Yesterday, my friend Maria and I attended a presentation by a writer talking about ways that authors can market their books. Since the speaker had a background in marketing and advertising, I was very interested in hearing what he had to say.
One thing struck me. He was primarily talking from the point of view of his experience as a non-fiction writer who had published through a small regional press. While there were some things that translated well to fiction writing, there was a lot that didn't.
He explained that, as he was writing his book, he identified what he called a focus study group--twenty-four people around the country who were willing to read his manuscript and comment. After they'd read the entire book, he sent them a questionnaire, asking their opinion (whether they liked it, found it humorous, found it interesting, would recommend it, or would buy it as a gift). He compiled the twenty-one responses and included them in his query presentation. He said the publisher that signed him was bowled over by this focus study.
I found myself thinking, "Okay, that's a critique group. A large critique group, but certainly not a large enough group to constitute a valid study statistically." While I can see that a non-fiction publisher might find this "focus study" interesting, I can't imagine an agent or fiction publisher being moved by twenty-one people who liked a book any more than they are by comments that "everyone who reads my book loves it."
He did not seek representation by an agent and did not seem to think it necessary. While I absolutely agree one can be published without an agent, it's becoming increasingly difficult for a fiction writer to break into the New York print houses without one.
What I did find most interesting were his tips on how to do a booksigning. He offered the following:
1) Make sure you have a contact at the bookstore ahead of time with whom you can check to be sure copies of your book have been ordered.
2) Set your table up near an entrance. Be sure to have a tabletop sign with your book's cover.
3) Make sure you engage the customers walking in.
4) Dress in an interesting--but not weird--manner.
5) Ask a question--any question--to engage the customer. Then LISTEN.
6) DO NOT keep bookmarks or postcards advertising your book on the table. It will allow the customer to say, "I'll take this and think about buying your book" instead of actually purchasing the book.
7) Hold out a book and say, "To whom may I autograph this?" He says invariably the customer will give a name, and you've made the sale.
He said that the national average for books sold per signing is 4.5 books. (Eek!) Using the techniques listed above, he said he averages 3.5 per hour.
His suggestions for a signing are very similar to those offered by Joe Konrath. As I draw closer and closer to publication, I find myself eager for marketing ideas.