Thursday, May 18, 2006

So Where Do We Go From Here?

A lot of the comments on the Authors Behaving Badly thread are from people appalled that bad behavior takes place, others point out that the bookseller should forgive and forget, while booksellers counter with stories of authors that don’t even try. Instead of focusing on the negative, let’s look at the positive (and take advantage of the hoards Agent Kristin has sent this way).

What things at author signings have worked for you as a reader, as an author or as a bookseller?

What do you (the author) do to get the attention of customers and possible readers without attacking them (something that booksellers fear on some level)?

What do you as booksellers do to make a signing go as smoothly as possible?

What do you do when only three people sign up?

Drive-by signings, are you for or against?

Lets help everyone out by compiling a list, some fall back plans for when signings don’t go as planned. You’re not giving away state secrets. Chances are what works for you won’t work for everyone else, nor will it take away from your presentation if someone adopts certain aspects (they’re probably going to put their own spin on it).

Right now I hear that Ariel Gore, author of the Traveling Death and Resurrection Show, is traveling with fire eaters and other circus type performers. As someone who runs a bookstore I admit that part of me shudders at the thought of trying to get permits for fire-eating, but the spectacle? I’m thinking it would draw quite the crowd.

So tell me what you think, know or hear. Let’s help each other out.


Monica Burns said...

Well, since I'm small press (at the moment *grin*), I've only had the opportunity to do a total of four book signings to date. I didn't have to arrange them. However, I did make sure I was in contact with the bookseller two weeks ahead of time to check on my books. While my publisher is in the Ingrams system, there is sometimes a delay in the ordering since they keep limited stock on hand. So I coordinate with the bookseller and my publisher to ensure books are there. It's another reason why I keep my own stock on hand at home to ensure that I've always got books for a signing.

I'm a pretty organized individual, and I always plan for the worst case scenario. So I always bring EVERYTHING with me to a booksigning. I bring extra books, posters, I've even been known to bring a small card table and chair. I know how easy it is for people to have unexpected things happen and forget things completely. So I plan for that. The only thing I've had to use so far were the extra books, and that's because I sold out of the ones the bookseller had bought! YEAH!

Attracting readers is a tough one. I've had some authors tell me NEVER talk to the customers. I'm of the opinion that a nice hello and a How Are You go a long way. If the reader's interested, they'll come over. If a reader stops and looks at a book, I ask what they like in a read. I take the "Macy's" approach. If they're not interested in my book, I make referrals for others they might like.

I always like to have a little giveaway or treat for readers. It's not about getting a sale, it's about name recognition. *smile*

Buffy said...

Love this blog. Found it a few weeks ago and then lost it..... glad to have located it again.

Harry Hunsicker said...

I did about thirty signings last summer and fall to promote the release of my first novel. Here's what I learned:

1. Stand Up. NEVER sit down, especially behind a table. That puts a barrier between you and the customer.

2. Always have a copy of your book in your hand so you can give it to someone if they show interest.

3. Be Proactive. Pitch your book to customers. If somebody walks nearby, ask them a question, or otherwise engage them so that you can get a dialogue going.

4. Get Moving. There's no law that says you must stand by your table in the back by the restrooms. Grab a stack of your books and stand by the front door.

5. Try to pitch to EVERY person who enters the store during your signing. Selling books is like selling anything. It's a numbers game. The more you pitch, the more you sell.

6. This goes without saying but always be nice to the people who work at the store. They'll keep selling long after your gone.

lady t said...

I've had instore signings where very few or no people showed up(and one was for an Oprah Book Club author!) and my advice to authors just starting out is to know where to promote your book. If the bookstore owner tells you that there's not much of a market for,let's say,sci-fi in their area and your book is a homage to Arthur C. Clarke,you might want to look elsewhere.

Most of the authors who didn't have big turn-outs had a good attitude-we had one for two children's book authors who had bought their kids and the kids were disappointed.

I do remember one signing we had for the daughter of the owner's friends(she has a number of female friendly books) who did an inpromptu reading(please check with the bookstore beforehand if you want to have a reading,don't just assume that the store is prepped to do that at the drop of a hat)and she used a booming tone like she was performing Shakespeare. This was distracting,since she was stationed near the cash register and we had trouble hearing the customers. The author's mother came over and asked us to keep it down...not kidding,I swear!

OtterB said...

As a reader, I often don't go to signings because I think that if I've heard of the author, they'll be crowded, and if I haven't heard of the author, I tend not to remember to go.

One that worked for me (again, as a reader) was a group signing. I think it was associated with a local literary festival. It was at a B&N and had probably 6 or 8 authors in different genres from our metropolitan area. I went because of one particular author, but browsed the books (and bought a couple) of the others too, and so found some people I hadn't known about.

Shelley Bates said...

I agree that group signings are less intimidating to the author and maybe even to the reader. If you have a panel of authors from different subgenres of, say, romance, you can get interesting and involving discussions going about how one aspect of plot or character works/doesn't work across subgenres. Or you can talk about what actor most resembles your hero :) Either way, the customers can get involved and have fun, too.

One thing I do if no one is coming by the table is stand near the romance section and simply hand out my bookmarks to everyone. If they have a bag-o-books in their hands, someone saying "Need a bookmark?" is an automatic "Yes, thanks." :)

Shelley B.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

I'm actually a self-published romance author, and I've had several signings (both good and bad ones). Even though romance is a huge market, it doesn't seem as if too many romance readers will actually approach a table. Most of the people that come over to read the back of the book or talk to me are not romance readers. (I've even had one lady say to me, "I'd rather die!") It almost seems as if romance readers already know what they're looking for and quickly go find it. They don't even notice me.

I always try to put a few of my bookmarks back in the romance section--in fact, I'm always surprised that booksellers don't put a little notice there with a copy of the book so that readers can gauge their own interest without the pressure of author interaction.

I like Shelley's bookmark idea--more than once I've wondered if anyone would mind if I just started walking around. But as for standing, I can see that being a good ploy for non-fiction, maybe even action-adventure, but it just seems like that doesn't suit romance. Maybe that's just me.

Glad to have found this site via an Agent Kristin referral!
Alyssa Goodnight

quiche said...

I'd make the case for more author signings especially in the smaller markets. We practically have to beg authors to come to our store. The best signings were with authors who brought goodies like bookmarks and who were willing to stay a little longer when asked, so they could chat with customers.

Elsandra said...

I've been to a few books signings and two author luncheons at my local independant bookstore. The luncheons are possible because the bookstore is also a coffe shop with really good food. The authors at both luncheons were mystery writers and they would go from table to table and talk with us for about fifteen minutes each. I found quite a few new authors to read because of those luncheons and got to ask some quesitons about characters in the books I would not have been able to ask otherwise. I also met some other wonderful book readers and got recommendations from them on authors. All the authors I've met at my bookstore have been very gracious and I've even become casual friends with one of the authors and his wife.

Kate R said...

OHHHH I have a GREAT signing story that really is off topic but that's life. . . I went to a woman's fair to sign (because my local Borders pal is wonderful). They set up a huge display for the store behind me. I didn't look at it carefully, but lots of people stared at it and then at me and then at it.

Turns out the display was for harry potter (must have been just before that last book came out) and at least THREE people came up and asked me if I was JK Rowling.

Eileen said...

I do think multiple readings work well. You have the chance to catch some cross over readers- who might not come out for one writer- but will stay to listen.

pennyoz said...

My signings draw long queues. It's not because I'm better than anyone else, but I do drawings. I have it down so patt now that I can toss them out in ten seconds. You can hear the whispers go around the hallways and "she draws pictures, what's'r'name over there. IT doesn't matter who I am. People love drawings.

I remember when I was a kid I went on a special tour of a tv station. There was a semi famous person who drew funny pictures of himself for us kids. I never forgot him even though I guess I hardly know if he's still alive.

I find that being friendly and approachable. I look people in the eye and smile. I don't stand because I do the drawings but I compensate for it by just being friendly. If the queue isn't long I answer questions - people always have questions - if the queue is long, people feel that they cannot take too long and under pressure themselves.

I think that the suggestion to take extra books is a good one. And making bookmarks, postcards and other marketing things is also a good idea. I also don't make the book purchase a mandatory entree for signing. I happily provide a signing for people on say a book mark because probably they will never forget me and one more person will probably go buy the book second hand... and the next time, will not hesititate to buy the new book.

I don't think that an author should ever be too famous to forget that each person who buys a book authored by you, is buying a link to you as a person. You don't know them but you are connected. You want that connection to stay because without that stranger, won't stay famous. That is if your name isn't JK Rowlings. But I believe that she is very happy to be humble. She hasn't forgotten how once she sat in a council house kitchen dreaming of becoming famous.

Basically, what I am saying I think is that be yourself. And if you can draw, cheat! Believe me I've been up against some really famous people and I've outlasted them in the time slot given for book signings. LOL

Lyvvie said...

I've never been to a signing before. I'm not all that interested in an author's signiature in my book. Unless they are a real friend of mine and write a personal message from the heart. I've not seen the point beyond boosting a title's value on eBay. (And no, I don't sell signed anythings on eBay. I don't even use eBay.)

I just want a great story that I can read and re-read for years to come, and for all that I am grateful to the author for it's creation, I don't want them scribbling on my covers.

Brian said...

I always tell my authors to do drive by signings when they can. I make sure they understand that booksellers and librarians are their best friends and the more they can do to make contact with these vital people and put a friendly face behind the name on the book, the better chance they'll have of being invited to do an event at the store.

Good manners cost nothing.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

My book doesn't come out until next year, but I've been thinking a lot about book signings and wondering if there isn't a way to spice them up a bit. Fire eaters seems a bit out there, to me, but I like the idea behind it. Make the signing an event.

But then there's a balancing act to worry about. If you make it too much of an event (fire eaters), will the author him or herself get lost in all the excitement? And how far away from the book do we stray in order to attract customers? Will putting on a show really attract readers?

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Also, with all due respect to Harry above, it seems to me that standing near the door and approaching every customer who enters may not be the best way to attract readers. I personally HATE it when I go to a store and a salesman approaches, asking if he can help me. I generally want to be left alone -- and I think a lot of others feel the same way -- especially in book stores (since books are a very intimate pursuit).

I agree that you shouldn't sit behind a table, but it seems to me that it would be better to have the readers come to YOU, to seek you out. Perhaps because you're offering something they don't normally get for free. A mini-writing workshop, maybe. Something more appealing than a pushy author trying to hard sell his book.

The soft sell is ALWAYS more effective.

Harry Hunsicker said...

I agree that you shouldn't sit behind a table, but it seems to me that it would be better to have the readers come to YOU, to seek you out.


I did my first signing that way, waiting for customers to approach. None did. It's the strangest phenomenon. It's like there is a force field around the table, an invisible wall of energy that keeps customers from approaching.

I hate pushy sales people too. What I do is approach a customer and politely ask them one of several stock questions.

- "Looking for something good to read?"

- "Do you like mysteries?"

- Etc.

If they say no or ignore me, that's it. I don't keep pitching or follow them around the store.

The way I look at it, no one is going to approach me so if I want to sell some books I better do it myself. Politely, of course.

BTW, I really have enjoyed the Anatomy of a Book Deal blog and look forward to reading your book.

Anonymous said...

I would never, ever, ever, buy the book of an author who accosted me at the door and did everything but shove the book into my hands.

Please don't do it.

Stay by your table with your book attractively displayed so you can be ready to sign. Be cheerful and pleasant. Don't complain about how no one there appreciates you and that you usually draw huge crowds at your events at other, more enlightened bookstores. That's even if you don't think you'll be overheard. Bring food -- cookies or chocolates on the table will bring people over. Remember that you're an author in a nation that worships the television, take a deep breath, and make the best of it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with those who suggest making eye contact and talking to folks as they walk in. Following them around the store is out of line, certainly, but a polite question--and letting them know you're the author of the book on the table, because many folks honestly don't realize why you're there.

Agreed that group signings often work better than single-author ones.

I've taken to sending my own press releases, but I love it when a bookstore is willing to go to the trouble of promoting an event, because they're able to do a better job than I can. Even a sign at the front of the store can help, if it comes down to that.

I hate it when the bookseller looks like they either feel sorry for me, or are annoyed with me, for not having anyone show up for the signing. I'm a professional, I accept that this does happen--but when one winds up with a store employee who seems to blame the writer for not having a more popular signing, that gets uncomfortable.