angela Booth’s Writing Blog

Angela Booth, a writer and teacher, has posted a blog I wrote about The Writer’s Compass on her site and is encouraging those who have read TWC to post comments at
July 16, 2011

The Lit Chick Show
Video Interview

Sylvia Massara posted a video interview of me discussing The Writer’s Compass on her site at
July 15, 2011

Morgen Bailey’s Blog

Interview with me at
June 30, 2011

New Book Journal

Posted press release about “The Writer’s Compass by Nancy Ellen Dodd”
June 29, 2011

Creative Writing Now

“Nancy Ellen Dodd on How to Write a Manuscript in 7 Stages” posted at
June 17, 2011

Your Plot Thickens

Lara Sterling discusses “What’s at Stake and Giving Your Story a Sense of Urgency” and how The Writer’s Compass developing them at
June 10, 2011

“Highlighted Author”

Charlene A. Wilson highlights The Writer’s Compass on her blog at
June 6, 2011

Your Plot Thickens

Lara also goes more in depth in to how The Writer’s Compass talks about “hooks” at
June 5, 2100

Writing While the Rice Boils

Thank you Debbie Maxwell Allen for finding The Writer’s Compass and sharing your thoughts with your readers at By the way, Debbie also teaches creative writing to home schoolers.
June 3, 2011

Your Plot Thickens 

Writer and teacher Lara Sterling and I connected and she posted some tips on structure that I gave her to share with readers at
June 1, 2011

Killing Your Darlings – I Think Not!

I’m opposed to the slash and burn theory of writing.

Not that a writer shouldn’t edit and trim. Not that sometimes a line or scene or character just doesn’t fit. The questions are, “Why did you write it in the first place?” and “Who says it need to be cut?”

Have you ever followed the advice to cut something and then lost interest in what you were writing? My screenwriting mentor at USC was annoyed one class with two things in my story that we were workshopping: 1) I hadn’t given one of the characters a name; and 2) I hadn’t cut a particularly bad scene. He told me, “I want you to figure out that character’s name and GET RID OF THAT SCENE.” I did both. And I lost interest in the story.

What I later realized was that there was something in that particular scene that was pointed at the heart of my story, but I hadn’t figured it out yet. By cutting that scene before I gave it time to fully germinate and grow, I cut something about the story that appealed to me. I’ve worked with writers and suggested that they cut a line or scene, and if they balk, then I tell them don’t cut it, but figure out why it’s there. Sometimes they turn that bad scene into some of the best writing in the entire story, once they figure out why they wrote it in the first place.

If your gut says, “Wait, don’t cut it.” Then don’t. Or at lease cut it in such a way that you can retrieve it and put it back in if you find your interest in the story is now waning.

Sure, sometimes there are lines that no longer work or characters that get in the way of your story or scenes that don’t seem to fit anymore, or maybe it’s too long or too wordy. I’m not talking good common sense editing, I’m talking about those lines that really touch you in some way. Why are you cutting those? Because you are convinced your story would be better or because others tell you you don’t need it?

First, how many people are telling you the same thing, or are you accepting the advice of a single or few people who don’t happen to be your audience, even if they are reading your story as a favor or part of a writing group? Sometimes someone hits the nail on the head and has good insight, lots of times someone else will tell you the exact opposite. Remember that you are writing this story, not the person critiquing you from their biases and preferences.

Second, that’s why it’s important to really understand what you are writing about and why you are writing it–to have a compass that guides your story. Then you know when something important still needs to be figured out. Knowing your theme and what you are writing about, which can change as the story evolves, is key to knowing what you should keep and what you should cut.

Third, if you develop your story in stages and put off polishing the words (and spending two hours on that single sentence) until you have developed the structure, characters, etc., you will need to cut far less from your writing that you really care about, and will be far more efficient and develop a story that needs far less slashing.

So, don’t be so quick to kill your darlings. There may be a bit of your best writing hidden in them or you may find they contain a kernel of the truth you are writing about.