Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Dreaded Book Signing

by Jeffrey S Savage

(I know, Monday was my turn. But I've been on the road and this was the first chance I got. Sorry.)

Today Sariah and I were discussing marketing options for her new book. It was refreshing to have someone grasp the concept prior to the publication of their first book that marketing is required. You can’t just buy a cabin in the woods with your royalties, curl up with your handy dandy laptop and write to your heart’s content while the $$$ roll in.

Is that the way it should be? Of course. Leave the schmoozing to Hollywood types who love to be in the limelight. Let us antisocial writers let our books do our talking. But the truth of the matter is that even the biggest writers had to get there by doing marketing. Stephen King hates talk shows, but he still does them. James Patterson was probably the hardest working author is the business when he started. Joe Konrath is a fulltime writer who spends one month a year writing and the rest marketing full time. He hasn’t taken a vacation in five years. And guess what? He just signed his second three book six figure deal with Hyperion. I’ll bet even Shakespeare handed out fliers to his plays.

So, let’s talk about the most common and most hated (by many authors) of the marketing gigs—the book signing. When your first book comes out, you are so jazzed to do book signings. What’s not to like, right? People wait in line, they tell you how great your books are, and you sign your name. Piece of cake, right?

Then you get to the store and the only people who actually come to see you are your parents. Everyone else comes in the door, sees that an author is signing, and avoids you like the bird flu. Where are all the fans where are all the gushing admirers of your work? Turns out you actually have to sell your books. You have to convince people to part with their hard earned dollars to buy something you, (who are not Gerald Lund, Anita Stansfield, or Dean Hughes) wrote.

A typical conversation can go something like this.

“Hi, have you heard about my new book?” you ask brightly.

“No,” they answer warily.

“It’s a (fill in your genre here)” you reply eagerly.

“I don’t like that genre,” they answer tartly. “My brother reads that kind of stuff.”

“Why don’t you get it as a gift for him,” you suggest, slyly.

“Cause he’s dead,” they finish the conversation completely.

After this has happened roughly twelve dozen times, and you calculate that you have spent 22 hours and 26 gallons of gas, all to sell 7 books, you decide that you won’t do any more book signings. That’ll show all those ingrate who hate (fill in your genre.) What you don’t realize is that you are not hurting them you are hurting yourself. Why? I’ll list just a few of the reasons.

1) Your publisher sets up these signings. If you turn them down, you are telling your publisher that you do not want to participate in the marketing of your own books. You may not feel it right away, but I guarantee that the amount of effort and dollars spent on you by your publisher WILL decrease. That time and money will go to the people who agree to do all the signings.

2) Bookstore employees like to sell the books of people they like. You can’t get that any other way than getting into their store and helping them sell your books. Want to see your sales drop? Refuse to do a signing or do a poor signing. (See below) The employees will stop recommending your books and your sales will drop.

3) No one knows how to sell your book better than you. You come up with a pitch that works and all the bookstore employees will start using that same pitch. I have bookstore employees all across the western US telling their customers that if they can figure out the end to House of Secrets before they get there, they can e-mail me and I’ll give them my next book free.

4) Even if you only sell two books, that is at a minimum two people who will look for your next book when it comes out. And it’s probably a lot more, because people who didn’t buy your book now may buy it later. And if those two people like your book, they will spread the word and the book—thus expanding your base of readers.

There are a lot more reasons, but they all come down to the same thing—sales. So if you don’t care about sales, don’t do signings. And see how long your publisher sticks with you.

With that in mind, here are ten tips to make signings a happier experience for everyone involved.

1) Have fun. Get up. Get around. Help the customers find books, or scriptures, or paintings. If you see that the person is looking for a kid’s book, recommend one. Sell other people’s books. Talk to the employees about how you came up with your story, how long it took to write it, what your favorite part is. Your enthusiasm is contagious and the time will pass.

2) Do NOT focus on how many books you sell. If you try to calculate your earnings per hour on how many books you sell, you will quit going. It is not about how many books you sell that day—it’s about how many books the store will sell over the coming months.

3) Do NOT sit behind the table. Every signing I go to, I hear about the guy who sat reading a paper the whole time. The woman who brought her laptop and worked on her book. The primadonna (sp?) who demands extra table space and spends the whole time talking to the friend she brought. The store employees may not say anything to your face. But they will discuss you after you leave and it is not pretty. (These are all real stories by the way.)

4) Make up fliers for your book. People are a little intimidated when they see an author in the store. You don’t like to have to sell your book and they don’t like to feel pressured to buy your book. So hand them a flyer and say, “This tells about my book I’m signing. Feel free to ask me any questions you might have.” Easy. No pain. And it works.

5) Bring candy. I was doing a signing with a lovely woman who had her first book out. She looked at the candy dish on my table and asked why the store gave me a dish of candy to hand out and not her. I told her they loved me more.

6) Tell everyone who buys your book to lend it to everyone they know after they finish. Think you’re hurting your sales by doing this? Think about future sales. You are expanding your fan base.

7) Bring goodies for the store employees. My favorite is the chapter book. It is a short story or the first few chapters of your next book, printed in landscape and bound with cardstock. (E-mail me and I’ll send you an example.)

8) When people say, “I loved your book.” Ask them what their favorite part was. Discuss why you wrote that part. You’ll make friends and people will gather around to listen. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.

9) If you’ve written previous books make sure to mention them. People don’t always remember your name, but they will say, “Oh Cutting Edge. I loved that book. This is your new one? I have to buy that.” If you haven’t written any other books, don’t worry about it. Just talk about your current book.

10) When you sign with another author always buy a copy of their book. I know we are all on tight budgets, and you may not be into romances, or mysteries, or historical fiction. But buy it anyway. It’s a classy thing to do, and you can always give it as a gift.


At 4/06/2006 11:55 PM, Blogger KB said...

I've been trying to explain this to authors for years now. It's the rare author who really gets it. I'm going to tell every author I know to read this post.

At 4/07/2006 12:12 AM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

Wow, I didn't realize book signings were so complicated and full of bribery...

But I have been one of those students who walk by those authors signing in the Bookstore. Partly because I have no money to buy the book for them to sign it, and partly because I don't know anything about that book. I would also recommend putting your website on a flier to handout. I am much less intimidated to research a website then to peruse your book right in front of you. Plus I have noticed that several authors put their first chapters on line. This could help interest a potential customer.

At 4/07/2006 8:35 AM, Blogger Candace E. Salima said...

I love book signings - Jeff is right when he says you can never estimate the long term benefits. But even with that, people are a blast to visit with -- love 'em!

At 4/07/2006 9:52 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

This is an awesome post. I like the way you give suggestions for non-threatening ways to approach potential customers. As a customer, I'm so uncomfortable if I know someone is trying to sell me something that as an author, I have a hard time pushing my book. But handing out fliers--hey, I can do that! Then the customer can peruse the flier without any pressure and learn about the book.

Thanks for some terrific advice.

At 4/11/2006 9:34 AM, Anonymous Nannette said...

Having been a manager at Media Play for two years, I can tell you this is wonderful advise. We had book signings almost every weekend, so I saw a lot of authors come and go. Most of them were eager to do whatever was required to sell their book, but I definitely saw those that read the papers, buried their faces behind their laptops or were just too shy to talk to anyone. I can't tell you how many customers will walk up to employees and ask for recommendations for books to buy as gifts. The employees remember the authors who were fun, personable and eager to talk to them about their books, and those are the authors/books we recommend.

All you authors out there, take heed, you'll definitely increase your sales by following Jeffrey's advise.

At 4/12/2006 1:58 AM, Anonymous Tristi said...

Hey Jeff,

What would your life be like without a little heckling from me? Dull and boring, right?
Anyway, I just wanted to make sure -- it's friends you want to make, not fiends, right? Just kidding -- I know all about typos. I agree in spades about your comments.

At 4/12/2006 10:06 AM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

No see, you misunderstand, Tristi. I wrote LDS mysteries, but in the national market I write horror. Do those book signings and you will make fiends.

All right I'll go back and fix it.


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