Wednesday, September 12, 2012

5 Tips For A Successful Book Signing

I've been doing a lot of in person appearances lately for Haunted Hamilton and will be doing more shortly for Tesseracts Sixteen.

Signed stock of Haunted Hamilton at Coles Eastgate Mall in Hamilton

As I was sitting at the author table during a recent mall store book signing, I started to make some notes on successful things I have tried for signings -- so thought I'd summarize a few tips of things that have worked nicely for me right here.

1) Have Something to Prop You Up & While You're At It Give Me Some Candy

If applicable, use props. Because I write horror, and my latest book is collection of ghost stories about the Hamilton area, the props I use to attract attention, draw people's interest, are spooky in nature.  Yorick the skull has come to book signings with me since 2004.  But I also have a spooky tablecloth, a solid standup tombstone or two, a few other skulls on the table and now Barnaby, a full size pose-able skeleton. These might be considered the hooks. Lots of people look, and those drawn to the spooky tend to wander over to check out what it's all about -- those are my target audience.

In particularly, because my book is about local ghost stories, I hung a "Ghost Stories Told Here" sign that worked nicely - some folks approached, pointed at the sign and said:  "Okay, tell me a ghost story."

Perfect ice-breakers.

One of my props happens to be a giant skull-head bowl. I fill it with small chocolate bars and treats -- Halloween style. Why? Two reasons.  One, since my table looks like Halloween I might as well offer a treat to those who come gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.   Two, and more importantly, it becomes a bit of an ice-breaker as well; allows me to a way to strike up a conversation on neutral ground -- ie, offering them something, not selling them something. Even if they don't purchase something, they leave feeling a bit better because they stopped by and got something for free.

Some might argue that people will feel a little more likely to purchase if you offer them something for free, but that's actually rare in my experience. Plenty of people take giant handfuls and walk off. Some people are like that. I merely offer the candy as a kind, positive gesture.  Perhaps I'm a believer in Karma.

Skulls, tombstone, Barnaby & a sign - I wonder if this is a spooky book?

2) Clipboard for Newsletter Sign-up

If you have an email newsletter (ie, an attempt to build a tribe of people who are interested in getting updates and learning about your next project), then you shouldn't attend a book signing without some sort of email newsletter sign-up form.

You might consider adding a couple of names onto the empty sheet to demonstrate there are already people on the list, since people tend to be a bit more reluctant to be first to fill something out -- but if there's already a list started, they're less hesitant.

A mailing list is a good way to find a group of people who are already interested in what you have to offer.  Go read Permission Marketing by Seth Godin -- it's a dozen years old, but it's still bang on and Godin Gold!

3) The Strange Mathematics of Proximity and Signage

Here's an interesting thing I have noticed. When people see an author at a table, even when there aren't intriguing props, they want to check it out, but folks tend to be a little leery of getting the "sales pitch" -- they want to know what it's all about, but don't want to feel pressured, and thus might not approach.

This is where having a display of your books nearby works beautifully.  Perhaps it's only 10 feet away.  Perhaps it's deeper inside the store, near the cash desk with a sign that simply says "TODAY: Meet author of Haunted Hamilton"

At a recent bookstore event I did, there was a display of my books less than 10 feet away -- far enough that people could check out the book without feeling me hovering over them (ie, they could relax and "enjoy" the experience of browsing, without the sense that I was expectantly waiting to talk to them, interrupt or throw a hard sales pitch at them)
I noticed that several different people who were "afraid" to approach me and took a wide berth, paused to check out my books on display further away.  Upon browsing the book without stress, 3 times out of four, they would approach the table and ask if I was the author and if I could sign the book. Without that display, they likely would have just moved past, curious but not inching close enough to realize it might be something interesting.
Alas, poor Yorick. I signed books with him, Horatio.
4) Sell Only To Your Target Audience

The last thing I'll ever believe is that my books are great for everyone. Horror is not everyone's cup of tea, so I'm used to the plain and simple fact that my target demographic audience is smaller than those interested in romance or thrillers or mysteries -- yes, there might be some cross-over, but my stuff doesn't appeal to everyone; nor should it. Any author who believes their book is great for everyone is demonstrating that they haven't really thought their target audience out yet.

Haunted Hamilton can appeal to three types of people:  1) Those who love ghost stories and tales of true supernatural events 2) Those who love history, particularly local history and 3) Those who love anything having to do with the city of Hamilton.  Fortunately for this latest book, that's a pretty broad target demographic.  However, I do recognize that there are those who simply won't be interested in my book.

It is critical for an author to recognize that fact -- and yet, so difficult for some to realize, particularly since us authors tend to be pretty passionate about our work, our babies.

When I'm at my table sure I'm enthusiastic about and eager to discuss my book -- but I also pay attention to the person in front of  me. And if it's not clear to me that they'd be interested, I come out and ask what kind of books they like. If historic ghost stories of the local area aren't of interest to them, then I'm honest and might tell them a little but suggest they wouldn't like it.  This gives them an easy "out" if they're not interested and doesn't waste my time nor their time.

I think one of the worst things is if someone who isn't interested in the topic or genre ends up buying it.  It'll most likely NOT be a pleasant experience for them, and they're more than likely going to tell everyone they know that you and your book suck. Not a good scene.  But if someone who is likely to enjoy what you've written, chances of them liking it are dramatically improved. Again, why stack the odds against you?

5) Don't Forget Your Manners

Bookstores typically don't make much money at the average event. Sure, they might sell some books, but many times there are costs you as an author don't see.  They have to order extra stock, receive and unpack the stock - set up a display/table, etc. Potentially advertise or produce posters, etc for the event.  Then, when the event is over, they have to send the overstock back to the publisher, which also costs time, resources and money.  If you're a consignment author the work is even more manual and often frustrating for the staff/management, typically because it's a different system that requires extra effort outside the normal daily processes.

In a nutshell, having an event is a lot of work. I know this because I've been a bookseller for two decades. I know the work involved.

Thus, if, after the event, you take the time to write a simple thank-you card and send it to the manager/owner, it goes a long way.  Perhaps there was a staff member there who did something special, made you feel great, was personable, friendly, great with customers. Take the time to make sure you compliment them, praise them in some way; ideally in writing.  It'll make the manager/owner feel good about their store and about their staff.

And it never hurts to have a bookseller, bookstore manager/owner like you.  When deciding which title to put in the front window, on a limited space display, and the choice ends up being between your book and some other book that fits equally well, how do you think your previous positive kind actions will affect that decision? How about when it's time to get rid of extra stock to clear shelf space. Yours or another title? How will your interactions with them affect that?
Coles Limeridge - One Hand Screaming - Oct 2004

Your mileage, of course might vary -- and keep in mind I mostly write horror and twilight zone type stories -- so my tips align with my expected audience.

But these are things that have worked for me.  What other tips would you add -- ie, things that have worked for you?


Anonymous said...

Hey Mark.

I've done about a billion book signings - but I never thought of an e-mail mailing list.

Great entry.

Genevieve Graham said...

Great tips, Mark. I especially like the display of books off to the side. And yeah, like Steve, I think I'll try that newsletter sign-up thing. Thanks!

Mark Leslie said...

Thanks guys. I was at a recent reading that Kevin J. Anderson did in Toronto, and he took the opportunity to pass around a clipboard for people in the audience to sign up to his newsletter. I smacked myself on the head and said (as writers often do when they witness a brilliant idea): "Now why didn't I think of that?!"