Generally, the term hand selling means a book store owner crazy about your work will bring it to the attention of a customer and convince them to buy on its merits. For those of us who are e-published or self-published, it means schlepping your books around everywhere and trying to convince stores or individuals to buy them. Currently in my hometown, I have convinced the single bookstore and two tourist attractions to carry a few of my titles--the ones without the sexy covers. Those sell well online but not face to face. The bookstore has them all, but prefers to show the ones without half-naked men as the face-out copies.Yeah, it's a conservative town. Another attraction turned me down flat and another took two sets of Mardi Gras books and sold them all, but I had to do everything from writing out an invoice to presenting and collecting the final bill, a little awkward.
The worse part of all this, even for a very outgoing person like me, is marching into a store and trying to convince them your work isn't garbage. Most will take a few books on consignment, but you will wait and wait to get paid for them (and I'm not complaining about this-books don't sell stacked in my closet). Profit is minimal. If the bookstore takes 40%, and you have to buy the books to place there, your return is pennies in income. But at least your books are out there, and some of the buyers might get the rest on Amazon where the royalties are somewhat better. You also have an answer for people who won't buy directly from you and say they prefer to support the local store. If only that were true and not just an "out", I am fine with that.
Barnes & Noble lets local authors sign in their store a few times a year. You bring your own books and, they hope, your friends and relatives to buy them. Checkout is at the register. They take 40% and send a check for your share six weeks later. Again, a tiny profit but bragging rights that you've signed at B & N.
I usually do well when I give a lecture at a library or book club and have a signing afterwards, but not always. I've put a lot of effort into events where not one book sold or on the funny side, sold one copy to three women who split the $15 cost and planned to hand it around. Just participating in a mass signing of many authors at a library which I have done a number of times--never sold a book to a stranger, though sometimes another author would buy one which covered the cost of my gas to get there. This also goes for literary festivals with dozens of authors attending. Children's book or very well known authors sell. I managed two, but got a great tan sitting outside all day in the sun. The book sales paid for my over-priced but tasty lunch at a food truck, but not my gas. Note to self: pack a lunch. Remember it is very hard to stand out in a mob, and if you are too bizarre, people walk way around you. (Not talking about myself, but I've seen some sights!)
Locally, I do well at arts and crafts fairs and art walks where I offer note cards and some of my paintings for sale also. I have a friend who sells books and her knitted crafts. It helps to have some variety and not just books. Most people won't buy art, but they do browse and allow you a longer time to sell them one of your stories. I save my spiel for likely buyers-not mothers with kids and babies in tow. They could use a good romance, but just don't have the time to stop and buy. Lively older women are prime customers, men not so much. Teens can be excellent customers if you have something to offer them. I don't. I am devoid of dark urban fantasies, vampires, and shape shifters.
My last crafts fair was my worst, however. Nothing sold at all between nine and noon. So many people told me they did not read or had no time for it, I began to suspect the whole town to be illiterate. At noon, it started to rain, nay, pour down along with thunder and lightning. We were given orders to pack our tents and get out (no refunds on the paid space) because of tornado warnings. Ever tried to pack a sopping tent in a storm single-handedly. A couple of my kind neighbor vendors helped me. I'd packed my books in plastic boxes and thought I had escaped without merchandise damage until I got home and found the wet tent had dripped on some sacks I'd left in the car and soaked through five copies. Call that a $100 loss if you include the gas money and booth space rental. Yes, I did pack my lunch.
Okay, I confess I dream of the day that I will be picked up by a New York publisher who will send me boxes of my books to give away for free as review copies.and provide towers of them for signings that I didn't have to set up myself. Dream on e-pubbed author, dream on.