Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Reality of Promotion, part 4

Blechta on this subject one last time.

This is turning into a real "project"! My previous entry talked about how to present your book to readers, interviewers, ANYONE who shows the slightest interest in it. Basically, I was saying to be prepared to be able to explain what you've written clearly, concisely and interestingly. Now we're moving on to some tools specific to doing book signings.

First, give people something they can look at and take away.

This could be as simple as a bookmark or postcard or as complicated as a newsletter. It all depends how involved you want to get.

If you go the bookmark/postcard route, you may actually get your publisher to help defray the cost. One of the non-writing hats I wear is that of a graphic designer. Let me give you a good hint here: both of these items have TWO sides. Use them. The front should have the image of the cover with maybe some catchy copy or a great blurb from a famous author/personality whose name everyone will recognize. Make sure your presentation is easy to read and looks pro. Get a designer to help you if you don't have the necessary skill (most people don't). Hint: budding graphic designers often come very cheap.

The back is where you can put ordering information (publisher, ISBN, etc.) and some more sell copy. You can mix and match the stuff on the front and the back – but use both sides! Several of the large scale discount printers who handle these two items will print the back for free.

You can also do up a brochure or a newsletter. These give you an opportunity to expand on your spiel. If you go to Whatever you decide to do, the main point I'm trying to make here is to give prospective buyers something to carry around the bookstore with them, or to take home and look at. Here's a link to my website wher you can see an example of what I'm talking about ( This is the handout I used on tour last fall for my latest book. Notice also how cleverly I snuck in the previous book on the flip side. (Well, I thought it was clever.)

Will everyone buy after reading? No. But it's really amazing how many people who resist that fantastic spiel you just gave them will walk off to the magazine rack or café in the store and read your stuff over. A few will come back for a signed copy. Twice I've even had people leave the store, drive home, look at the copy and come racing back, hoping to catch me still there. Even if they don't bite, they've seen your name and the name of your book. Maybe they'll see a review. Maybe someone will tell them about your book. Publicists will tell you that each time this happens, you're that much closer to "name recognition" and a sale.

Second, have some kind of large sign or poster next to that stack of books you're going to try to sell.

I usually use the actual art for the book cover blown up to poster size and mounted on foamcore. On the back, there's a little stand also made of foamcore. It's big, it's colourful and eyecatching. You want to let people know there's something going on at this table. It will attract their eye and you're now more than halfway there to getting them to come over and talk to you. If you don't have the skill to make this poster, your publisher can help (and might even pay for it). They should at least provide you with the art to take to someone who will output it. In the Yellow Pages, you will find people who will print out the poster and mount it for you. Don't do this on the cheap. You want an excellent quality print, preferrably on glossy paper. Cost last time out for me was $27.

Third, engage people.

Bookstores will usually give authors a table and chair near the front of the store. It will have books on it. You should set up your poster, neatly lay out your bookmarks, postcards, handouts, whatever, and then stand next to or in front of the table (don't block that poster!). If I've had a few good reviews, I'll put them out in one of those plastic displays so people can read them.

It does no good to sit behind the table looking lonely. Most people can then easily avoid you (and will), so you'll look even more lonely – and glum as the minutes tick by and you don't sell any books. You need to make eye contact and then have a catchy line to get them over. "Do you enjoy reading mysteries?"

As people come by, great them, explaining succinctly who you are. Give them a handout. Be cheery – even if you're not – and exude confidence. Act if you really must. If you're shy, invent a "confident author" character and become that person. If you can make up good characters for your novel, you can do it in real life, too. You're playing a part here.

A couple of snappy lines don't hurt either. I have one: "I can say in all confidence that I will never write a better fifth novel. If you read this book and don't agree that it's the best fifth novel I've ever written, I will refund your money."

Okay, it's a bit hokey, but it does make people chuckle and it has sold a few extra books.

If they stop to talk, hand them the book, and use that book spiel you made up on them. Engage them. Be friendly and approachable – but never, ever come across as desperate for them to buy the book. That is a HUGE mistake. If they aren't interested, let them go. Don't keep yapping at them. That's pushy. Don't do pushy. You might try to give them your handout, but past that, let them go.

If they want to buy a book, you can either go behind the table and sit to sign, or do it standing; your choice. If you're behind the table, other people coming by might stop to see what's going on and then you'll have a line-up starting – just like the A-list authors!

Last few things: always bring books in your trunk, get to the store early and be friendly with the staff.

Every author has had the experience of showing up for a signing only to find the store didn't order books, ordered five of them. That's a disaster! Cover yourself by having a case in your car. Always.

As for arrival time for your signing: shit happens. The traffic gods may conspire against you. You get lost. Your car breaks down. What's the worst that can happen if you get to the store too early? You might have time to relax with a coffee, look around, or perhaps start a bit early. Pros show up early and the store manager knows this. Be a pro.

And the store's staff? Be totally nice to them. If you interest them in your book, they'll hand sell them for you long after you've driven off into the night.

Thus ends the sermon, oh my children. Go forth and publicize.

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