The Penurious Promoter 4 -- How to do a book signing
Or smile, smile, smile, no matter what
I recently held my first book signing for This Bird Flew Away at an independent bookstore here in the Charlotte Harbor area.
Everything was ready: twenty copies of the book, cards, giveaway bookmarks, a poster sized image of the book cover complete with cardboard stand, the video trailer primed on my lap-top, the lap-top fully charged, my favorite pen… nothing left to chance.
Or so I thought.
But let’s back up for a minute and start at the beginning.
I’m going to assume you don’t have a publicity agent doing all these things for you. Like me, you’re a penurious promoter and it’s DIY all the way down the line.
As always when faced with a new venture, I spent hours researching all the available how-to articles out there. Most seemed written for established authors with publicists, a ready-made following and entry into the large book-chains. (As though they’d need a how-to.) Many were clearly written by someone who had never, ever done this, themselves. (Don’t you just love content articles on subjects the writer knows nothing about?)
Nowhere did I find the kind of article I needed: How to arrange a book signing and where you should hold one, when you’re a newly published author without a recognizable name, entirely on your own and with little to no budget, and once you’ve done so, how to pull it off.
Recognizing a gap in the article market, I decided to fill it.
Book signings: "expert" advice versus reality
Advice: Contact the bookstore at least a month prior to your desired book signing date. (And don’t depend on the publisher to do it for you.)
My publisher doesn’t set up book signings. (Or much of anything else, I’ve discovered.)
The bookstore chosen, located in a popular tourist mall right on Charlotte Harbor, often hosted book signings for authors as I’d witnessed on several occasions over the years. I hadn’t been there recent times, not for perhaps eighteen months. My friend and I dropped in one day, bringing four copies of the book. “Hello,” I said and introduced myself to the owner as the author of this reality-based work of fiction. I placed a copy on the counter, ready to go into my practiced spiel.
She rolled her eyes. “Another one.” She sighed. “I swear authors are crawling out from under every rock in south-west Florida.”
“There are no rocks in
south-west Florida,” I answered with what I intended as a comedic smile. “Though
I’m sure there are many authors.” (All those retirees with nothing but time on
their hands… )
She picked up the book and stared at the cover with a dubious look. “Most of you wouldn’t know how to write a decent sentence.” A resigned expression stole over her face. “So, is this one at least edited?” The book dropped back to the counter with an audible plop.
I swallowed my surprise and growing sense of insult. “Oh yes. Edited by New York Times best-selling author, Kathryn Lynn Davis.” I pulled my press kit out of my book bag. “Here’s what she had to say about the book.” I pointed to the glowing review.
Next up for the Penurious Promoter -- the press kit. What should be in it. Why you should have one. What you should do with it.
“This is a tender, wrenching, funny, brilliantly written novel about so many kinds of courage, so many layers of beauty and strength, and the bonds of family (however unique they may be) that help us survive even the worst life makes us suffer."
“And this copy is yours.” I retrieved the book and handed it back to her. “To keep. No charge.” I slipped two more copies from the bag. “And these I’ll leave with you on consignment.” My smile grew brighter by the second.
This brought forth and even deeper sigh. “I don’t usually… My shelf space is limited.”
Indeed it was. What had once been the best book store in the Charlotte Harbor area, now had half the available space devoted to knick-knacks, herbal teas and the usual clutter of souvenirs and made-in-China Florida keepsakes. The book shelves occupied the cramped back half of the store.
Still, I was determined to have my signing. Though my jaw now ached with the effort of maintaining that pleasant (I hoped) smile. “The book was only recently released and has received excellent reviews.” I opened the press kit to those clippings. “And I do believe in supporting local business, which is why I came to you first.”
My friend chimed in. “It really is very good.” She’d been browsing in the store and stood with three books in her hand she wanted to purchase.
To my surprise, I saw they were used books. (What the …?)
The store owner flipped through the pages of her free copy of my book, pursed her lips and stared off into the distance. Finally, she capitulated. “Okay. I can give you Saturday afternoon, three weeks from now, from one to three.”
Two hours -- my big triumph!
“Why thank you. I look forward to it."
- Advice: Call at least one week before the signing to ensure their ordered copies are in. Plan on bringing an extra twenty copies with you in case the store has an insufficient quantity.
I offered the store owner my publisher’s information – in a flyer I made up myself (uh-huh) – and explained their order terms, assuring her they were industry standard.
“Here’s how it will go,” she said, her demeanor changing from sad acceptance to listen-up-I’m-in-charge. “You bring your own copies. The proceeds are split 60 you; 40 me.”
I would lose money on
any books sold during my signing, but wasn't this a chance to meet and
greet potential readers from all over the country – the world, really -- and
put the book out there? My turn to sigh. "Okay."
But she wasn’t finished. “And IF I decide to keep your book in the store, I get my copies from you – at a thirty-five percent discount.”
“Like hell,” my brain
said to itself. I only get a thirty-five percent discount myself and then only IF I buy more than 60 copies at a time. But I
restrained my mouth from passing that thought along. "Uh-huh," I mumbled.
I had my signing. I'd won.
- Advice: Have your publisher prepare a poster-sized image of your book cover.
My publisher doesn’t do posters.
So I found Short Run Posters on the internet that would print it up for $15.95, half of what the local print shop quoted me.
See it? Nice isn’t it?
All I had to do was upload the digital image file of my book cover and done!
- Advice: Design and distribute fliers, giving the bookstore 100 – 200 copies. Send out a newsletter for the event and post it on your website or blog.
Uh – fliers?
I had done a flier for the book, but the book store wanted nothing to do with them. “We don’t have room or use for those. We’ll just put it up on our board.”
And I had neither time nor inclination to go around North Port/Port Charlotte sticking fliers on windshields, right alongside “We buy gold” from Honest Ed’s Jewelers, and “I’d give ‘em away but my wife won’t let me” from Chuck’s Used Cars.
Not my style. Nope.
I did post the event on Facebook for the three people I know there who live in the area.
I also posted it on Author’s Page.
That would have to do.
- Advice: Have an attractive two color or four color book mark designed by a graphic artist and print thousands of them. You can give one to everyone who comes in the store.
I can’t afford a
graphic artist. DIY time again. So I designed one myself, using Windows Paint
and – you guessed it – the digital image of my book cover.
Once done, I surfed
the net for printers and got quotes (and some from local print shops – they couldn’t
compete.) The winner was Print Runner at $59 for 2,000. This is a blurry scanned image to the right. In real life the bookmark is sharp and clear.
Actually, this turned out to be a good investment. I had a rubber stamp made of the website for the book and printed the back with that information. ($36 at Staples) My friend and I gave out hundreds of them at the signing, and orders have come in since from that encounter. (Highly recommended.)
Besides, each time those bookmarks are used, there’s the title of my book staring the reader in the face.
- Advice: Ask the store for a media list (radio, TV, etc.) It makes calling the radio and TV stations easier. If they don't have a media list, ask them which stations they would recommend that might be interested in an interview. Although the stores send news releases, send your own as well. This increases the chance of getting coverage.
It goes without saying
this piece of advice was ignored by me. We do have community papers in our area – two,
neither of which has picked up on any press releases I’ve sent them. As for
radio and TV – in the Charlotte Harbor region? I think this advice was geared
to much bigger names than Lynda M Martin. Just got that feeling.
The store did print a notice in the mall newsletter.
- Write an announcement for the bookstore to say over the intercom system. Keep it short, and do it yourself if they let you, every half hour.
Another bit of useless advice for this situation, again directed at both bigger stores and authors.
- Advice: Have at least 100 business cards made, with current blurbs, reviews and website addresses. Hand them out to all the store employees
I had business cards made up months ago, before the book was released. I give them out at every possible opportunity, even leaving them on tables in restaurants. The nail spa I frequent has a pile on their counter, as does the hair salon, my friends at the doctor’s office and all the ladies at the DMV. They’ve been mailed all over the place, and to several different countries.
So of course, a big pile of business cards came to the signing.
And I did give one to the store employee.
- Advice: Bring mints or yummy-smelling gum so you don't scare away potential readers. Don't expect the store to keep you hydrated--bring your own bottled water. Wear a name tag that indicates you are the "Author." Dress up and look your best.
The day arrived and on that day, the oak trees burst into full bloom (such as they are, long strings of bumpy green flower) and the pine trees had been pollinating for weeks. My little car was covered in a dusting of yellow.
I woke up with swollen, red-rimmed eyes, looking much like I’d spent the previous night smoking copious amounts of marijuana. My nose ran; my chest wheezed and I coughed non-stop, a dry little cough that did nothing but would not go away. My voice was raspy and nasal. After applications of anti-allergy eye drops, capsaicin nasal spray and two loratadine tablets, I was as good as I was likely to be. I appeared to be an apparition of Typhoid Mary out to spread some dread disease.
I dressed in my best casual but artsy look, did what I could with my bushy, coarse hair and waited for Sharon to pick me up. She’d volunteered to come with me, but refuses to travel in my tiny Honda Fit.
I did not take mints or gum, but opted for a bag of Ricola cough drops.
I forgot my water and “Author” badge.
On the way to the tourist mall, the loratadine kicked in, and I felt as spacey as I looked.
- Advice: Arrive 20 minutes early and set up. Meet every employee in the bookstore and pass out your business cards. Hang up your poster and fliers. Try to sit as close to the front of the store as possible.
I arrived half an hour early, met the one employee (the owner was not present) and he escorted me to the little table that was indeed close to the front of the store. Right outside the store and off to one side, where a stiff breeze blowing off the harbor strew my business cards and book marks all over the place.
After dragging the table into a more sheltered spot, I taped my poster to the cardboard shipping container it came in and used an artist’s tripod to set it up. I spread business cards and bookmarks out on the table and began stacking some of the twenty copies of the book I’d brought with me.
“No,” said the employee, stepping out the door. “We keep the books in here. If someone wants to buy one, send them inside.” He began scooping up all the copies.
“Leave me a few,” I said, bewildered. How were people supposed to judge the book if they could not see it?
“One,” he said very firmly. “We can’t have you selling them directly, you know.”
“I hadn’t intended to.” I grabbed a copy out of his arms. “Have a little faith.”
He eyed me with a baleful look. “Don’t.”
“I won’t,” I assured him and pointed to my laptop. “Do you have an electric source out here?”
“I want to play the video trailer for the book.” I had programmed the video to play repeatedly.
“No electricity out here,” he answered and walked back into the store with all but two copies of the book.
So my laptop ran on battery power, which meant maybe an hour and a half of full power, and a dull picture instead of a bright, crisp one.
- Advice: Plan to spend at least four hours, possibly six.
I had two.
- Advice: Socialize with everyone who walks in the door. Let them know your genre. Have a prepared blurb for them to let them know what your book is about and what makes it great. Compare it to other well-known authors if it's similar. If they love comedies, mention some of the laugh-out-loud parts of your book.
Okay, time to confess. I’m not a great socializer. I’m shy. Hard to believe, I know, but I am. Small talk even at the best of times with the closest of friends is painful and the idea of approaching a stranger and striking up a conversation is the stuff of which nightmares are made. But I was there and I was going to do my best.
If only my voice didn’t sound like it emerged from a muffled echo chamber and I could stop choking on my words and coughing.
I plastered a friendly smile on my face, hoped my glasses did a good job of disguising my rheumy eyes and steeled myself for the event.
- Advice: Don't just sit at the table they have for you. Make it clear you are the store’s official greeter for the time you are there. Walk around the store with several copies of your book and introduce yourself to everyone. Hand a copy of your book to anyone who seems remotely interested. Tell them to take a look and bring it back to the table when they're done. They'll almost always end up buying it.
I wasn’t in the store. I was outside in the walkway of the open mall where the tourists peered and poked into all the little boutiques, where men stood in clusters smoking while their wives shopped, where the breeze kept threatening to topple my poster, where the feral cats begged scraps from diners at the outdoor bars and cafes and where the pollen drifted across the floor in yellow waves.
I had no copies of my book to walk around with and show people.
I did hand the one copy entrusted to me to anyone who appeared interested.
I did hand out bookmarks and business cards to anyone who’d take one. The book marks were big with the kids. You’d be surprised how many people are suspicious of a free bookmark. One woman threw up her hands, shouting “Oh, no!” as though I was handing her a radioactive isotope.
Most people stared at the table and the poster as they walked by, but glanced away the minute I made eye contact. “Hi.” “Good afternoon.” “How’s it going?” Addressing them helped. Then they’d ask questions such as “What’s going on?”
I did talk about my book to anyone who’d listen and introduced myself as the author. Those that were interested but didn’t buy left me with a business card which gives them my website, a signed bookmark and a conversation.
The video trailer caught people’s attention until the battery power ran out.
- Advice: Ask how to spell names when you personalize the autograph. Don't assume.
Good advice and I did this.
- Advice: Don't complain if you don't sell lots of books. Signings make those who bought your book feel good, but they really don't sell lots of books while you are there, UNLESS you create a presence WHILE YOU ARE THERE! According to book store managers, on average, book sales for a non-celebrity author will range from about 4 to 7. If you sell more, you're doing great!
In total, I sold nine books in two hours. That’s nine more books out in circulation, even though I lost money on each sale. So that’s good. A few more orders came through my website in the week after the signing.
Let’s face it, book sales go in one’s and two’s, so nine plus a residual three or four more is a successful event.
Did I create a presence? I must have, accosting people and handing them a bookmark, while wiping tears from my irritated eyes off my cheeks, wheezing and coughing, choking on my words and sounding as though I was speaking from the depths of the ocean.
Sharon walked around the mall handing out the promotional items and telling people I was just down the walkway, signing books. I stayed close to the table and chatted with anyone willing.
We were still going strong when the employee came out of the store and announced “Time’s up.”
- Advice: Ask the manager how many books they would like for you to sign before you leave so they will have some on hand. NOTE: Generally speaking, they cannot return any books you sign, so always ask! If the signing went well or even if it didn't, and you impressed the manager, they will usually have you sign a bunch before you leave.
Right! The employee handed me back all my unsold books, plus the two I’d given them on consignment – which never did make it to the bookshelves, by the way, but spent the three weeks in the back room. The only book the store kept was the one I’d given the owner free.
By this time, I’d had a chance to look around the place. The change in ownership had brought about many other changes. The shelves were now full of used books and the only new copies were one shelf of the most commercial of bestsellers.
This was my first book signing, but will not be my last. I think though, I will go to Sarasota, Fort Meyers and Bradenton for the rest. Why? Because the Charlotte Harbor area only has this one book store.
Shameless Promotion Capsule
- This Bird Flew Away - Novel by Lynda M. Martin
Here's a link to the website for This Bird Flew Away, for those wanting more information. There you will find three excerpts from the book, copies of reviews and interesting links. You can also buy the book at a 10% discount.