Bookstore signing events are often the stuff that propels authors with the desire to toss themselves under a bus. Being the author of two books, I grok that. And nowadays, book signings are an even scarier notion, given the changes within the publishing industry. But keep in mind, authors aren’t the only ones freaking out. Bookstore event planners are doing their fair share of doing the freak-out mambo.
The first thing bookstore event planners have to consider is whether the author will bring in an audience, because they are in the business of selling books. It’s how they keep the lights on. They want attendees to not only buy the author’s book, but stroll around and buy an armful of other books. In many cases, it’s a great way to pull in people who normally buy their books online and give them a chance to see how groovy (‘scuse my 70s moment) it is peruse the shelves and lose oneself among the huge and wonderful choices.
Knowing what flips up a bookstore event planner’s Victoria Secrets is half the battle in strategizing your promotion plan. But first, it’s important to know where the author fits in this bookstore signing game – and it all depends on how you’re published.
Mainstream Pubbed Authors
These authors enjoy national distribution. Their publishers have regional and national sales teams whose job it is to get books into stores. They do this at the corporate level with the large national accounts like BN, etc., while the regional sales teams frequent the bookstores in their territory, which includes the chain stores and the larger indie stores.
What this means to you, the author, is that your book is already in library and bookstore systems. If you waltz in and tell them your title, they’ll find your book, who distributes your book (for example, Consortium is our distributor, and I love them more than chocolate. Well…almost). They know they can easily order your book, and that it has all the standard discount percentages attached. If it’s BN, they can easily order from their own warehouse (if the buyer picked up your title), or they can contact the distributor to order the books.
Self Pubbed Authors
For the self pubbed author, getting a book signing could be harder because this group lacks the distribution support afforded by their commercially published brethren. This means that you’re not in the bookstores’ database, which makes ordering a PITA because your book isn’t in their warehouse. If you can convince them to host an event, be prepared to provide your own books…and they will dictate the percentage terms. This is why it’s important to have a large enough print run. It’s a good idea to offer them a copy to read.
Print On Demand Authors
Not sure how many of these are still around (thankfully), but your concerns will be the same as the self-pubbed author. In fact, it will be more difficult because books are only printed when there is a demand. These “publishers” don’t do print runs, so these unfortunate authors will have to buy their own books (at often lame “discounts” that do nothing but line the publisher’s pocket. Gee, Pricey, how do you really feel?).
Okay, let’s talk how you can appeal to a bookstore, the first of which is changing your perspective. This isn’t about what they can do for you, but what you can do for them. It’s much easier to talk to an event planner if you feel you have something concrete to offer them, rather than pleading with them to host you. “You want to host me because I’ve taken the necessary steps to encourage a good-sized audience.”
Book events are time consuming. Good bookstores take the time to promote and advertise upcoming book events. Indie bookstores can be little goldmines of support if they like you.They’re smaller and can turn on a dime much more easily than the large chains. One that comes to mind is Tattered Cover in Colorado. Love, love, love these guys. And because they’re so full of awesome, you want to provide them with a product that will enhance their business.
A store’s customer base should be your first consideration. You want to match the store’s customer base with your book. Obviously, a store whose customers tend to lean toward nonfiction won’t be a good fit for your YA distopia. I’ve called up any number of bookstores for my authors over the years only to have them tell me their core customers focus on topics other than what I’m pushing. And yes, good bookstores know their customers’ reading tendencies.
How to Bring in an Audience
Bookstores want to be assured you’ll garner an audience. One of the best ways of making an event planner smile is if you can show them you’ve put out feelers to the local area. Back when I was promoting my writer’s book, I told the manager/event planner that I had a list of all the local writer groups in the area, and would contact them regarding my event. I always got the event, and enjoyed a good turnout.
When I was promoting my novel, I’d do the same thing, with the exception of telling the event planner that I planned on contacting the local nursing associations, docs, healthfood stores, and integrative practitioners (the book has a heavy theme of integrative medicine). Again, I always got the gig, and a good turnout.
Seminar? Short Talk?
How you choose to plan your event gives it a definite face, and bookstores capitalize on that in their promotion. “Come hear Authoress Fantabulous discuss her book PUTTING THE ZING BACK INTO YOUR ROMANCE, where she’ll focus in on the finer points of the whistling belly button trick and how it’ll put the romantic jam in your jelly donut.”
Some books are filled with great seminar material. Our upcoming title A CHICK IN THE COCKPIT by Erika Armstrong comes to mind, and I could easily see her putting together a seminar about filing a flight plan for daily living.
On the other hand, this is easily a great book for a short talk, and there are a myriad of topics she can pull from to discuss.
What it comes down to is the event planner. They will tell you what’s more appropriate for their particular store – a seminar or a short talk. But the fact that you are giving them options shows that you’re not a noob (someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know).
For example, with my writer’s book, I always did a seminar because it was easy to pull in aspiring writers who were eager to learn the ropes of the publishing industry and how to circumvent the waters. I always provided a seminar outline to the event planner to let them decide whether this was something they wanted.
For my novel, I chose to do a short talk instead because I felt the readership would rather hear about the characters, the storyline, and how integrative practices are playing a larger role in mainstream medicine. I wanted to be sure I was appealing to my target audience. But I was always careful to have a distinct point to my short talk other than just focusing on the book. I brought in elements that apply to our lives, something that appeals to everyone.
What I really avoid, and recommend to all writers, is the simple booksigning. No talk, no seminar, no nothing other than signing a few books, smiling, and pretending you’re having a grand time. This is the least plausible way to engage with the customer because so many of them are working hard to avoid eye contact.
Is there anything worse than going into a bookstore and seeing some poor author sitting at a table, alone in the corner with a small stack of books and the poster and candy that only kids will come up and eat in handfuls, looking like he’d rather be watching paint dry? Many shoppers’ first instincts are to walk in the other direction because it’s all sad and forlorn. The writers are almost always unknown, so there’s nothing to pull the buyers into the table.
Obviously, I’m painting a worst-case scenario, because I’ve seen authors who are amazing at simple signings, and sell a ton of books. But they’re the exception to the rule, as I’ve seen the former play itself out far too often. If you want to do a simple signing, then you need to figure out how you’re going to attract people to your table without making them want to call the cops.
Day or Night of the Event
Bring. A. Pen. It’s one of those “duh” things, but I remember having a stack of customers who wanted me to autograph my writer’s book, and I had NO pen. What a ditz. I quickly borrowed one, but geez…a total
Food! Bring plenty of goodies for everyone – including special treats for the staff. It’s a simple thing, but it’s often overlooked. It can be anything, but it’s something that will keep people at your table after your talk. For example, for our author’s first event, we get them a sheet cake with their book cover on it to pass out to shoppers. Book parties are a blast, because it’s invariably where you have the largest crowd, filled with friends and family, along with anyone you can drag off the street.
One of the things we’re starting is Hershey bar labels, like this:
Just wrap ’em around a Hershey bar, and voila…instant marketing tool, and way better than a bookmark.
The important thing is to bring something, especially for the staff. After all, they’re the ones who are in a position to recommend your book to their customers. Make ’em happy. Plus, it’s simply good karma.
Promote Your Competition: It may sound counterproductive, but stores love it. But, mind you, it’s not for every book. For example, when I was doing a seminar for my writer’s book, I’d have the store employees pull some of their favorite writer-type books and put them out on a table next to my book (in hopes of selling more books than just mine.) I figured there’s enough fabulosity to go around. Obviously, it depends on the kind of book you have and how you’ve planned your event.
In the end, it’s all about making a store deliriously happy they hosted an event for you, and you do that by having the perspective that you’re there to help their business, not the other way around.
Now, go out and be fabulous.