Sunday, September 30, 2007

Autopsy of a Booksigning

Yesterday was my first official booksigning.

I've done stock signings before; they're exactly what they sound like. You stop by a bookstore and sign their stock of your books. The store slaps on an "autographed" sticker, and that's that.

A formal booksigning involves a lot more time and effort. I spent four hours from 1:00 to 5:00 PM on Saturday, meeting and greeting customers at a Barnes & Noble store.

The staff at the B&N in south Arlington couldn't have been nicer. They set up a chair and table right at the front of the store near the door with copies of my books they'd ordered. Jessica, the store's customer service rep, brought me a drink and checked in on me frequently as did other members of the staff.

That four hours taught me a lot. For future reference:

  • Arrive about an hour early so that you'll have time to walk around the store, meet the staff and familiarize yourself with the layout. As the first person customers meet at the door, you'll be asked all kinds of questions: "What time does the store close?" "Where's the bathroom?" "Where are the books on becoming an electrician?" "Where are the inspirational books?"

  • Wear comfortable shoes. You'll need them :(

  • Do not spend your time sitting in the chair. Get up, move around and--above all--meet and greet the customers. Make eye contact, smile and say "Hello" to everyone who enters. Say goodbye to customers who are leaving.

  • Use open-ended questions. Don't ask, "Do you like romance?" which just requires a "yes" or "no." Ask instead, "What kind of books do you like?" That promotes conversation.

  • Personalize your table so that you attract foot traffic. I brought a dark maroon plastic tablecloth at "Party City" (on sale for $.99) along with a large plastic bowl ($2.99) that I filled with a variety of wrapped candies ($6 on sale, and I have enough left over for a second signing). I also borrowed three bookstands from B&N so I could have copies of my books facing in all directions. I had my 2'x1' free-standing model of my book cover in the center of the table.

  • Whenever a customer entered with children, I said to the parent, "May s/he have a piece of chocolate?" Of course, the kid/s made a beeline for my table, and the parent (who might have walked by without stopping) was forced to make conversation with me while the child made his/her selection from among the different candies.

  • At the end of the afternoon, I left the plastic bowl with the remains of the candy for the staff. I'd had large 3" round stickers with the central part of my book cover (including the "Bad Girl" title and my name) made up. I left half a dozen stickers in the bowl as calling cards for the staff. They were so thrilled with that bowl of candy, I was almost embarrassed.

  • During quiet moments, I made time to talk to staff individually. Thereafter, each time they passed my table, I spoke to them, using their names. I suspect they'll recommend my book to customers.

  • Be sure to autograph a number of books and ask the store for the "autograph" stickers to put on them. I made the mistake of waiting a couple of hours before doing this, thinking I would personalize the autographs as I sold the books. I discovered I sold many more books after those autographed books were on display than before.

  • A surprising number of people thought I was B&N staff rather than the author. Next time I'll wear one of my book cover stickers on my lapel instead of my usual gold pin.

I developed a routine. For forty-five minutes of each hour, I would stay in close proximity to my table. Fortunately, the "Romance" section was nearby, and I kept an eye on the persons visiting that section. If I saw someone browsing Romance, I'd walk over. Otherwise, I stayed close to the table for the bulk of the hour.

For fifteen minutes of each hour, I roamed the store, but kept an eye on the table. I noticed that people who weren't comfortable stopping to talk to me sometimes visited the table while I was away from it.

For five minutes each hour, I let myself sit :)

Forty percent of my sales were to men (only one to a couple; and I knew the couple). The men were often interested in writing and publishing and asked a lot of questions about the industry. I suspect they felt they should buy the book after monopolizing my time although one guy just walked up to me and announced, "If you have to stand here, the least I can do is buy your book." I was hard pressed not to leap into his arms and offer to bear his child.

A surprising number of women who identified themselves as Christians stopped to talk to me. Initially I think it was that Texas friendliness among evangelicals that prompted them to stop. While none purchased my erotic romance, several asked about my website and about publishing in general. I also spoke to at least three writing teachers/coaches and a very lovely graphic artist who empathized with hand selling a product.

The first two hours were deadly. Several writer friends had told me that an average of two sales an hour was good for a debut erotic romance author. Although I had been thinking about staying for four hours, I had not given B&N a specific time I would leave. When I'd only sold a few books in two hours, I was thinking about buying three books myself during the third hour to get my average up to two books [grin] and calling it quits.

Fortunately a friend called to see how I was doing. When I finished reporting my progress (or lack thereof), he offered to "buy the damn things" for me so I could go home.

Even though I'd been thinking the same thing, his offer put starch in my spine. I told him "thank you," but I was going to stay put until 5:00 PM.

That call was the best thing that could have happened to me. After I hung up, I became more assertive in my sales efforts and, in that last two hours, sold eight books.

That was a very good lesson, and one I'll remember for the future.

All in all, it was a good first. Now that I have it under my belt, I'll be better prepared for the next time.


David Roth said...

Wow! Sounds like quite the experience. Now I know what to look forward to when I 'hit the big time' too ;o)

Amazon delivered my copy of Bad Girl yesterday. Can't wait to dive into it as soon as I finish my current read.

SmartlikeStreetcar said...


Thanks for always being so helpful. These are all great tips, and I hope to, one day, be in the position to sell two books an hour! Or maybe I'll be able to bump it up to three. :-)

Maya Reynolds said...

David: And I'll look forward to ordering your book when it sells.

Maya Reynolds said...

Richard: The erotic romance thing is a bit of a sticky wicket. My conscience requires that I tell any onlookers that it is very graphic. More than once, a woman picked it up and, when I did my "it's very explicit" truth-in-advertising admonition, put it back down again. I had the comfort of doing the right thing, but watching them put it down was a stab to my soul.

If I were selling a regular mystery or thriller, I'd have shot for four an hour :)

And I'm now wondering if I should schedule these events in evenings rather than afternoons.

Tena said...

Thanks for the great insider look at book signings! The prospect of having them someday fills my heart with terror. I'll keep your advice in mind.