Book on left was edited and layout done by Sandra Bell Kirchman. Book on right was written by her.
You’ve done your homework and read Part 1 of this two-part article, right? So you know about the set-up. Your table is looking beautiful, with shiny new copies of your book artfully arranged, your business cards available, and you’re waiting for someone to appear. The shoppers start coming in, and you eagerly await a horde of book fans, all salivating at the thought of getting a signed copy of your book.
That doesn’t happen.
Instead, as they come in the door, the stream of customers part at your table as if you were Moses and they are the Red Sea, leaving you in this tiny island of you, a table, and books. At this point, don’t despair. It will show on your face and drive any customer, who accidentally stumbles on your table, away. You are no longer a creative artist (well, you are, but this is not your primary function at this point). You are a marketer extraordinaire. Even if you are normally an introvert, you are not here. I don’t mean you have to get up on the table and tap dance, but you must start making eye contact, smiling at people, chatting to them in a friendly way if they get close to your table.
If you have signs/posters up, people will start coming over to see what the fuss is about. Then you start talking to them. Here’s how I did it.
One lady came up and picked up the book (Witchcanery), looking at the beautiful cover, then turned it over and read the back jacket.
Me: Do you like fantasy fiction?
Her: Not really. What’s this about?
Me: (Trying not to sound too disappointed) It’s about Shelley Kesinkowsky, a modern-day witch, who is hauled out of her comfortable home by the Grand Council of Wizards because of a special talent she has and sent with her former nemesis to save the world from Mother Earth’s wrath. See, Mother Earth is ticked off at the way people are polluting the planet and…
Her: What age group. I don’t see it marked here.
Me: Oh, it can be read by anyone 14 years up to 85 and more. I have friends who are in their 80s and love it.
Her: I was thinking of getting it for my niece. She’s 13.
Me: Oh, well, if she’s a mature 13, it should be okay. It’s squeaky clean, in that there is nothing suggestive or improper in it. It includes humor, romance, high adventure, and of course the magic of fantasy.
Her: Sounds good. Could you please inscribe it to Nancy?
Me: Could you take it to the counter and pay for it and then bring it back? The store would prefer you do that before I start marking up their books. (little laugh)
Her: (Little laugh) Sure.
I’ve won her over and off she goes.
Not all the customers are that hard to sell. That was about the hardest I had to work to get someone, who was already predisposed to buy a book, to actually buy it.
I have talked to hundreds of people at these book signings. They nearly always appreciate a friendly and caring manner. Well, friendly, anyhow. I tried to be helpful as well. If they came looking for a specific book, and I had noticed it in the store, I would direct them to it. On at least three occasions when that happened, the people came back and decided to buy a book.
On other occasions, I asked them (from signs I noticed as I was talking to them) if they were interested in writing themselves. I nearly always got it right. The people were touched that a professional writer (me) would take the time and interest to talk to them about their hobbies and their hopes and dreams. I was always encouraging, letting them know if they wanted to write, all they needed was perseverance. The rest would come.
Now, here is what I was told by the staff of this big bookstore. If I sold more than five books, I could consider myself lucky (yeah, well, it takes more than luck), and this was in a big city environment. They said that even some known authors didn’t sell much more than 10 or 15 books. I was blown away. There went my dream of big bucks at the signing table. Oh well, I wasn’t writing for the money anyhow.
And that’s what you have to remember. You aren’t really there to sell books. Remember I said at the beginning that you are going to have to be a marketer extraordinaire? But not for selling books…for selling yourself. For your first book, especially if it is self-published, you are going to have to get people talking about you and getting to know your name.
That’s why your business cards (don’t forget to hand them out), printed bookmarks if you have them, flyers and brochures are such great tools for getting your name known. People love to get things free, and readers generally keep bookmarks. They will have your name and the name of your book in front of them for a long time.
Well, where is the fun part, you might ask? I found it in talking to the readers. I love readers. Without readers, where would we writers be? I love them because they love what we do as a whole. If they like us, they back us, support us, cheer us on. And when they find a writer they can talk to, some of them pour their hearts out.
Sure, there are some who want to put their tippy coffee cup on your book table (ask them not to) or whose grubby hands gleefully page through a pristine copy of your book (nothing you can do about that unless they are rough with it) or even take your time talking to you and then walk away without buying anything. That’s okay. They probably have your business card, and more importantly they have walked away with a good impression of you. And you go away with happy memories of the great people you have met.
Just as an example. I explained what Witchcanery was about to a lady who loved fantasy. Her eyes grew bigger and bigger as I was talking. When I finished, she said to me very firmly, “I’ll buy the book on one condition.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“You promise to write a sequel to it.”
P.S. At my first book signing, I sold 11 books. Only once in the many subsequent book signings did I fall under five books and that was because the book table was hidden away behind tall book shelves. One Christmas week I sold 27 books. I am telling you this to let you know that you can be a first-timer and still sell books. Also keep in mind that it’s not the number of books you sell, but the number of people you talk to. If writing is your passion, don’t let anything persuade you to let it go or discourage you!