I always used to stop at kids’ lemonade stands. Not anymore, because you can’t find them. You see, our local government here in Los Angeles, which is so business-friendly scores of enterprises are moving to Texas, decided to regulate the tots and their drinks some years ago. It’s happening all over. Not even Jerry Seinfeld could talk his way out of a lemonade shutdown.
Idiotic and sad, because the lemonade stand was often a kid’s first lesson in free enterprise and what it takes to run a successful business. That’s why I always stopped. I love encouraging ambition and the work ethic in kids.
Self-Publishing is a bit like running a lemonade stand, only without government interference. There’s a little something called the First Amendment, you see. With that in mind, what are some of the lessons we can glean from those little businesses we used to see in the summer by the side of the road?
- You’ve got to have a good recipe
The quality of the lemonade is the most important thing. Why? Because it leads to more business. I remember stopping at a stand and tasting dull, watery lemonade. And at another where there was way too much sugar in it. But when I got that glass of fresh lemonade that was just right, I went home and told my wife to go get some, too. A quality product gets talked about.
Writer, the most important thing you can do is write books people delight in and want to tell others about. Don’t serve up an inferior brew. You want word-of-mouth from your customers, not just a polite nod as they go looking for another stand.
- Get your mom to taste it
Before going out on the street, you need an expert to check your lemonade. Mom knows best. She can suggest changes and show you how to make a better batch.
Just like a good book editor, critique group, or beta readers. Indie writers need solid outside opinions of their work before they put a book up for sale. The ones who ignore this part of the process soon realize no more cars are stopping.
- Create curb appeal
The best lemonade stands had a nice look about them. They weren’t just a table and chairs. The owner-operators took time to create a colorful sign prominently featuring LEMONADE on it, with the price. It was big enough to read as you drove by, and wasn’t just a quick scrawl with a crayon on cardboard.
Self-publishing writers need eye-catching covers and compelling book descriptions. We all know that. Great covers and copy will get you to the next step in the selling process, a browse of the sample. So don’t shirk on the design element.
For covers, hire a pro. Expect to pay between $250 – $500. You can pay less, but caveat emptor. You can pay more, but I’m not sure you get more bang for your buck above half a grand.
You must also learn how to write compelling book descriptions. A solid formula can be found in this post. Study book descriptions in your genre by browsing Amazon.
- Spread the word
I always liked seeing a little creativity in a lemonade stand’s “publicity.” Like when a kid would call out to the cars driving by, but not just by shouting, “Lemonade!” It was more like, “Cool off! It’s refreshing! Give it a try!”
When you start taking to social media, writer, don’t just shout, “Book! Buy my book!” Instead, create desire by telling people how it refreshes. Be fun about it. Don’t oversell.
I remember my own lemonade stand efforts. You know who did the most buying? The neighbors who already knew me.
In the same way, build up your social media presence by being a good neighbor. That should be your main focus, always. Then when you come out with a new book, you can announce it to those with whom you already have a trustworthy relationship.
- Thank your customers
It was always fun for me to pull up to the curb and see little faces light up. But much more do I remember one stand run by a couple of girls who jumped up and down and shouted, “Thank you! Thank you!” as I drove away. Their sincere gratitude was infectious.
Nurture your readers. As you begin gathering an email list, don’t pepper them with buy messages. Thank them every now and then. Put a “Thank you for reading” note at the back of your books, with a link to your sign-up page and a request for a review. Keep it simple. And sincere.
If you need some lessons in running a lemonade stand-style publishing business, I can offer you a couple of resources:
You will have challenges, of course. That’s another great lesson for kids, one they need to get early––things don’t always go swimmingly, even with your best efforts. That’s why you don’t give up. You look at the setback, learn from it, and try again.
Remember, if life gives you lemons,
gather them up and throw them at people you don’t like either make lemonade or learn how to juggle.
How about you? Did you ever set up a lemonade stand when you were a kid?
If a child came up to you and said, “Gee, I’d like to be a self-published writer someday!” what would you tell them?