When I first started making pots, it took me forever to make one thing and most of my work found it's way surreptitiously into the dumpster. As my skills improved, I began making pots better and faster, and fewer of them ended up in the landfill. After a year, I was making far too many pots than I could personally use or even give away to family and friends. I began selling pots so they wouldn't multiply like tribbles and take over my house. It also made sense for me to sell pots since I hoped my creations would bring pleasure to someone else.
Following are some things I've learned about selling pots that I hope will be helpful to you. First, make a commitment to sell your pots. This can mean something like signing up for a craft fair or a sale through your potters guild. Don't wait until your pots are perfect before making the commitment. When you commit to sell your pots they'll start to get better because your mind will be focused, you'll have a goal to reach, and a limited amount of time to reach it. I talk with potters all the time who are planning on doing a sale "next year" or "next time." When that next time rolls around, they're not going to participate but loudly proclaim they'll do it "next year" for sure. Procrastination is the biggest obstacle to selling your pots, that and fear, fear that maybe you won't sell anything, that everyone else's pots will sell because they're so much better than yours. Put all that aside and make the commitment to a sale.
Second, bring only your best work. Don't surround your great pieces with lots of mediocre stuff. You're developing a reputation, a brand, that will attract collectors over time, so don't put things out that detract from your reputation, only things that build it up. I found out early on that when I tried to sell bad pieces, my good pieces suffered. It was hard to sell a really nice bowl for $150 when I had a similar bowl next to it for $20 with a one inch crack on the rim. You may think you're wasting money by throwing things away, but just the opposite is the case. If you want to charge good prices for your work, you need to put only your best work on the table.
Third, learn how to price your pieces. Visit local sales and look at stores online. Start with examples that are closer to yours in quality and find out what sorts of prices are being charged for that. Also watch how quickly pots sell at what price points. It's easy to put a $50 price on a mug, but that doesn't mean you'll sell it. Start lower and charge more as you get better and you create more demand for your work. When I first started making and selling small bowls and cups about a year ago, I was charging $20 for them. My sales were not that great so I dropped the price for most of them to $15 and they started selling well. The most I've ever charged for a piece, and then sold it, was $350. I've done that twice. Almost everything I make sells for $200 or less. I know people who sell ceramic sculpture for quite a bit more than that, but that's not what I'm making. I also have an interest in making at least some things at a price point that anyone can afford. That's why almost all of my small cups and bowls start at $15. My dream is not to sell my pieces at stratospheric prices to a few very rich people. Well, I wouldn't mind selling some of my pieces for absurd prices to those with more money, but I don't want them to be my only clients. A few years ago I had an interesting conversation with a local wood turner whose work is in museums and is very expensive. During our conversation he shared the following cautionary tale from his own life as a craftsman. He told me that sales of his bowls started out slowly but picked up momentum as time went on. As he sold more bowls he charged higher prices. As his prices went up, he attracted fewer and fewer collectors because only a handful of people could afford them. Ironically, as he told me, the more he charged for his bowls, the less money he made. As he put it, he "choked off the market" for his bowls by making his prices so high. Once sales slowed down for this small clientele, he couldn't lower his prices to sell more pieces to those with less money since that would have enraged those who had payed more money.
Fourth, learn how to market your pots. One of the most essential things to learn about marketing is how to take good photos of your pieces. It's not that hard anymore since even most smart phones have fabulous cameras. Get on Instagram and share photos of your pieces. Start following people and commenting on what they share. I know this will sound like humbug to some of you, but you can get more bang for your buck from Instagram than any other method for marketing your work. Get business cards and start handing them out. I use Zazzle or Vistaprint. Build a data base of contacts and stay in touch with them. I have an always growing email list that I contact about sales by sending them images of about 20 pots that I'll be offering. Sometimes people will contact me to buy pieces before the sale even begins. I don't bug them about every sale I'm in but only those where I'll have a large number of things. Make contacts in radio, television, newspapers, and magazines. They may not be willing to cover your personal sale, but they will often be willing to cover group sales that your potters guild is putting on. I have three or four sales a year at my studio/garage. Before each sale I put up a sandwich board in front of the house with signs facing both ways that say there's a pottery sale this coming Saturday from 9am to 2pm. I also post signs on telephone poles in the area. I have posters and postcards made at Vistaprint and put them in local businesses. I put up a big banner in the front yard that I ordered from Vistaprint that's 8 feet long and only cost about $60 because I got it on sale. These are just a few ideas about how you can promote your sales.
Fifth, learn how to sell your pots. Most people are pretty timid and don't feel comfortable trying to persuade people to buy their pots. I think it helps if you don't think of selling as the art of persuading people to buy something they don't want for more money than they want to spend. Selling is helping people to make decisions. Most people don't know much about ceramics and they need help to make a good decision, especially when they're confronted by multiple examples and they have to choose one. Here's an example. I was at a sale for the Hawaii Potters Guild a few years ago and I noticed that a woman was looking at a few Japanese lanterns that one of my friends had made. He was so shy that he wouldn't approach her so I decided to step in when it looked like she was ready to walk away. I asked her where she planned on putting the lantern and she said she had a place in her yard that was perfect for one of these. They all looked so nice, however, that she couldn't make up her mind so she was ready to leave without buying any of them. I asked her which ones she liked best and she pointed out two. They were all on the ground and a little hard to see, so I took both of them and put them on a table so she could see them better. Then I asked her to think about what each would look like in her yard and it became clear to her that one was a better choice than the other. She was excited to take the lantern home and my friend made a sale. No high pressure tactics. When I'm at a group sale like the Windward Potters, I like to talk with people about my pieces if I see them looking at them, but if I see them looking at someone else's stuff, I'm happy to sell their stuff as well. If someone asks me if I make teapots, I'll tell them "No, but let me show you some terrific teapots that some of these other potters have made." I've found that lots of people need some hand holding when they're trying to buy a pot, and the more expensive the pot, the more hand holding they need. They don't know much about pottery and would appreciate you telling them something about how you formed it and glazed it. Often people want to know why I made the pot in the way that I did and my description becomes part of their enjoyment of the pot. Sometimes the art of selling means solving a customer's problems. For instance, I've had many people from out of town wander into my sales. Their concern is how to mail a piece or how to transport it on the plane. I help them figure all of this stuff out which leads to a sale.
Sixth, learn how to sell what you don't have (yet). In other words, learn how to generate commissions. At my last sale in December, I had two people who came and were interested in my pots in general but couldn't find the exact thing they were looking for. One liked my plates but wasn't crazy about the glazes I had used and he told me so. I told him that I could make more plates in the same style with different glazes. He saw some other pieces that had glazes he liked and he ended up ordering an eight setting dinnerware service. Another guy told me he was looking for sake cups but didn't see any. I told him I could make some and he ordered them in porcelain. At one sale a few years ago, a lady returned to buy one of my vases only to find that I had already sold it. I told her I could make another that would be almost exactly the same, so she ordered it.
Finally, don't sell your very best pots. Keep them for yourself. I've met several world-class potters and all of them keep at least some of their very best pots. When I met John Glick at his studio in Michigan, he told me he had kept over 1,000 of his best pieces. So be the best collector of your own stuff.
Selling pots can be fun and you can make some money doing it. So sign up for a sale, do the best you can, and then try to do it better the next time.