Sunday, September 1, 2013

What To Do at Your In-Store Author Event (AKA "Author Book Signing") and How To Make It a Success - Part 2

Me at my "Author Event" at my church in June 2013.
Want a cookie?
Last month we talked about how to get an in-store author event (also known as an "author book signing") set up in a bookstore, whether it is independently owned or a chain store. Now that we have an event set up with a store, let's talk about what to do when you get there, while you're there, and how to make your author event/book signing a success.

1.) Being ready for anything

When you arrive at the store for your event, view it as an adventure. It's going to be exciting and fun, and truly anything can happen. Again, put on your very best business manners and determine that no matter what happens, you're going to meet the challenge with a smile, patience, abundant grace, and good humor when appropriate.

Be ready for customers to ask you anything, including "Where's the bathroom?" (you should know the answer to this one) or "Do you carry those little thingies I see people clipping to their car's sun visors?" (No kidding. I got that question. Luckily a store employee was nearby, heard the question, and knew exactly what the customer was talking about. Go figure.)

Also be ready for anything while working with the manager and the store staff. Not too long ago I arrived at a store and, when the manager saw me pulling my crate on wheels filled with my books, table decorations, and cookies in the door, she asked if she could help me as if I were a customer. I had stopped in and talked with her a few weeks earlier to make these arrangements. I realized right away she had completely forgotten I was coming. After a few minutes, she recognized me and began to remember. But she apparently had not only forgotten I had scheduled an event, she didn't remember that she was supplying me with a table and that we had discussed a location near the door.

Needless to say there was no table set up ready and waiting for me. I had to exercise patience as I watched customers come in and walk right past me while she got an employee to find a table, bring it to the front, and set it up for me.

2.) Setting up Your Space 

Here are some tips I've learned for setting up your author event space:

Table Location

You need to be near the entrance to the store where people can see you when they come in and where you can greet customers as they enter the store. This usually isn't a problem.

However... Remember that event when the manager forgot I was coming? She had wanted to set up my table at the back of her (very large) store. We had talked about that when I was in and had agreed I could be at the front of the store. But she had forgotten that discussion and again said she would set up the table at the back of the store. I immediately said, "I need to be at the front of the store or else no one will know I'm here."

Remember when I said you need to be ready for anything? This manager actually got a little testy and sarcastic. She asked if I really expected her to move an entire display to make room for me? I was actually surprised. And I could have responded with equal testiness and sarcasm, but since I had put on my very best business manners before I came in the store, I simply and softly said, "No ma'am. I don't expect you to move one of your displays to make room for me." And then I kept my mouth shut.

After a long moment, she softened and said, "What about over there?" The spot was in the center aisle behind a tall display (so no one coming in the door could see the table, or even me standing up) and was squished between the back of another display and a large post support post. I said okay (because I knew what I could do with that spot near the front of the store).

Do you think I stayed behind that display? After I set up my table, with cookies, I took one of my books to the front entrance of the store and endeavored to greet every single customer that came in that door for the rest of the day--and it was a very busy day. I ended up selling more than twenty books and I impressed the manager. At the end of the day, she said so. What could have been a disaster turned into a great event and sales day.

If you're ever put at the back of the store, you don't have to stay at your table. (Don't leave any valuables on it unattended.) Honestly, if she had put the table at the back of the store, I still would have been standing with my book at the front of the store. (Regardless of where you are, you need to walk around the store and talk to people.) For me, that just would have meant more walking back and forth to get another book from the table. Be polite. Don't go against what the manager tells you that you may do in her store. Don't burn any bridges. But do what you need to do to make your event a success.

Create an eye-appealing display

Bring a pretty table cloth and a table, but leave them in your car until you know if you need them.

You can bring decorations, like a vase of flowers (I use fake ones to eliminate an accidental spilling of vase water on my books, ruining them) or a bouquet of balloons. You can get a stand-up acrylic flyer holder to display a poster showing the award(s) your book has won. If you're artistic, you might get a small chalk board with colored chalks to give a message such as "Meet the Author" or which book you're featuring that day. To create an eye-appealing display, think of height as well as color that compliment your book.

Display your book(s)

Bring one or more book easels for your book(s). People see a book better and more are likely to buy when it is sitting up and visible rather than laying flat on the table. Don't lean your display book on a stack of books. And definitely don't display a book on top of a stack of books because it make it hard for someone to pick one up to look at it.

More you can put on your table

A plate of cookies, a bowl of chocolates, or some other goodie attracts people to your table.

You might want to offer your business cards, especially if you're a speaker or have another ministry where you would like people to contact you.

Offer small fliers or bookmarks with information on your other books. Tuck one into each book you sell. I often make these myself, four across on regular sized paper turn out about the size of a bookmark. Use both sides to list your book titles, web sites, blogs, Twitter, or a helpful list or informative quote from your book. Make two-sided copies on colorful paper at an office supply store and use their paper cutter to cut them. In your fliers and bookmarks be careful not to mention that customers can purchase your books at the store's biggest competitor, Amazon.com, or that your books are available on e-readers such as Kindle or Nook (unless you're at a Barnes & Noble store). In other words don't advertise for the store's competition while you're a guest in this store.

Also be careful not to make your table too full or busy-looking. As we discussed last month about "choice fatigue," too many different books can be overwhelming to customers. You don't want too many titles competing against each other. As mentioned before, it's better to hold more events featuring different books at each than to have your titles competing against each other.

3.) What to do now that your Author Event has begun... 

What is the first and most important thing do during your author event? Get up! Don't sit on your butt behind a table. Maybe if you're famous and the line for your book is stretching out the door and around the block, you need to sit behind the table and sign. But I don't tend to have that problem.

The days of an author sitting behind a table waiting for people to come are over, if they ever existed anywhere but in the movies or on TV, are over and long gone.

You must get up, get out from behind that table, and go greet your guests.

Most people will not approach you. Some are shy and intimidated. Most are busy and come in with a list of what they need and no time to spare.

A table between you and the store's guests creates a barrier. This barrier subconsciously communicates that you are unapproachable. If you sit behind a table, don't expect anyone to come up to you except possibly the kids who only really want a cookie.

Listen to me: you are working. You are like an employee in the store (though you are not an employee). You are serving your guests, your readers and potential readers. In my opinion, it is rude for you to expect them to come to you. They don't know you have that expectation. You need to go to them. For those of you who are Christians, this is like taking the Gospel to the people. You can sit in a church and hope or expect they'll to come to you, but in reality that ain't happenin'. Or you can get off your butt and take it to them. Servants take it to the people. Servants don't expect the people to come to them. Got it?

So what do you do ? How do you "take it to the people"? Answer: you "work the crowd."

4.) Working the crowd

Like it or not,  you must "work the crowd." How? You take a copy of your book and go talk to the people.

You develop your spiel. Have you ever heard about an "elevator pitch," that short pitch authors are told they need to develop to tell agents and publishers about their book in a short time, like on an elevator ride? Do you know how you develop one of those? Don't worry, I'll tell you how right now: You tell someone about your book. The first time you do it, you stumble and talk all around the topic and finally, maybe, get it said. You do that a dozen times and you start figuring out how to get it said. You do that another dozen times and you find it's getting shorter, you're honing it down. After another dozen or so, you've finally got it down to perfection. So get out there and get started!

"Hi! I'm Dianne and we're doing an in-store author event today. We're featuring this book right here: Prophecies Fulfilled in the Birth of Jesus. As I read through the Christmas story in the Bible, I discovered 35 prophecies that were written in the Old Testament and then were fulfilled in every detail in the birth of Jesus. I wrote 35 short chapters, one on each of those 35 prophecies."

At this point, you can tell whether or not they are interested in hearing more...or not. If they are looking past you and still moving, in a hurry, they are not interested. Let them go. Simply say, "Thanks for your time. Please take a cookie before you leave the store." Smile and move your eyes to the next customer coming in the door.

If they stop, look in your eyes waiting for more, or look at your book, maybe take it from your hands to thumb through, they are interested. Give them more. "In each of those 35 chapters," I say, opening the book, "I gave a key verse with the prophecy. Then I tell you where this prophecy was first given in the Bible, who said it, when, and in what context. Then we talk about how it was fulfilled in the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. At the end of every chapter there are three application questions, a Final Thought from me, a prayer, and where you can read more in the Bible on similar topics if you want to."

By now they are either taking the book from my hands to look at it or saying "No thank you," and moving on. If they want more, keep going...

"This is a great resource for individual study, family devotions, a small group Bible study, or a book club."

If they're still standing there listening, they want more. So keep going: "One of my favorite chapters in the book is about the Star of Bethlehem. You know, that prophecy that the Magi found that caused them to follow the star to Jesus..."

Your Author Event is not so much about selling books as it is about meeting your readers or potential readers, getting to know them, and helping them get to know you and your books. It's about serving them by showing them you have something that will help them or entertain them or add joy to their busy, tired, troubled life. Remember that principle and you'll do fine.

Also remember that every person you talk to, even those who say they are not interested, have heard about your book and may seek it out later. The seed has been planted. None of your efforts are wasted.

5.) Use a sharpie.

Now guess what? You've made a sale! Someone wants your book. Now what do you do?!
  • First, ask if they want the book signed. Most people will. A few will not.
  • Then ask if you want it signed to them personally? Some people definitely want their name in the book. If they don't, you can sign it "generically," just putting your cute saying and your signature. Some people want to read the book and then pass it on to a friend, and so they don't want their name in it. A few are buying it for someone else and want you to sign it to that person, so be sure to ask. Also ask for the spelling of the name and get it right. Write it first on a scratch paper if you need to.
  • Do not sign with a ball point pen. I'm told they fade. Instead, bring a Sharpie. They come in colors and I like to choose a color that goes well with my book's cover.
  • You might like to make up a saying to write before you sign your name, but it's not required. You can say something like, "I'll meet you in the pages" or a statement tied to the message of your book. 
  • Sign the Title page. I've noticed a lot of authors these days sign arbitrary pages. Some insist on signing the inside of the cover. Traditionally, the author signs the Title page.
  • If the book is a compilation I've contributed to, and if I'm not rushed, I will also sign the page(s) where my contribution appears. I put my cute message and signature on the Title page, then just sign my name on my story in the book.

6.) Expectations of sales and how a store pays

Most of the time it is true that we don't sell many books at a book signing. By using the techniques I've listed above like working the room and developing a spiel, I've increased my sales. But still, don't expect to sell hundreds or even dozens of books unless you're famous. Still, hosting in-store Author Events is valuable for your career, a lot of fun, and a great way to get out of your writing office for a day. So I encourage you to do it. Go out and bless the stores that sell our books.

Most of the time I bring the books. If the store carries my books on their shelves, I sell theirs first (because I've already been paid when the store purchased them). This isn't an issue with my new books, but might be if they still have previous books on their shelves. At my most recent event, I brought my new book and we agreed the owner would pull my other books off her shelves and put them on the table. We sold some of my books that had been on her shelves (one for ten years) and sold all but one of my most recent book (which she had already paid me for). After the event she ended up buying four more of those from me to put back on her shelves, plus her usual half dozen of my newest book. See? You don't lose out by helping them sell what is on their shelves. Always keep track of your inventory--what you bring into the store.

Rarely the store will order the books in advance and then you would get only the usual royalties from your publisher, but you're increasing your sales/royalties and gaining more readers. Some stores will not allow you to bring in books if they already carry it.

Stores pay you in different ways, and you should have discussed what you'll be paid and how you'll be paid before your event. Some of them pay me on the spot at the end of the event. Some stores can tell how many sales there were from their electronic cash registers and they will check your number. You will share the sales with the store--usually a percentage. Some pay me 60% of cover price. Some have me figure the profits, meaning subtracting my cost of the book, and then we split the remaining profits 50/50. Some pay me in cash while others write me a check. Some stores have me fill out a form, figuring what I will be paid. The form is then sent to corporate headquarters and I receive a check in four to six weeks.

A few stores take books on consignment. I've grown reluctant to sell on consignment except for special cases such as stores nearby my home. My reason is that I've seen few sales from consignments, which means my books are sitting on a shelf in a store in another state and I never hear from them again. So I no longer have the books in my inventory and I don't have the money either. I've just decided I need to have either the books or the money.


I hope these two posts on in-store author events have been helpful to you. Make yourself a checklist for your event prep as well as what to take with you for the event. Take some snacks and water. While I told you to get out from behind the table, do take time to sit and rest. Take care of yourself. Some stores have me in for a few hours, some for all day. Either way you'll be tired at the end. But it's a good tired.

Have you held author events? Do you have other tips? Or do you have questions? Post them in the comments section. And let us know about your events when you set them up!


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