9 Things I’ve Learned about Authoring from Selling My Used Clothes Online

Confession: I have a side hustle. I’ve been selling my used clothes online for about a year, and I’ve made a nice little bundle from my unwanted crap. Not only is it a great way to get things out of my house, recycle, and earn cash; it’s taught me a surprising number of lessons that apply to being an author. In today’s predominantly digital marketplace—where writers mostly have to do all of our own hustling—there’s a lot more crossover than you might think.

Since my selling profiles are under a fake name (I’m not trying to schlock off my second-hand goods on readers), it gave me a blank slate to start from, and a lovely sense of anonymity to play with. I did things selling my clothes that I would never have done selling my writing… but now that I’ve seen how effective they are, you can bet I will start.

Before I count out the lessons, I will give a caveat: what you’re hocking matters. While some of these things are true, doing all of them all the time for every single thing you’re trying to share will end up being obnoxious. So maybe you’ll want to pull out the big stops for a book, the medium stops for short stories, poems, and guest blogs, and just the little stops for normal blog posts. Likewise, the more you believe in the thing you’re pushing, the more you should push. Don’t waste your energy trying to talk people into reading something that didn’t turn out to be your best work. But if you feel you’ve struck gold and no one is seeing it, then you have work to do. In other words, as always, use your judgment. But when you really want to sell, sell, sell…

1. Don’t Assume People Have Seen It

They haven’t seen it. They really, probably, most likely haven’t seen it at all. Or they saw it, didn’t have time to click, and forgot about it. People are busy and constantly bombarded with information, commercials, and products, so even if it’s something they want, they may not have the time or attention span to spot it when it first drifts by. So if you share something and don’t get much response, don’t assume people have seen it and don’t care/don’t like it. Instead…

2. Share More

I think most writers don’t share our work enough, myself included. I, for one, don’t want to be spammy. I worry about coming across as egocentric or desperate. And while there is a balance between providing new content for followers and trying to get the word out about existing content, most of us err toward not sharing enough. Because people haven’t seen it, remember? Show it to them again. And again. And again. Share more. For that matter…

3. Share Differently

When I say share more, I don’t just mean hit the retweet button five times or copy-paste your post. I mean share it in new ways. Change the description of the work, highlight it from a different angle, share it on different platforms and at different times of day. Try it with images, with the link in the middle, beginning, or end. Shake things up. If your first share didn’t catch someone’s eye, the fourth or fifth probably won’t either—unless it tries a different approach. Speaking of ways to catch the eye…

4. Learn to Make Graphics

Images matter. In formats that are dominated by text, a picture breaks up the field of vision and gives the eye something to rest on. And, yeah, it needs to look good. If you don’t have a natural eye for images and graphics, just keep things simple. Even a title in an interesting font on a solid background grabs attention better than a paragraph of type. There are countless programs and apps available ranging from free to quite pricey that make it easy to produce pleasing images. If you’re trying to share anything that doesn’t come with its own cover, making a quick graphic is a great idea. (Example to the left, click to visit the link.) Just keep in mind that imaging works best when you…
 

5. Develop a Look

I know, you’re sick of hearing about “branding” for authors. I am too. But the thing is, that shit works. Also, you have a brand whether or not you set out to create one, because a brand is essentially just ‘how customers think of you,’ so you might as well take control of that impression and cultivate it to your benefit. Obviously, part of that is established by your genre(s) and writing style, but the online marketing part is done by visual cues. What does that mean? If you can pick a color or two that you use everywhere, they become associated with your presence across the board. Same with using a consistent headshot; it makes it easy to find and recognize you from Twitter to Facebook to Wordpress to Goodreads. Fonts, logos, taglines, and the like are helpful ways to tie your look together too. A lot of this is a 'built over time' game. Which means…

6. Learn to Persist

Sharing something twice and giving up when no one responds isn’t enough, especially if you’re still building up your readers, followers, and general presence as a writer. Just like submitting a story to four markets and calling it quits isn’t enough. Some of my most popular stories were rejected by more than a dozen publications before they found the right home and had a chance to shine. You can’t quit. You have to learn to persist. How do you learn? You practice not quitting. How not to quit: when you want to quit, don’t. (I know, I’m really good at advice.) That said…

7. Adjust Your Expectations

Writing is a business. Well, okay, publishing is a business. If you want anyone to actually read or better yet buy what you write, it’s a business. Even when it’s your emotion-fueled, demon-filled, bloody heart-work up for sale, it’s still a business. And in business, at the end of the day, your feels don’t matter; only the market does. So maybe you write the world’s most spectacular horse insemination manuals. I mean, these things are works of art. The prose would make Herman Melville weep with envy. (IDK) None of it matters if there aren’t that many people looking for horse insemination manuals. Maybe a few of your friends and family will read them because they love you, but other than that, the only audience you can reasonably expect are people looking to learn how to inseminate horses. Ya dig? In that case, you can still aim high and work to sell, just keep in mind that there may be a cap on how many will actually constitute “selling well.” And when you finally have a buyer on the line…

8. Know How to Haggle

When you want to sell something, you don’t price it according to how much you want to get; you price it according to how much someone else  is willing to pay.

Okay, this one sounds like a stretch, because unlike selling junk on eBay or wherever, most writers don’t hand-sell each book to readers (and when they do the price is generally fixed). So I’m not talking about a one-to-one thing here. I’m talking about selling your work to publishers—or pricing your work smartly if you’re publishing yourself. Haggling from the seller’s role is a valuable lesson—perhaps the most valuable of all I learned from selling clothes. When you want to sell something, you don’t price it according to how much you want to get; you price it according to how much someone else is willing to pay. It doesn’t matter if it’s your favorite story in the world if no one else is interested in that story; a publisher isn’t going to shell out for it. It doesn’t matter if it’s your best work so far if you’re still at a novice level; a pro market isn’t going to find a place for it.

So when I say ‘know how to haggle,’ the actual useful application here for writers is this: know your value. Understand the market you’re working in, the level of your own skills, and be smart about how you sell. These are not easy things to do, but smart writers will find them well worth working toward. Placing your writing at appropriate venues (or placing your prices at numbers that will sell your books) is one of the most basic keys to building up a career. Speaking of building up a career…

9. Baby Steps Add Up

The most surprising part of selling my clothes online has been how the grand total creeps up over time. Sure, it’s exciting to sell a more expensive piece and see a surge, but most of my earnings have come from selling tons of little things. A t-shirt, a pair of shorts, a hat, an old purse, what have you. $5 here and $10 there truly does stack when you keep with it. The same is true of a career in publishing. It might feel like you’re getting nowhere fast, getting a guest post here and a poem there, but if you keep at it, you’ll have a list going. And if you keep at that, you’ll start getting some exciting sales. And if you keep at that you’ll eventually start seeing more and more milestones slip away behind you—invitations to speak and agents signed and awards won and who knows what. Very few people hit the jackpot on day one. But if you stay at it long enough, one day you’ll look back and be surprised by how far you’ve come. And that’s a good feeling.


I guess this selling clothes thing has been pretty good for a side hustle. A little extra cash and a lot of extra lessons learned.

Have you ever tried to sell used items online? Have you, like me, learned any of these lessons the hard way?

Annie Neugebauer

Column by Annie Neugebauer

Annie Neugebauer likes to make things as challenging as possible for herself by writing horror, poetry, literary, and speculative fiction—often blended together in ways ye olde publishing gods have strictly forbidden. She’s a Bram Stoker Award-nominated author with work appearing and forthcoming in more than a hundred publications, including magazines such as Cemetery Dance, Apex, and Black Static, as well as anthologies such as Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 3 and #1 Amazon bestseller Killing It Softly. She’s the webmaster for the Poetry Society of Texas, an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and in addition to LitReactor, a columnist for Writer Unboxed. She’s represented by Alec Shane of Writers House. She needs to make new friends because her current ones are tired of hearing about House of Leaves. You can visit her at www.AnnieNeugebauer.com for news, poems, organizational tools for writers, and more.

To leave a comment Login with Facebook or create a free account.

Comments

Ashley B. Davis's picture
Ashley B. Davis from California is reading In the Woods June 6, 2018 - 7:38am

This is an interesting correlation. 

Takeaway quote: "I’m not trying to schlock off my second-hand goods on readers"

I'm laughing until I'm crying over here.