Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Promotional Hall of Shame

by Stephanie Black

A writer friend with a new book coming out soon learned, to her surprise, that bookstore managers aren’t keen on scheduling booksignings right now. I don’t know the reasons, but I’m not devastated. Truth is, I . . . um . . . er . . . well, don’t tell anyone, but booksignings aren’t exactly my favorite thing to do.

Okay, let me qualify that. I enjoy some parts of booksignings. It’s fun to talk to people, and to meet wonderful, supportive bookstore employees. It’s a thrill when someone comes specifically to see me (I’m so non-famous that this doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s awesome). I also enjoy signing with another author. This is about a thousand times better than signing solo. With another author next to me, I’m not in this alone, and I have someone to chat with in the dead times.

Fact is, I’m simply not a very good salesperson. Sitting at a table, smiling at people when they enter the store and offering them bookmarks, hoping that someone will take an interest in my book . . . urghh! Yes, I KNOW you’re not supposed to just sit at your table. I know you’re supposed to roam and hand out bookmarks and meet people that way when they aren’t stopping at your table. At my last round of signings, I did force myself out of my chair now and then to hand out a bookmark or two. But I don’t like it. I do it because I don’t want the bookstore employees to think I’m a dud. And here’s something I’ve never figured out: how exactly do you apply the roaming principle if it’s a slow day at the bookstore? You can’t go around stalking the only two customers in the store.

In a list of tips for successful signings, it said something about offering your book to people, because if you can get them to hold it, there’s a higher chance that they’ll buy it. Here’s my problem applying that principle: besides being an introvert, I know how I would feel if I were a customer in Seagull Book, and an author approached me and offered me her book. This is what would happen: I’d take the book and say something like, “Oh, cool!” (in a perky voice). Meanwhile, I’d sweat, my heart would race, and while I read the backliner with the author looking on, I’d be frantically wanting to escape. Knowing how uncomfortable I’d feel, how can I do that to someone else? Yes, I know not everyone is as wussy as I am, and most people probably wouldn't have issues with glancing at the book, handing it back, and saying, "No, thanks" if they didn't want it, but I have an overdeveloped sense of guilt, so for me, that situation would be uber-awkward.

Confession: in my pre-author days, I would have taken the “Don’t make eye contact! Don’t make eye contact!” approach if I entered a bookstore and saw an author doing a signing. Now, I’d be a lot more likely to go up and chat with the author, because I know how it feels to be sitting at that table. Yes, you want people to buy your book, but even more than that, you want people to come talk to you. So if you go into a bookstore and see an author, you don’t have to buy her book, but if you go greet her and chat with her, she’ll bless your name for generations.

Anyway, there it is. I'm a wimp. Strangely, they haven't asked me to teach a class on book promotion at the upcoming LDStorymakers Writers Conference. Go figure.


At 4/08/2009 4:42 PM, Anonymous Chas Hathaway said...

I hear you. I've never done a signing, but I've had to do "vigorous" promotion of my music CD, and I CAN'T STAND promoting myself. I feel like a five year old trying to show everyone my disgusting scar.
I'd much rather let the stuff promote itself.

Only trouble is, the moment I do that, income stops. Rrg...

- Chas

At 4/08/2009 4:49 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

I hate booksignings, too. But, more than hating booksignings, I hate the way a lot of authors act at booksignings.

Here's the thing that I think that authors need to realize: when you sell a book, you are not selling a product; you are selling an experience (the experience of reading and thinking and imagining). The enjoyment of the experience, and satisfaction with the purchase, can be destroyed if someone feels pressured into buying the book. If the customer doesn't have a good experience with the author, they may carry those negative feelings into reading the book, and dislike the book. Worse, when they're at book club and someone mentions the author, the customer will say "I met that author at the bookstore, and let me tell you what a freak he was!"

Tactics like getting the customer to hold the book definitely work, but I would much rather lose that one sale at the store than lose a dozen sales through bad word of mouth.

At 4/08/2009 6:10 PM, Blogger J Scott Savage said...

I think it's the difference between a book signing and a book selling. I love all the parts you mentioned. What I don't love is trying to sell someone my book like a vacumer cleaner. If you just go to have fun and worry less about how much you sell, it's better, and it is deinitely best with more than one author.

But I still am not very fond of signings that are not tied to some event.

At 4/08/2009 6:12 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

I'm an introvert, so book signings used to be uber painful. I've gotten better and leaving the table and chatting with perfect strangers and all that stuff.

Every so often I have a FUN book signing (like someone actually came into see me--so rare!), but for the most part, I view them as work. I spend the time getting out of my comfort zone, talking to people, and being ON for an hour or two hours or whatever it is. It's draining, and I come home exhausted.

All for selling a handful of books. So I'm another person in the camp of being rather glad we aren't expected to do as many as before.

Tower of Strength has been out for just over a month, and I've done two signings for it (on the same day). With my first book in '02, I probably had a dozen signings in the same period. Ugh.

At 4/08/2009 6:27 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

Well, for what it's worth, I'm glad you had the booksignings in Orem, because it was really nice to meet you in person! And the other Frog Bloggers, too! Even Rob!

At 4/08/2009 7:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm torn. I'm one of those people who keep my eyes on my destination when I enter a bookstore. If there’s an author behind a table without anyone to talk with, I feel terrible for him, or her, but that hasn’t stopped me from circumventing around him to finish my business. That was before knowing all of you through this blog. Now? I would probably stop at the table before checking out to at least say hi, and find out about his book. If I had other books in my hands, then it would be easier to say, “Sorry, can’t afford anymore today, but I’ll remember for the next trip.”


At 4/08/2009 8:58 PM, Blogger Janet said...

I'm so glad you wrote this post, I thought there was something wrong with me. I feel exactly the way you do!
And by the way, thanks for stopping and talking to me at Women's Conference last year and for buying a book. It made my day :)

At 4/08/2009 9:16 PM, Blogger Nancy Campbell Allen said...

I agree, Stephanie. I hate feeling pressured and I won't pressure other people. Signings are hard, and that's why I'm so grateful for the sales staff. I think it's so much easier for a customer to say "no thanks," to an employee than to the actual author. Most people don't want to hurt feelings and I agree with Rob- you don't want to buy something you felt pressured into buying.

At 4/08/2009 11:20 PM, Blogger LexiconLuvr said...

While I've never had the experience, I can sympathize. I can't stand selling things. I'm one of those guilty sorts and I hate feeling pushed. I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one out there. =]

At 4/09/2009 2:59 AM, Blogger Paige's Pages said...

You are all very right. After almost six years as an employee at Seagull Book I can tell you that when the author is nice to the employees, even if they dont sell a single book, it goes a long way. When you have had a bad experience with an author it makes it super hard to sell their books. Im way more inclined to sell a book whos author I have met and like. Good luck at any future signings! :)

At 4/09/2009 1:59 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

It's so great to get feedback from all of you and to know I'm not alone! Thanks for the comments and insights.

Jon, meeting you was definitely one of the highlights of my booksignings.

Janet, I'm so glad I was able to make your signing more enjoyable! And Monday Nights in Zarahemla is a great resource.

Paige, I'm delighted to hear that what matters most to the staff is if the author treats them well--not if they sell a ton of books. I'm relieved to know that!

At 4/09/2009 2:33 PM, Blogger Heather Justesen said...

Stephanie, I hear you and am not looking forward to doing book signings, though I know as a new author I'm going to have to squeeze as many in as possible at first.

I'm definitely looking forward to signing with other authors though.

At 4/09/2009 2:43 PM, Blogger Marcia Mickelson said...

I'm a wussy too, Stephanie. I feel the exact same way.

At 4/13/2009 9:41 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Okay, you all know I'm strange, but I enjoy signings. Maybe it's just because they give me a chance to go play grown-up for a while, but I like getting out and meeting people and I see it as having a good time. If I sell some books, hey, that's great. But I've always believed in the power of building relationships. Like the smart man said above, you want the reader to have a good relationship with the author. And even if they don't buy your book that day, they'll think well of you the next time they're shopping.


Post a Comment

<< Home