Bookstore Signings: Method to the Madness

August 24, 2015

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?).

Perspective

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.

Customer Base/Audience

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.

Simple Booksigning

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
WTF moment.

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:

candy bar front

 

 

candy bar back

 

 

 

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.


Making the Most of Your Book Event

March 27, 2014

booksigning

Book events are enough to give the heartiest of writers the heebie jeebies, and it’s because few know the mixin’s of a successful event, so I thought I’d share some of the foolproof goodies.

But before I get into that, it’s vital to decide whether you can pull off a book signing. This isn’t a case of “If you schedule it, they will come.” This is about showcasing you and your book, so an event will only be successful if a lot of people know you, or you have a compelling reason for people to attend. For example, when I wrote The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box, I alerted writers groups in the cities where I was planning a book event. I sent out a TIP sheet that talked about the book, and what I’d be talking about at the event. I never had an audience under 50 people.

In another example, my bud, Annette Dashofy – author of the wonderful CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE – knows everyone in Pittsburgh. Or it just seems that way…and they all came to her author event at Mystery Lover’s Bookshop. We were crammed in like little sardines, and we had a blast. Since so many people know her – and adore her – they were eager to come support her on her big day. Predictably, the store sold out, and Annette had to fork over two cartons of her own stash. Huzzah!

Now, you could be like my friend Jim Misko, who is the most outgoing, I-love-ya-man author I’ve ever seen. He goes into Costco and sells a ton of books to total strangers because he’s just so damned friendly and fun to hang around.

Wherever you fit, you need to plan your book event thoughtfully.

  • Be a big mouth. I’ve gone to book events where 3 people showed up. It’s painful and depressing.  They won’t come if they don’t know about it.
  • Give ’em a compelling reason for coming to your signing. Whether they’ll learn how to cure cancer or make really good homemade wine, capturing someone’s imagination is a powerful tool. When I did events for my novel, DONOVAN’S PARADIGM, I tossed out the whole, “Have you ever considered if your doctor’s belief system can impact the way he/she treats you?” Hmm.
  • Read from your book. You want to give the audience a sense of your story, but keep it short and sweet. Audiences can doze off fairly fast, so choose a scene that sparks controversy or demonstrates an emotional impact—this gets the audience slobbery for more. Be sure to set up the scene.
  • Talk about how you came to write the book. It’s fun to hear the “story behind the story.” Was there a particular person or incident that inspired your book?
  • Do a Q&A. I know this can be scary…”What if no one asks a question?” Pah, don’t worry about it. Mix this in when you’re talking about how you came to write your story. And be sure to repeat the question before you answer it. Not everyone will hear it, so repeating it is good manners.
  • Figure out how and when to end the Q&A. It sounds simple, but this can go on for too long, and you won’t have time to sign books. Most events last about 2 hours, so plan accordingly. Decide who’ll be the bad guy – you or the bookstore.
  • Always thank the bookstore! They worked hard on your event, setting up chairs, advertising, ordering books, so be sure to thank them in front of your audience. And bring them something yummy. Back when I was doing personal book events, I always brought goodies for the bookstore workers – cookies or cupcakes. They loved it.
  • Bring food and drinks for your audience. Food is a great ice-breaker. People attending your event may not know each other, but munching on a few pretzels or cookies, while sipping a pouty white wine or mineral water relaxes your audience. For example, I always do a book cover cake for our authors’ first book events. If you enlist some good buds to cut up the cake and pass plates out while you’re busy signing books, your audience will stick around…and invariably buy more books, which makes the bookstore love you.
  • Bring extra books. This is key. If you have a big turnout, you’ll sell out because attendees tend to buy more than one book to give as gifts and such. If you have an extra box or two of books in your trunk, you’ll satisfy all your readers and make the bookstore very happy. WARNING: It’s common for bookstores to order around 30 books because they don’t want to have any extra stock that they may have to return. Be a good Girl Scout and be prepared!
  • Relax, breathe, and have fun. Book signings can be a lot of fun if you’re prepared.

How ’bout you book signing event veterans? Do you have anything to add to the list?


%d bloggers like this: