This is a guest post from the author Joseph D’Agnese who with his wife Denise Kiernan,is the author of of The Money Book for Freelancers (Random House/Three Rivers) and Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame & Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the Declaration of Independence (Quirk Books).
Do Your Next Book Signing in a Non-Bookstore
One of the most humiliating rites of passage for any new author is the book signing. Despite everyone’s best efforts, you can end up sitting for hours at a lonely table while legions of potential readers blow past you as if you’re invisible. If anyone dares make eye contact with you, it’s to give you a pitying smile. The same people who will wait hours to have a book signed by a “name” author cannot wait to get out of your line of sight. Why? Because they don’t know you, they don’t know your book, and they don’t know why they should.
How can you make sure this embarrassing experience never happens again? Simple: Stop trying to sell books in a bookstore.
This may sound heretical coming from a traditionally published midlist author, but I think it’s solid advice. Seventy percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years, so why would you try pitching to such a rarefied audience? Those who do venture into bookstores are browsers. They read a lot, they stay current on what’s out and new, and—let’s face it—they’re somewhat jaded by the sight of an unknown author sitting a table signing books. You cannot move many books in such a tough crowd, all the while surrounded by hundreds of other competing titles.
No, if you want to sell books, you must break out of the pack and become the only must-buy book in the store. Consider signing instead at non-bookstores, such as gift shops, galleries, museums, historic sites, etc. My wife/coauthor and I have sold upwards of 100 books a day in some of these places. I assure you that we are as surprised by this result as our publishers, but we finally figured out that unless you’re a name, successful book signings often depend on reaching shoppers for whom the experience of a book signing is a rare treat.
At non-bookstores, signings are events worthy of press releases, cakes, balloons, and hullaballoo. What’s more, non-bookstore buyers have one raison d’etre: they’re there to shop. The wallets of everyone entering the shop are psychologically cracked and ready to spill cash. If you sell in a souvenir shop, for example, your book now becomes a souvenir-by-association, a relatively cheap must-have from that shopper’s vacation.
Here’s how to turn these events into over-the-top successes.
Get the sales staff involved. Have a staffer greet each person as they enter the store and say something like, “We have an book author with us today. She’s here autographing her book about X.” This primes shoppers, answering the question most are thinking but will never ask: “What’s that lady doing behind that table with all those books?”
Stack your book around the store. Your book should not only be on your table but on every available surface. Place some on a table behind you, so people can walk right past you and inspect the book on the sly, without you hovering over them. (I swear this happens, and results in sales.) A mountain of books should be at the cash registers too, and every salesclerk should say, before they ring up each person’s purchase: “Did you see we have a special author in today signing copies of his book?” This gives shoppers one last chance to buy before they check out. If it’s a venue such as a museum or attraction that sells admission tickets in addition to having a gift shop, sales clerks will have two opportunities to pitch your book.
Get attention in a fun way. People hate approaching a table where someone is obviously selling something. Help them get over it, and do it in a way that connects with the theme of the store. To sell our history book, we ask an actor friend to dress in colonial costume and read quotes of the founding fathers all day long. As each new swarm of people flow into Ye Olde Historick Shoppe, he yells in a booming voice, “Hear ye, hear ye!” and proceeds to read a rousing line. At the end, he joyously yells, “Huzzah!” Shoppers soon get the idea that this is all part of the fun experience of shopping in this particular store. They freeze in their tracks and listen, they snap pictures, they conquer Their Fear of The Table—and they buy a book. By the end of the day, even the sales clerks are yelling “Huzzah!” Once, a sales clerk confided to us, “I’m really loving my job today!” Of course you are! We just made selling fun again.
Give away something free. Whether they buy a book or not, everyone you meet should get a postcard or business card depicting the book cover and some info on the back. If they don’t buy the book now, they’ll buy it online later. Tell them how to connect with you via websites, Facebook, Twitter, whatever. If parents stop by with kids, we give every kid a U.S. flag sticker. That single generous act usually breaks the ice with parents. (Avoid giving candy or treats.)
Make eye contact and connect. Every time I see an author with his nose in a book at his own signing, I feel like swatting the tome out his mitts. Engage your customers! Look them in the eye. Smile. Say good afternoon. Hit them with the pitch: “This is our book about the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence,” we say. “The cover unfolds to a copy of the Declaration of Independence.” Then we flip open a cover to show them how the cover works, and wait for the inevitable, “Oh, that’s cool!” Then we say, “We’re the authors of the book, and we’re autographing copies today any way you’d like.” People don’t always immediately grasp that authors autograph books, and that such books make a nice keepsake or gift. Be prepared to repeat these lines all day. Getting a book signed by you is, in a way, a limited-time offer. It’s the only reason to buy immediately versus buying the book a month from now online or at another store.
Keep a sign-up sheet handy. Inevitably you will make connections with people who want you to do talks, visit their classrooms, and engage with their customers. Make it easy to collect those names.
With some effort, we think any author should be able to find suitable non-bookstore venues for their book. The photographer we saw selling his gorgeous coffee table book at a busy camera repair shop on a Saturday was thinking creatively. Once, we saw the author of a book on brassieres having a book event at a lingerie shop, complete with a tempting, boob-shaped chocolate cake and bottles of sparkling cider. Sheer genius.
Using techniques like this we have burned through cases of books and have been invited back at nearly all the venues we’ve done. Now, we’re not bestselling authors. Far from it. We’re average midlist authors who merely capitalize on every strength we have. It might seem pushy to ask sales people to introduce you to people as they walk in, hawk your book at the cash register, and allow you to turn their store into a circus. But it’s in their best interest: They profit from every sale, often earning more than you do. At the end of one of our signings, the manager of a tiny gift shop in a historic site told us it was one of the highest-grossing days in the store’s history! “And it’s all thanks to you!” He offered us a free shopping spree, and went on to pick up our dinner tab at a swanky restaurant. Not bad for authors no one’s ever heard of.
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