By Jennifer Hudson Taylor
The culture of each book store is very different. Some require you to go through their outreach coordinator at their corporate office, while others only require getting in touch with the local manager. Some will want you to provide posters and promotional material ahead of time, others will request an electronic file and print banners and posters for you. Be open-minded and prepared for anything. Do whatever they ask.
Why You Need to Set Up Book Signings
You may be thinking, I'm a new debut author, why do I need to set up book signings when no one knows who I am? Or I've had several book signings and it's always the same old thing, sitting at a table where no one shows up and I sell only a handful of copies. It seems like a waste of time.
Even if you can't bring in tons of people like John Grisham or Nora Roberts, you CAN gain a couple of readers from the the store's foot-traffic, and as an unknown author, that's your goal. Holding a book signing forces bookstores to buy copies of your book that they otherwise wouldn't buy. Even if you don't sell all of them, you can sign a few of them and then they can't send them back. You are guaranteed a couple of copies on their shelves, thereby, giving your books time to sell--a chance. It's much better than having them sit in a warehouse somewhere with no chance to sell at all.
Every book signing does increase awareness about you and your books. People may not buy your book that day, but they might be interested enough to check you out later. The more they hear about you, the more they will be willing to try your second, third or fourth book. Studies show that the average consumer doesn't buy a product on the first few times of hearing about it. They buy on the ninth and tenth times of hearing about a product. It's branding and impressions. Persistence is the key in achieving anything.
Making the Initial Contact
Do an online search of book tores in the area you'd like to hold a book signing and call those bookstores. Ask who you would need to speak to in order to set up a book signing. Be prepared to give them the ISBN number of your book, the release date, your publisher, and which distributors will be carrying your book. You can find this out from your publisher.
You may get a chance to talk directly to the manager or store event coordinator or you may be requested to leave a message or to call back at a different time. If you are asked to leave a message, don't expect anyone to call back. I'm learning they rarely return calls, even in Christian bookstores. Be prepared to call them back again, and again, and again. You will play phone tag, you will leave additional messages, you may get discouraged, but don't give up.
If you get a chance to speak to the right person, they may out-right ask you if you can draw in a lot of people/traffic. Be honest. Tell them you will try your best. Offer to promote the event ahead of time, to send out flyers, to send posters to their store, bookmarks to hand out with purchases. They may ask if you plan to promote to the media. Again, be honest. Tell them you will try to contact media. Don't make a promise you can't keep. You can send out the best well-written media release ever created, but that doesn't mean a radio, newspaper, or TV station is going to print it or air it. All you can promise is that you will make the effort.
Don't be embarrassed if you are trying to set up a book signing in a city where you don't know a soul. The idea is to meet people you don't know so they can hear about you and your book. If you really believe you can't sell 50 copies of your novel, ask them to only order 15-20 books. The bookstore will appreciate your honesty. It will save them shipping costs in not having to send back the books you don't sell. Offer to bring extra. The bookstore can always reimburse you for your own copies or send you books to replace any of your own you had to use. Make sure you work out an arrangement with the manager beforehand.
Some bookstores will ask you to email some information about your book to them. Send a brief bio and author photo, book title and blurb on your book, the book cover, ISBN number, and a link to your blog or website. Again, don't expect a response. Email makes it easy for people to ignore you, forget about you, and emails go into spam folders, and get lost in cyberspace. Wait a week and follow-up with a phone call, or two, or three. If you receive a response from your email, count it as a blessing. Some who have requested I send emails to them have yet to respond.
Out of Town Book Signings
Before setting up a book signing with a store out of town, be sure to calculate the driving time, if you will need lodging, gas mileage, eats, all other associated expenses. Stay within your budget, and if you have a tight budget, don't fly all over the place, stay within driving distance where possible. Combine vacations, family reunions, kids' sporting events, and other outings with book signings. Make every personal and family event a book signing opportunity. Keep your book signings to no more than two hours. This gives your family members a chance to go see a movie, attend a ball game, do some shopping, and entertain themselves while you promote your book. It's only two hours out of an entire vacation, but make sure you give your family time without your laptop, Blackberry, or Droid in your hands.
It may seem like you aren't getting a return on your investment (ROI), but keep in mind that you are investing in future books you haven't yet written by making the first impression on potential buyers who need to hear about you at least ten times before they buy. You are building a platform and a writing career, if you happen to make sales in the meantime, those are added bonuses--a short milestone to give you inspiration and to help you keep going. We don't always see the impact we are making in people's lives, the seeds we are planting for God's glory, but something is always happening--even if you don't know it. Just get out there and try. Give God something to work with.
Monday, June 21, 2010
By Jennifer Hudson Taylor