After several signing engagements with The Rogue Shop, I've learned a thing or two about what what makes a successful appearance. There are several things you can do to prepare that will increase your chances of placing more copies of your book in loving homes. Then there are the things that are out of your control, but can have a big influence on the outcome.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
You'll want to show up at the store about a week before to introduce yourself to the manager and hopefully get a poster with your book cover and the time and date of the event posted right on the front door. Create events on Facebook and Goodreads and invite everyone you know via email. If the event is in a smaller town, it shouldn't take much effort to get an item in the local newspaper.
The store should provide you with a table and chair, and maybe a tablecloth. Bring your own, if you have one that better fits your theme and color scheme. Have plenty of bookmarks or pencils or other promotional items on hand. If possible, have your setup close to the front door, facing it. You'll want to be in a position to greet everyone who comes in with a big smile.
Are your prepared to answer the question "What's it about?" in a compelling way? This should be the shortest and strongest of pitches. If you hit those who approach your table with "It's YA dystopian fantasy about monsters that eat kids for lunch," you might get some blank looks. On the other hand, "It's an exciting and scary story about a world where a small group of brave kids discover that they are being raised as food for giant alien invaders!" might grab more interest, especially if you say it with enthusiasm. Hand them a copy of your book and smile. Even if they aren't in the market for your book themselves, they will scan their brain for ANYONE they can buy it for before they hand it back to you. If they do walk away, make sure they have a bookmark and a friendly "Thanks for stopping by!"
The bookstore manager and employees can be your greatest allies. If you make the effort to introduce yourself to all of them, and talk to them during the slow times, they will warm up to you and make an effort to direct customers your way. Bring them a small gift, even as little as a fun-size piece of candy, to show your appreciation. Go out of your way to be pleasant and you will be invited back regardless of the sales numbers.
My first signing was at an LDS chain store, the largest in the area. The date scheduled was the day after their new catalog, in which my book was prominently featured, hit mailboxes. It was a Saturday afternoon and there was plenty of traffic in the store. I was prepared and had everything set up the way I like it. Unfortunately, the store's manager was NOT prepared. She only had 5 copies of the book in stock, and they sold out within 15 minutes. I spent the rest of the time passing out bookmarks and listening to the life stories of a couple of older people who needed a listening ear. I listened, because I had little better to do.
My third signing was vastly different. It was the same chain, but the store was much smaller, located in a strip mall well off the main road. The manager told me it was one of the chain's least busy stores. However, she was much better prepared than her counterpart at the other store. She had ordered in 20 copies of my book and had featured it on the "New Releases" shelf right inside the front door. I came in a week prior to give her my poster, but she already had one up announcing the event. When I arrived on the Saturday of the event, she had already sold 7 copies, so there were 13 left. She or her employee at the cash register greeted EVERY customer who entered the store and asked, "Have you met our visiting author, Michael Knudsen? He's right over there!" This being a small, low-traffic store, only 12 customers approached my table during the 2 hours of the signing. But get this--every single one bought a copy of my book. That's right, 100% presentation to sale ratio, not one person walked away empty-handed. I credit the store manager's enthusiastic attitude and salesmanship for much of the result.
We'll all have some bad ones and some good ones. Sometimes, you'll strike out after the best efforts at preparation. Other times, you'll sell book after book and wonder where they all came from. The best thing you can do is prepare and show up with a burning knowledge that your book is well-worth the price being charged, and only available for a limited time. Sell yourself and people will feel good about taking a piece of you home with them in the form of your book.