If it works for lemonade … Heights author sets up sidewalk stand to sell book

If it works for lemonade … Heights author sets up sidewalk stand to sell book
Photo by Bryan Bruchman

Big-name authors have tried dozens of fancy gimmicks to sell books as the publishing industry shrinks, from virtual tours and eReaders to online book trailers and social media campaigns. But one Brooklyn Heights writer has a refreshingly old-fashioned approach: a table, a sign, and some sweets.

Jennifer Miller has the backing of a major publishing house and praise from Oprah Winfrey, but in hopes of drumming up interest in her book “The Year of the Gadfly,” the debut novelist hit the street last weekend with a lemonade stand-style sidewalk table, dubbed the “novelade stand.”

The back-to-basics approach to bookselling featured hand-written signs and a bowl of candy on Montague Street near the corner of Henry Street, where Miller managed to sell 22 copies of the $20 hardcover in a three-hour period — yielding more sales than many of the stops on her multi-state book tour.

It’s no wonder she moved so many units — she handed out free cookies with each copy sold.

“There’s something refreshing about marketing face to face,” Miller said. “I really believe in this book — and I think that comes across in person.”

Her book — a page-turning mystery about a young reporter who discovers a small-town secret — was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and hit the stands in May.

Oprah’s magazine called it “engrossing” and the Washington Post raved that the story was “darkly comic,” but after snagging media attention and a brief surge in sales, Miller felt she need to do something more to promote her text.

“You have a small window to make a splash,” she said. “I spent seven years writing this book, so I’ll be damned if I’m just going to let this moment slip away.”

So Miller pulled out some art supplies and started making signs.

She said dozens of Brooklyn Heights residents stopped to ask questions about the book after she put up a sign reading “Why you’ll love my novel…” — with several stopping to ask if it was self-published.

Miller said she also got some less-than enthusiastic visitors, including some freeloading candy-snatchers and a tenacious homeless man who was more interested in her lunch than her prose.

But it’s ultimately worth putting yourself out there, she said.

“I’m throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks,” said Miller, who plans to keep operating her sidewalk shop on weekends.

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at [email protected] or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.