Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Getting personal...guarantees

In response to my post on how to find and approach independent booksellers, Jarvanpa responded with advice that needed to be shared with everyone (I’m never sure if people are obsessive comment followers like I am).

Being now cozily nested in a used/rare bookstore (and not having to worry at all about author tours) I can smugly sit back and recall my past--I used to manage a bookstore that was in a rural, but educated area, carried new books, and did author dealies sometimes.What I found (Eileen, are you listening?) worked for signings and readings and such was enlisting the help of the author in compiling a likely list of people who might want to come. Now, of course this works best if you are (or have) a local author who has local friends, but if the store does mailers (mine did) and you have an intelligent, sensitive manager (yes, I was) you can come up with such a list, based on knowledge of book preferences and so on. You send these nice people handwriten (2 t's? one? god, I hate spelling) invitations by mail. Need not be elaborate, but they must be at the very least hand addressed. And you put little articles in local papers, and posters, if you can, spots on the radio, and so on. But the real key is that personal touch. And then figure--if you are fortunate, unless the author is, say, a sexy movie star--that you will get about 10% of those you mailed to come to your event. Phone calls are also, sometimes, okay, but can backfire (you must know your clients).

Of course, if you are a blatant outsider simply come to enlighten the local yokels you will have to figure out how to seduce your bookseller (actually, or metaphorically). ‘Tis an art. I did resent the persons who hopped in on a busy day and had a stack of their self published bad book that they wanted to sell me and asked if maybe they could have a signing. (now, if the books had been great, I might have been less sour--but even so, I would have appreciated a preliminary letter, and perhaps an arranged appointment to talk over tea.

Oh--in arranging an author appearance/reading/signing--give yourself at the very least a month's prep time.*

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. If you are going to promote yourself it takes time, effort and that personal touch. This means more than the gimmicks and the bookmarks and adds to the overall impression of your book. Yes, your book should be judged solely on its writing and content, but we’re human and we form our opinions from a multitude of sources, so you have to be the driving force to make your books stick in the readers’ minds.

Someone who does this (with results) is Joe Konrath, the author of the Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels mysteries. Here is a man who not only knows he has to represent himself, but goes out there and does it. His advice on having a sales pitch is dead on:

The secret to sales is to not make it selling.Huh?Concentrate on value, and what you have to offer. Focus on the experience you're giving, not the cost.Sales isn't about looking for buyers; it's about finding the people who are looking for your product even though they don't know it yet.Be funny. Be confident. Be genuine. Be memorable. Be enthusiastic.In person, I've found the best trick to sales is listening to the customer. Not only their needs and wants, but what they had for breakfast, how their brother in Duluth is doing, and what their favorite TV show is.

Whenever I sell a book, I always use the line, "You'll like this, I promise." This assurance takes the uncertainty out of a purchase, and makes the customer feel like I'm doing them a favor, rather than they're doing me a favor.

Let me make this clear. This isn’t about being fake. This isn’t about being schmoozy in a greasy used car salesman kind of way. This is about letting that enthusiasm that carried you through the writing process, that drive that got you to write those queries, mail those agents and publishers, and finish those revisions flow over to the person you are talking to your book about. You are your own best salesperson because you are the only person who intrinsically knows all the ins and outs of your books.

Because, you know, you wrote the thing.

And promising a person they will like it? That’s not a lie, if they stayed through your presentation they probably will. If you’ve made a connection between the hi, hellos, how-are-yous and what-brings-you-in-todays then you are already in, but people need reassurances. That’s why we have blurbs on book covers, that’s why we have reviews and newspaper articles. People need to know that they are making the right choice, and telling them that you promise they’ll like it works.

I tell customers all the time that if they don’t like a book they can return it.

“Really?” they say.

“Sure, just don’t drop it in the bathtub.”

Suddenly that book they were on the edge about or that author that they weren’t quite sure they would like becomes an attractive and desirable purchase.

“I have the right to change my mind,” they think. “But it must be good because why else would this person offer.”

I’m not asking for you to change your basic personality and become a loud, bombastic self promoter complete with bullhorn. Bookselling on any level is about listening and responding.

It’s communication, a relationship, something that you’re trying to build with your readers anyway through your book.

*Ron, there is a quotes button between the bullets button and the spell check button on my edit/create posts box. I simply highlight what I want quoted, hit the button and then fix any formatting errors that occur.


lady t said...

At my former job as floor manager of an indie bookstore,I encountered quite a few self published authors who had no clue that he/she was being obnoxious about their grand opus and most of the time the most they had to promote their book were fliers. Also,alot of them would debate about the price of the book with the owner(who took a few on consignment but they were usually were only bought by friends of the writer).

My advice to any self published author looking for an instore signing is to ask the staff who they should speak to about arranging a signing and to leave a message if that person is not availible. Hold off on leaving any copies of your book or any promo materials-save that for when you
actually talk to the owner/manager. Another good tip is not to wait on the customer line at the register to talk to someone about your book-chances are,the cashier may not be the person you need to speak with and even if he/she is,the store must be pretty busy if they have to man the register.
Plus,holding up the line with your sales pitch is not a plus.

Eileen said...

Thanks for all the great advice. I am looking at doing a mini tour that will focus on the few towns where I know I can get out a crowd. I've heard the advice that in addition to the bookstore where you have a formal signing- you should also do "drive-bys" where you drop in and offer to sign their stock. Is this a good idea or simply annoying? If one brings a round of martinis or chocolate chip cookies is this more welcome?

Kate R said...

I did three booksignings on my own (I love conference booksignings because I got to sit next to either Pam Rosenthal or Myretta Robens). I loved the people in the stores so getting to know them was the best part in terms of Career Building (and having fun).

Lots of customers asked me if they'd like my book. "Sure, I've never met you, have no clue about your tastes other than the fact that you like to wear black--but of course you'll love my book." I could never bring myself to say anything other than "I hope so."

But what I said didn't matter. It was the food that did.

The time I supplied cookies, cheese and crackers (and lots of napkins) I sold seventy books!

Kate R said...

hmmm. lotta "love" in that post. clearly I need more coffee so I can climb out of this purple haze.

jason evans said...

Just wanted to let you know how much I (as well as everyone else here, I'm sure) greatly value the on-the-ground and on-the-front-lines advice here. We can never underestimate the supreme importance of the customer handing over money and the bookseller handing over the purchase. It all happens right there. The rest is fluff.

christine fletcher said...

I've been buying books since I was a kid with pocket money, and yet I've never really considered why I buy the books I do. Especially when I go into a bookstore just to browse, with no specific title or author in mind. In the process of writing and publishing, I've found the emphasis is on selling the manuscript to an agent, and then the agent selling to an editor. But I didn't write the book for my agent or my editor -- I wrote it for readers. And yet I know hardly anything about that final sale, which is the one that really counts! Thanks for this great information.

jmc said...

Re: a single line, rather than the main topic of your post -- It's interesting to hear from a bookseller that I can return a book if I don't like it. I don't think I've ever had a bookseller in a bricks and mortar store say so. In fact, returns seem to be frowned upon. My personal philosophy has always been that a book is sort of like a movie: once I've shelled out for it, liking/disliking it is a matter of taste and failure to enjoy is a result of my own poor judgment or lack of research before buying. Unless there is physically something wrong with the book (or movie), no returns. I did make an exception once with "Forced Mate," which was the worst book I had ever read (at the time), so bad that I felt like I deserved my money back and more, to be reimbursed for the time I lost reading it. The bookseller looked at me like I was cheating when I explained why I was returning it.

Kendra Clark said...

Great blog! I'm bookmarking it.

jarvenpa said...

Joe Konrath's advice is wonderful. And yes, bringing cookies might help.
I still have the "return it if you don't like it" policy myself; at my former (spiffy new bookstore) place I would now and then annoy the owner because I would sometimes not allow a cherished customer to buy a book they were contemplating, or at least warn them strongly. If you know your customers you will learn what they love, and what is worthy of their attention.
At author's events I always provided tasty things to eat and something to drink; makes for a more relaxed evening (or afternoon or whatever)