Greetings, Fellow Castaways!
I can only apologize for having been absent this past couple of months. Life stuff jumps up and gets in the way, and to tell the truth, my old enemy Depression crept in too, for a while. But these are truly no excuses. I once again apologize for being absent, and ask for your forgiveness.
I have been blessed and honored to be received at several events recently for signing events, enough for me to have a grasp on what makes a successful event. This is for my writer buds, and also for any bookworm who walks into a Barnes & Noble and sees the author table right by the front door to the store with the hopeful face seated behind it.
I do claim some authority on the subject, having seen with my own eyes as well as discussing techniques and results with store managers.
So, for readers, here it is: Writing is mind-wringing, hard work, and that author at the table is really putting themselves out there for their craft. So please do us a solid. Approach that table and at least look at the product. That does a whole lot of good for the self-image of person behind the table, and you may find your next brain-treasure! And that's the simple, one-step reader's method of a successful book signing.
Now, you writers, listen up:
1.) Show up. You're coming to work. Dress like it. Business casual works well. Look like you're educated and professional. Bring promotional material as well. There are exceptions, I'll grant you. If you're at a Farmer's Market or Flea Market, jeans would be okay. But they need to have no holes, and you should be in a button-down shirt or golf shirt in any case. I have signs from Vista Print, yard-sale sized, with my book covers on them, and a collapsible easel from Staples. Cost for a sign and easel, less than fifty dollars. The store might provide you with a table and the books, but you need something to draw attention to yourself besides that little dinky table-top sign the store provides. Bring business cards, bookmarks, and any other swag you want to give away. More on give-aways later.
2.) Sink into your persona. Look, I know most writers are an introverted, shy lot. It comes with the territory of the way our brains work. Almost every single writer I know or have ever met, struggles with social situations. So we need to have barriers in place to be able to interact with the public at large, and at a signing event, baby, you are at large and in charge. So you have a couple of "safeties" to use, to provide a degree of separation between you and .....(gasp) people (gasp) ..... First is your Author persona. Whether you use a pen name or your own name, your "Author" persona is the face you want your fans to see. The Author is out-going, friendly, and engaged. If this is not you normally, then you get to pretend you're someone else for a while. Make your Author self a character. You did it for people who don't even exist. Just extend the same thing to someone who does, at least to the public eye. Use that character. BE that character. You can do it.
3.) Use your other barrier. The other barrier is the table. You're on one side, your fans are on the other side. Don't make that silly snorting sound and tell me you don't have fans. YOU. HAVE. FANS. People are reading your book, and if they aren't yet, they will be. If you do everything I'm laying out here, you will have made at least one fan before the end of your event. I promise you this. But you need to act like everyone in the store id your fan, whether they know it yet or not. But that table is there to keep you safe, too. It's a symbolic barrier, but it helps to keep you from panicking and running out, if you're of that sort of mind. It gives you room to be the Author, just like a stage gives an actor room to be the Character. It's your stage. Use it like one.
4.) Speaking of give-aways, don't give books. Might as well get that out of the way. You're there to sell books, not give them away. Post a give-away, and people won't buy your book, but they'll sure as all get out sign up for your give-away. Because people like stuff that's free, and they'll pick free over something they have to pay for, every single time.If you're going to have a contest, make sure it isn't for the book you're currently promoting. Give away your swag bags. Give away bookmarks. Give away little stones with your name on them. Give away your car, for crying out loud. But don't give away your book.
5.) You're at work. Be at work. I've spoken with store managers who say most of their guest authors sit at the table writing, or texting, or Facebooking, or reading. If you do that stuff at your day job, you get fired. Do that at a signing event, and your fans "fire" you by not even approaching the table. Remember what you're there for. Writing is a business, and you need to treat it that way. By all means, have fun. But don't lose track of where you are, and what you're doing. You are there to sell books. You are there as a merchant, as a vendor, as a representative of your art, your craft. You didn't pour all that blood, sweat and tears into your book to let it languish on the shelves and servers of your vendors. You have an awesome gift to give the world, and here is where you have a chance to let the world know how they can come and live in your world for a little while. So, back straight, hands on the table, head up, eyes forward (except unless advancing on to the next step). You're there. BE there.
6.) Engage your fans. This is the next step after "Be at work." People are going to be walking around, browsing other shelves, other tables, doing "customer stuff." Be ready to talk to them. This is the hard part for me. But it's easy once I've assumed my Persona, parked at the table, and set myself for work. The first time is the hardest. Believe it or not, it's good to have some words ready. Have some different things to say, depending on the situation.
Watch people as they pass by. LOOK at them. When they look back, say hello and ask how they're doing. Probably one in four of them will come to the table and ask about your book. Greet EVERYONE who walks by within normal bookstore-voice range. Make sure they know you're there. Most folks aren't even aware of anything around them until they're well past your table. Saying hello is being polite.Asking about their well-being invites a response. In any case, and most importantly, invite a response.
When folks pick up a book at the next table, tell them, "I have your next read right here." Make sure you smile when you say that. Yes, it sounds pushy. But they are looking for a read, and you have one right there. Might as well call a Diamond a Diamond, right?
7.) Be ready for conversation. Luckily enough, folks that want to talk, will want to talk about your writing. And that, my friend, is what you're always ready to talk about. You were excited enough to write the book. Be excited about people getting excited about reading it.
I say, "Be ready," because you're going to get them all. The ones who end up buying, the ones who don't buy but you wish them well anyway, the ones who just want to talk with an author, and the ones who you really don't want to talk to. You know the type. The faux intellectuals who throw ten-thousand dollar words around for the express purpose of impressing you with their vocabulary. Just smile and nod, let them get it off their chest, and eventually they'll move on.
8.) Have fun with it. I know this is Point 8, but it should be noted that this is your Number One Priority. Seriously. If people see you having fun with the event, they will want to have fun with you. Smile a bunch, be energetic, and have fun. Did I mention "Have Fun?" Make it fun, and they will come. And don't worry about numbers. Don't stress about how many you sell, or don't sell. I have it on good authority that most local authors sell six to ten copies at a two-hour signing. I usually do ten to fifteen sales per event.
9.)Check in with the manager before you leave. Build a relationship with the manager and staff, and you won't go wrong. They'll be glad to have you back.
10.) Send the store manager a thank-you email. This is just common courtesy. Within one week after your event, send that email, and mean it. Tell them what an awesome time you had, and leave room for a future return.
There you have it, folks. There are a lot of folks who spout "the rules" and such, and not all of them know a hoot of what they're talking. But I'm telling you, if you follow these ten steps, you'll not only have a great time at your signing, you'll make sales as well as fans, and fans are a writer's best friends.
And we could all use some more friends, right?