|Dianne with store owner, Ginny, at The Lighthouse, La Junta, CO|
Featuring my new Christmas book,
Prophecies Fulfilled in the Birth of Jesus, and other books.
I have so much information to share that I'm going to spend two posts on this topic--this month's and next month's. This month we'll talk about how to set it up. Next month we'll talk about what to do when you get there for and during your book signing.
By the way, I'm terribly conscious that I've been talking mostly to book writers in this blog lately. That simply reflects where my career is right now. But my e-zine (which turned into this blog) started out talking mostly to article writers. (That reflected where my career was then.) My desire is to write for both and make this blog useful for both. The problem is, when I have my head to into writing books (like I do right now since I have book contracts I'm writing to fulfill), I can't think of article-writing topics or what you article-writers might need to know. So if you are an article writer and have a question or topic you'd like me to address, please put it in a comment to this blog and I'll see it. Plus, I've discovered some new writing opportunities so click on the menu tab above to check those out.
Now, let's talk about how an author can set up an "in-store author event" (also known as an "Author Book Signing"). I've stopped calling my events a "book signing" because that term seems not only to not excite anybody anymore, but actually seems to turn people off--both bookstore managers and potential customers. Think about it. A book signing pictures an author sitting behind a table signing books. It's all sedentary. There's no action. Boooorrrring. Make your signing an Event. Practice calling it that and put it on your posters and fliers, and you'll do much better.
1.) How to approach a store managerFirst, make a list of the bookstores in your area. You can add to your list by moving outwardly to nearby towns and cities. Or if you're planning a trip, you might want to see if you can hold an author event in distant cities when you're traveling.
I get far better results if I stop in and talk to the store manager in person than if I call on the phone. But for those stores that are not nearby, you can contact them by phone.
If you're working by phone I strongly suggest you check out the store before you call. I once asked a friend if there was a bookstore in her small town. She said there was one, but she gave me a very skeptical look. She told me where it was. The next time I passed through that town, I checked it out. It was in an old house in the middle of the block. I parked in front and climbed the steps to the front door. I could see shelves of books through the front window. When I stepped inside there was no one in the front room, but a musty smell met me. I could hear voices coming from a back room but no one came. Books were stacked in dusty piles everywhere along with old boxes of magazines. It was awful. I would have been embarrassed to hold an author event there, but I wouldn't have known that if I had only called on the phone and had never seen the place before arriving for my event. I turned and left and as far as I know the owner of that store never knew I was there.
So when you stop by a store (or call), what should you do and say? First, you should be dressed for a business meeting, probably office-casual. (No frumpy t-shirts, ragged blue jeans, or ugly shorts or sandals.) Make a good first impression.
When you arrive, tell a store employee you'd like to ask about hosting an author event and ask who you should talk to. Usually it's the store manager. Sometimes there is an event coordinator.
Take a copy of your book(s) with you. Tell manager you're an author and you'd like to talk to her (or him) about hosting an author event in her store. Ask, "Do you have time to talk now or should I schedule a time to come back?" Be flexible, professional, and respectful of her time. Store managers will drop anything to talk to a customer, but you are not a customer--you are a fellow business person and she is on the clock. If she needs to schedule time later to talk to you, do so. If the store is not close to you and it would be hard for you to wait around or come back, ask if you can call her and have that meeting by phone. She has already seen you, sized you up, and has seen you are a professional, so doing the rest of your business by phone is not a problem.
Whether you have the discussion right then or later, here's what to do...
2.) What to expect and what you needThe first thing you need to know is that, from my experience, the store manager will most likely not be happy that you are approaching her about an in-store author event. Most managers I've met with see author signings as an imposition rather than a way to gain more sales or draw in more customers. No doubt this attitude comes from their past experiences with authors: they've done this before and it did nothing positive for their store. I'm out to change that. I hope you're with me.
When you tell her face to face that you'll like to host an author event, you'll be able to judge her attitude toward author signings in her reaction. Do her eyes light up with excitement? Or...not? She may come out and tell you that author book signings don't sell many books or don't draw in many customers. Many times I've heard, "They don't do any good." Don't let that discourage you.
You can acknowledge her concerns and past experiences. Tell her it is your aim to make your presence in her store as much of a blessing to the store as the event will be to you as an author. Tell her you will take care of everything and it won't cost her anything, other than arranging for her cashiers to be able to sell your book(s) through her check-out system. (This won't be a problem. She'll enter your book's bar code info in her system and you're set.) The one thing you need from her is a location near the front of the store where you can greet customers as they come in. Tell her you can even bring your own table if need be.
Talk with her. Work with her. By the time you finish reading this and next month's posts, you'll know what to plan and what to do, so you can speak to her with confidence that you have a plan to make your event successful.* You can talk with her about the details of what you plan--what you'll have on your table, which book(s) you'll feature, what hours you can be there. Make adjustments if she doesn't like an idea or has a better one. See what you can work out. Put on your very best office/professional manners (but don't be gushy and don't over-promise what you can't or don't want to provide). Be respectful. Remember that you are asking to be a guest in her store.
*You can even discuss what "success" would look like. Maybe it's not selling a lot of books. Maybe "success" that day will be for you to make a few more potential readers aware of your book(s) and, through your pre-event publicity and inviting your friends, draw a few new potential customers into her store. And then if you happen to sell a few books too, that's icing on the cake.
I've approached both independently-owned stores and large chains, and I've received permission to hold an event every time I've asked except for once. (And I decided that one turn-down was probably a good thing after all.)
3.) What about those large chain stores like Barnes & Noble, Mardel, and Family Christian?Yes, it's possible for you to hold a signing in a large chain. I've heard other authors say that the chain bookstores don't let little-known authors hold author events/book signings. That's not my experience. I have held author events in all the chains listed above as well as Borders before they went out of business. How did I get in? Just like I explained above in #1.
I've never gone through the national headquarters of a chain to set up an event. I've learned most stores have leeway for each manager to make their own decisions about what goes on in a store, to a certain extent. I've even heard statements like, "Well, headquarters doesn't like us to, but I do it anyway."
I will admit that my first time in one of these stores a fellow author got me in the door. More about that next...
4.) Strategic PlanningThe adage "a crowd draws a crowd" is true for book signings. If you can draw (or create) a crowd at your book table, other people will come to see what's going on. That's a great reason to ask your friends to come to your signing, and a terrific reason to welcome them even if they don't buy a book. However if you have friends stopping by just to chat, guide them to the side of your table and chat there. Often friends stand right in front of the table and stay there. Other prospective customers will not elbow their way past them to get to your book; they'll crane their neck to see what's up, but then will pass on by. You need to keep the way to your book clear unless there is actually a line. Then people will know to get in line.
Another way to create a crowd is to have an event with multiple authors. I've done several events where multiple authors were in attendance. There are pros and cons. There is a time for group signings. And there are times when you do not want to invite your author friends. Let's talk about it:
When to hold a group event:
- When you've all contributed to the same compilation book. I've held author events with contributors to the same book on several occasions. It's fun to meet other authors and customers usually enjoy meeting them too. Plus you're only marketing one book and the same book. The crowd of authors helps draw a crowd of customers.
- Sometimes special occasion make great opportunities for a group signing. If you have a Father's Day book and so does another local author, you might use that occasion to do an event together.
- Other authors have invited me to join them at a store for a signing. As mentioned above, this has helped me get into a store for the first time and I'm very appreciative to the authors who have done this for me. Since I've now met the manager and shown them I am a professional to work with and do a good job at my author events, I feel confident I can go back ask to have a signing of my own. One signing has also led to another event in another store in the same chain. I have also invited authors to join me in a signing. If you plan to add authors to your event, be sure to make sure this is okay with the store manager! (See below.)
When NOT to hold a group event:
- When I was scheduling an event for one of my own compilation books, I thought it would be great to invite the local contributors to join me. A crowd draws a crowd, right? I was thinking of the extended reach of each of them inviting their friends and family. I was also thinking it would be a good experience for them, since most of them had never done such an event. But when I ask the store manager if this would be okay, she said, "More than three authors at the same time makes it too crazy." I had more local contributors than that, so I decided I couldn't invite them. I did invite them to come to the signing as customers, however. Make sure you ask the store manager before you extend invitations for other authors to join you as part of your event.
- Earlier I mentioned authors with books on similar themes might get together for a group signing. There are times, however, when I simply don't want the competition. I want the customers' attention focused on my book. Do the math. You have a certain number of customers walking in the door on any given day. A certain percentage of them will buy a book. You can split that number between two or more authors, or not. Doesn't it make more sense to set up your own even, and let the other author set up another event at another time? You're reaching twice the customers and marketing a different book to 100% of the customers who come in that day.
- Another time when I may not want the competition is when I'm selling a seasonal book. Last year when my Christmas book launched, I didn't even put my other books on the table. It was Christmas season and I wanted all the attention on my new Christmas book. I did well with sales. And that's another point...
- Too many books equals too much confusion. I call it "choice fatigue." Have you ever stood at the pickle section or the cereal aisle in the grocery store and just stared because there are so many different kinds you can't figure out which to choose? Too many books (and authors) creates too many choices and too much eye-confusion on your table. Take it down a notch and you'll make more sales. (Schedule another event for other books.)
- Finally, another time I do not invite my author friends to join me is when I'm in a store for the first time. Face it, what other authors do reflects on you. When I don't know a store manager well, I want to do an event by myself. I want to establish myself as a professional and build a relationship with that store manager. I've had some challenges working with managers. I have also had some challenges working with other authors. If I'm setting up the event, anything the other authors do (even unintentionally) reflects on me also. I remember one particular occasion when I had a challenging situation with a manager I was working with for the first time and I was so glad I hadn't invited another author to join me because if they had responded even slightly negatively, even with a facial expression, it would have escalated the situation. By myself, I was able to handle the situation to a satisfactory outcome. The bottom line is, I refuse to put myself in a position where my business reputation might be damaged by someone else. (You should too.)
5.) How to get the word out about your Author EventNow that you have an event scheduled at a store, you need to get the word out. How? Here are some ideas:
- Ask the store if you can supply some "bag stuffers," which are small fliers the employees put in each customer's bag in the days and weeks previous to your event. Ask how many you should provide. I usually get these to the store two weeks before the event. Check back a week later to see if the store needs more.
- Ask if the manager will make a poster to put in her store or if she'd like you to do that. A simple poster in MS Word can be printed and delivered or mailed or e-mailed if you've already asked if the manager would be willing to print and hang it. Put your book cover on it and the standard who, what, when, and where information. Save it on your computer as a template and next time you'll just need to change the details and you'll have it done.
- Of course you can hand fliers to your friends.
- Hang fliers in other business also, with their permission.
- Find out if the store has an events calendar on their web site or Facebook page and make sure you'll get posted there.
- Finally, post the event online. I listed five places you can do that in my January 2013 post "5 Ways to Get the Word Out About Your Author Event."
If you're anxious to get going on setting up your in-store author event (AKA "author book signing) and are impatient for next month's post, don't worry. I recently learned the hard way (the way I usually learn things) that summer is not the best time to hold an author event. The store is slow! Sales, like customers, are few. Better to wait for a busier sales season, like the fall or Christmas season (starts in October) to schedule your event.
@DianneEButts How to set up an #author's #book signing in a bookstore. http://ow.ly/nvqF5 Click to Tweet
@DianneEButts How to set up an in-store #author event. http://ow.ly/nvqF5 Click to Tweet
@DianneEButts Tips for making your #author event a success! http://ow.ly/nvqF5 Click to Tweet
@DianneEButts Should you invite your #author friends to join your #book signing? http://ow.ly/nvqF5 Click to Tweet
PS: Don't forget to click on the "Writing Opportunities" menu tab above to check out some new opportunities.