Sunday, July 13, 2008

What Makes A Booksigning Successful?

I had a great time signing books yesterday at the Waldenbooks in West Shore Plaza - when all was said and done, I signed over 40 books in about two hours, most of which were copies of my lastest release, A Match Made In Hell. (I also signed copies of my June anthology, Weddings From Hell.)

It was a successful signing by anyone's measure -Carolyn, the manager at Waldenbooks, was thrilled, and the staff was great! I signed books for them as well (hi, Branwyn! hi, Jessica!), and have already been asked back to do more signings for each of my next upcoming releases.

But I'm going to let you in on a little secret: selling a few books (even 40 of them) at a booksigning isn't going to make you, the author, tons of money, and if you're looking for an ego stroking, you're looking in the wrong place! :-) I mean, think about it - when was the last time you were in a bookstore, saw someone sitting at a table and rushed up to buy their book? If you're like me, the answer would be "never". When I go to a bookstore, I want to browse the shelves, pick up a few and read the back covers, and put them back without having to explain to the hopeful author herself why I don't want to buy it. Nobody likes to be put on the spot - whether you're a reader or a writer!

One of the first things people ask you when you become published is "When's the booksigning?" Many unpublished authors seem to think that a booksigning is the pinnacle of success, when the reality can be very, very different. You could sit there for two hours, all alone, having people avoid making eye contact with you. You can field questions like "Do you work here?" or "Where's the ladies room?" and never sell a single book.

So why do we authors do booksignings, and what's the best way to have them be successful? Most writers are introverts, not extroverts. We're not comfortable with hawking our wares to total strangers, asking "Wanna buy a book?". Here's what I do, and so far I've avoided the pitfalls of a bad booksigning experience.

1) I only do signings at stores where the manager is truly enthusiastic about my work. Nothing in the world beats "handselling", which is when the staff at the store continues to recommend your book even when you're not around. It's a two-way street as far as I'm concerned - the enthusiastic bookstore helps you sell your books, you help the bookstore by participating in a booksigning, which helps the store's bottom line. Believe me, the bookstore chain is making a lot more money per book than I am! So the more books I sell, the more profit for them. The more profit for them, the happier they are with me, and the more enthusiastic they'll be about selling my books. You see the pattern here? It's circular, and builds on itself.

2) I create my own audience. I'm not going to be that poor, lonely author sitting there by herself while people avoid eye contact if I can help it! So, I give the bookstore promotional material to hand out beforehand - bookmarks, a foamboard display (provided by my publisher), and even fliers to be slipped into bags at the bookstore, if they want them. I send out electronic "evites" to everyone I know in the local area, inviting them to the signing: friends, family, neighbors, local book clubs I've visited with, church members, anyone I can think of whose email address I have and who might be interested. I tell the people behind the counter at my dry cleaner, my pharmacy, even the lady who regularly checks me out at the grocery store. I notify the local newspaper so they can publish the time and date in the "Local Events" section. I'm never pushy - I just LET PEOPLE KNOW when and where I'm doing a booksigning.

By providing my own audience and giving the bookstore the tools to promote me, I'm once again making them happy, and they are once again even happier to sell my book when I'm not around. See that circular pattern again?

3) I approach each booksigning as a way to build relationships. If I've prepared properly, I'm going to see some people I haven't seen in a while, meet some new ones, and get my name (and my books) out there. And yes, I'm going to sell a few books to total strangers, who aren't as afraid to approach me if I'm already talking to people and signing books, instead of sitting there looking like I'm ready to pounce on them. :-)

The thing to remember here is that it really isn't about me making money at the signing - I've already been paid my advance, and the average author royalty on mass market paperbacks is about 8% per book, which means I've really only made less than $25 for two hours work, which I will not see until I've earned back my advance. It's about building relationships with the bookstore staff, who will remember me and recommend me to readers, and to the readers themselves, who will hopefully want to read more of my books, and recommend them to others. :-)

Make any sense? And hey, wanna buy a book? LOL


Anonymous said...

And you were really cute, too. I don't know if your good looks sold any more books, but it made me happy.--Your husband, Capt. America

tammy said...

Awww.. Terri. What a sweet guy. Looks like you had a great time on top of being cute. ;-)