Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Back from the road again...

(Turn on your mental Willy Nelson soundtrack for the title)

Blechta at the controls once again.

Last week flogging books in Eastern Ontario and Montreal: it was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

That sort of sums it up. For those of you not in Canada, we have only one big bookstore chain up here: Chapters/Indigo. They also own the old Coles chain. Just like has happened elsewhere, they've done in a great number of the indies. I signed in seven of them last week, and on your behalves (is that a word?), I kept my eyes wide open.

Since we've been discussing the value of conferences, the same question might apply to a book tour by a virtually unknown writer: was it worth it?

And as always the answer has to be yes and no.

The yes part:
* meeting new readers and hopefully future fans
* honing your sales pitch to razor sharpness. This will come in handy if you're lucky enough to get any interviews.
* talking to the staff in these stores some of whom will recommend my book
* ditto for the manager
* selling books that wouldn't otherwise be sold
* just getting the book and my name out there
* doing a signing at my alma mater (McGill University) and having the dean of the Music Faculty buy 10 books!

The no part:
* showing up at a store and finding that, even though you confirmed with them 10 days earlier, they still somehow didn't remember you were coming
* finding they hadn't ordered in extra books
* finding they hadn't put up anything in the store saying you were going to be there -- even though you supplied very nicely designed posters for this purpose
* ditto for the website
* driving through snow and sleet (we've had a dreadful winter)
* people who drop by, chew your ear off and then walk away saying they're not interested in crime fiction while several who might have been walked by your table
* absolutely NO interest from the media in any of the places I visited, even though a number of them were NOT media capitols by any means

Okay, I am a bit burned out, but I also spent the end of the work day yesterday arranging yet more signings.

My wife went along for the first (and last) time, asked me if all this was worth it. I did have to think awhile about an answer and came up with this: it's the only promotional tool over which I have ANY control. I sold around 150 books that wouldn't have been sold. I also planted a lot of "seeds" by liberally handing out my 2-page newsletter. History tells me that about 10% of these will result in later sales.

In the bookstore that forgot I was coming, the general manager kept saying that I has to be mistaken. Nothing had been booked. I had left my info sheet in the car and didn't remember the name of the person I had initially spoken to when the signing was arranged. It turned out to be him. From being a bit aggressive about "your mistake", he turned 180 degrees and went all out for me. He also wants me to come back so they can do a proper signing. I'll also get an endcap display or be put on the staff picks table. He also bought a copy for himself. The man showed great class and humility, and made me feel a lot better.

I could have stayed home, but in the end, I have to say that hitting the road was a better thing to do.

So here are Blechta's rules for bookstore signings (especially chain stores):

* Be prompt with getting them the information they require and with showing up at the gig.
* Be professional -- even if you don't know what you're doing or have to fake the enthusiasm part.
* Always have your happy face on. When things go wrong, keep smiling and kill them with kindness and understanding, even when you want to strangle someone. Hissy fits don't accomplish anything.
* Have a handout of some kind. Make it look really pro. If you don't know anything about design, get someone who does.
* Know what to say and say it succinctly. If you find yourself babbling on, shut up!
* You won't sell books to everyone. You might sell them to 10%. If you sell 20 books in 2 hours, you're doing very well indeed.
* NEVER sit there looking sorry for yourself. It doesn't help. Look open and ready to talk to people. Engage them with something as they walk by. "Do you enjoy reading mysteries?"
* Being lighthearted really helps. "My publisher threw me out of Toronto and told me to flog my new book. That's why I'm here today. Want me to tell you about it?"

Take the above for what it's worth.

1 comment:

Rick Blechta said...

From the Is It All Worth It? Department:

I just received the following email today:

"Hi Rick: just finished A Case of You -- loved it. Thank you for button-holing my wife in Billings Bridge, Ottawa, and selling her the book, and for signing it for me."

With any luck, this kind man will purchase other Blechta tomes. Even though they're tiring and often discouraging, I do believe book signings are worth it.