Sunday, 25 November 2012

10 author tips for a happy bookstore event

My third YA book has just been published, The Gargoyle at the Gates, and I am starting a new promotional phase. Every children's author will tell you that they do classroom and library visits all year long, but when a new book comes out, they have to also add another element: the bookstore event.
Hard core, full on, cold sales on the floor of a busy bookstore can make some authors want to quit writing right then and there. And yes, it can be grueling, to spend two hours standing in a bookstore, beside your table, hoping people will make eye contact and talk to you.
Lots of people won't. You'll be disheartened by having crowds of children and their parents walk, no run, past you to the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid display, or mistake you for an employee and ask you where the bathroom is (this one happens a lot). You'll also find people who want to talk to you for fifteen minutes, and you still don't make a sale. Still, there ARE ways to make the bookstore sales event more pleasant and successful. And face-to-face selling is really, really valuable for any writer, especially if you are starting out. You get to talk to your audience and tell them what's so great about your book. You'll see how potential readers react to your title. Some kids will even sit down and start reading (I love that). And no matter what, there will always be someone in the store -- it's a bookstore, after all, people are there to buy books -- who is really excited to meet an author, even if they've never heard of you before. Full disclosure here: I've been a marketing writer and events planner for over twenty years. I've shilled for magazines, books, publishers and now my own books at various events, big and small, for decades. It IS hard, but here are a few tips I've found that really help:

1. Have an inviting table. Don't expect the bookstore to do it for you. Buy some book holders, take a table cloth, and make sure people can pick up your book easily. Put the display in the middle and the books at the edges for easy browsing.
2. Take flyers. It seems like an extra expense since you'll be standing right there, but some people are reserved, they'd like to read about you then decide if they want to talk to you. I take colour posters of my books with brief descriptions and stick them to the table, and leave a few for people to read or take away. This is also great if the table gets busy, and you can't answer everyone right away.
3. Get a prop. I have two: a gargoyle puppet and a 4-foot gargoyle poster. The puppet is a strangely outgoing salesman, and the giant 4-foot poster draws people to the table. (It is also at least as big as any other poster in the store, as big as say The Diary of a Wimpy Kid poster, for instance).
4. Hand out bookmarks, have a fun freebie. Bookmarks are a great way to introduce yourself, and inexpensive walk-away marketing whether someone buys your book or not. I also have a gargoyle stamp for inside books and kids' hands, another great freebie.
5. Don't just sit there. Ask the store to place you somewhere with lots of foot traffic, and don't sit down (unless you need a break and no one is around). Stand near your table, and talk to people. I wear my gargoyle puppet and get him to hand out bookmarks. If your section is quiet, walk into other parts of the store and hand out bookmarks and introduce yourself. Engage people, politely.
6. Know what  you're going to say. "Hi, I'm a local author selling my latest adventure book here today, perfect for 9-12 year olds," or something else fast and inviting. Tell them who you are, what you're selling and why, fast. If you're sincere, and you will be since it's your book, it's possible not to come across as a car salesman.
7. Don't assume about people. You never know who is going to buy your book. Humans never cease to amaze me. The harried mum with five kids, the quiet grandmother, the businessman, the young jock, engage them all. The person who seems completely unlikely, the 19-year-old skater dude in dreads for instance, might love what you are selling and buy five books for his little cousins. It's happened!
8. Third party endorsements really help. If you've won an award or been shortlisted or commended anywhere, invest in some stickers and slap them on your titles. People care what other people think.
9. Take "no" for an answer. You aren't a telemarketer. No means no, especially face-to-face. Don't take it personally, either. Just politely move along.
10. Thank the bookstore owner, and keep in touch. You are developing a professional relationship with someone, and you'll presumably be writing and promoting another book, one day. They want to promote you, it's good for them to have authors in their store. Plus, once they know your titles, they will likely be sure to keep them in stock and promote them. Win Win!

So, bookstore events do get easier the more you do them. And often, it's even fun.

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