I’ve been doing book signings for about ten years, starting shortly after my first thriller, Category 5, was published. That was back when we had two dominant bookstores, Borders, and Barnes and Noble. Borders provided me dozens of signing opportunities. After Borders withdrew from the scene, Barnes and Noble picked up the slack; they have been as good to me as Borders ever was.
My book signing skills have improved over the years, and I have learned important lessons. I am invariably told that I sell more books than any other author who visits that store. I am neither a famous author nor a celebrity. My strategies are hardly secrets, but I will share with you what I have learned.
Number 1: To sell a lot of books, you need to meet a lot of people.
The beauty of Barnes and Noble stores is that a lot of folks come in. This is important. Why? From my experience, I’d say that, roughly, only 5-10% of shoppers entering the store are a) interested in buying my particular genres of book, and b) in a mood to buy. In my case, I am hawking two separate genres: I have a trilogy of thrillers (Category 5, Prophecy, and White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy) and one historical novel, How Much Do You Love Me? What does this mean? It means that, unless you’re a famous author, you can’t have a two-hour signing and expect to sell many books. I stay all day. On my December 13 signing in San Jose, California, I signed books for over 12 hours.
Number 2: Ask the store to announce your book signing as often as possible over the intercom.
Some customers don’t see me when they come in and need to be reminded that I’m there. To make it easy for the store, I provide a written example of what the announcer might say. Here’s one: “We have with us today author Paul Mark Tag, who is signing copies of his latest novel, How Much Do You Love Me?, a mystery and love story that revolves around the forced internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Paul is also signing copies from his thriller trilogy, the last of which, White Thaw, tackles the topical subject of global climate change. Please drop by the front of the store and say hello to Paul.”
Number 3: Bring your own advertising.
Often, the store will put up signs anticipating your signing. But, I always bring in my large poster board that advertises my presence. On that board is a picture and description of the primary book I’m selling. I’m usually allowed to put it somewhere by the entry door. Bring your own easel. I have a neat one that folds up small.
Number 4: Advertise ahead of time.
Unless you’re famous, just go for the simple and obvious. First, I make sure that my Amazon author’s page has a listing of upcoming signings. My website, www.paulmarktag.com, has a similar listing on my Media Room page. And, importantly, a day or so ahead of the signing, I make an official announcement of the upcoming signing on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/paulmarktag. Use whatever social media tools you have available.
Number 5: Be personable and enthusiastic when talking to customers.
Other than Number 1 above, Number 5 is probably the most important of all. Unless you are excited about your book, you can’t expect customers to be. They need to know that your books will transform their lives! Okay, that’s an exaggeration. Start out by telling them about yourself and where you’re from. In the case of my thrillers, I then convince them that they’re going to have a doggone good time following the exploits of my hero and heroine and that my stories are scientifically accurate. There will be excitement to burn, and I explain that a sleepless night might follow a bedtime reading. For my historical fiction novel, I say that my book, in addition to reminding us all about the World War II travesty that was the Japanese internment, is a page-turning mystery and a touching love story for which tissues will be required by book’s end. As your customer leaves, thank him or her sincerely for buying your book. It is the rare exception when buyers of my books don’t walk away reciprocating, thanking me for our discussion and for signing their personal copy.
Number 6: Odds and ends, in no particular order:
Have a pair of reading glasses handy for the customer who wants to read the back of your book but has forgotten theirs.
Take your own pillow or seat cushion; often, you end up with a hard bottom chair.
Have reviews of your books handy in case someone needs additional persuasion.
Unless you’re on the witness protection list, if asked, always agree to have a photo taken, but preferably alongside the customer. Immediately, ask him or her to e-mail you the picture right then, ask for permission to share the photo on Facebook or other social media, and then do it. The photo you see at the top of this blog is from December 13 at the Almaden Plaza Barnes and Noble in San Jose.
This is important! Ask customers if they will share their name and e-mail address (I keep a clipboard on the table just for that purpose). I’d say that somewhere around 95% agree. Next to their name annotate which book they bought. Then, after you get home, send them a personalized e-mail thanking them for buying your book; I ask them, if they like my book, to write a review on either the Barnes and Noble or Amazon websites. Also, in the store, ask them if you can use their e-mail address should you ever decide to write a newsletter; annotate the list accordingly. This catalogue of happy (hopefully) buyers will prove invaluable when you go to advertise your next book.
Get to know store employees, by name if possible; they are your allies and will drive customers your way.
If your book has received any kind of award, don’t fail to mention it. If you have related stickers, have one on at least one book for display.
If you have to leave your station, leave a preprinted sign that says when you will be back. I have two: one saying 5 minutes and one 20 minutes. You don’t want to lose a customer because they think you’ve gone home.
Thank the staff before you leave the store. And the next day, always send a thank-you e-mail to the store manager. Although he or she already knows the book tallies, I include an itemization of books signed.
That’s pretty much it. Follow these rules and book stores will welcome you back. Write if you have questions, and please feel free to share this blog.
This post was written by paulmarktag