Friday, August 10, 2012

Botched Signings


This week, an intelligent savvy mystery writer wrote about her recent experiences during signings at various book stores. The presentations offered struck me as innovative and pitch perfect. She even had a slide show and furnished her own projector.
The slide show was well received by the audience, but most of the books stores did not advertise it.

Book orders from the stores were inconsistent and illogical. Some of her line was available, although some stores hadn’t ordered books at all. She suggests writers take a stock of books whenever they possibly can.
I have a few comments of my own to add. There is nothing more dispiriting that book signings when few people (or none) show up. Second to this, is having booked the event with managers or owners who clearly wish you weren’t there to begin with. In fact, they wish that so fervently they didn’t bother to order your books.

Something has gone very very wrong in the relationship between store owners or event managers and authors. They have soured for a number of reasons. Here are I couple I’ve observed:
Managers resent shilling for on-line vendors. They are furious when the store has gone to the time and expense to promote an event only to have readers show up with copies purchased from Amazon for a much cheaper price. That is the reason some stores now charge readers a fee of about $10.00 to attend a signing and hear the talk. The money is refunded when the attendee purchases a book.

A charming Barnes and Noble events manager told me their own Nook is their biggest competitor. When customers walk in the door, they are hit with on-line promotion that competes with the very trade books they are trying to sell.
Writers are often so very, very unpleasant. They look around for the nearest cat to kick when an event is a dud. This is especially true of self-published or first time published authors. Because they don’t understand how things work. They think it the owner’s fault if no one shows up.

It’s crucial to grit one’s teeth and smile if everything goes wrong. If it’s a multi-author event and your books aren’t there, do everything possible to promote the other writers’ books. The manager will always remember.
I now analyze my chances of having a successful signing in a town. Do I know anyone there who might come? Do I care enough to put forth the effort to ferret these people out? Do I care enough to troll through the membership lists of organizations? Do I care enough to make posters and supply press kits?  

If not, for the sake of the store and my sake, why go?
The winners are going to be those do care. These people are tough enough to do what it takes to adapt to changing markets. I really admire the super resilient and ambitious writers who give a new meaning to hard work.

The winners will plan ahead, work their contacts, and empathize with worried store owners who are trying to keep from being sucked under in the whirlpool of changes in the published world.

11 comments:

F.T. Bradley said...

This was really great food for thought as I'm gearing up for signings. Thanks for sharing.

Charlotte Hinger said...

F.T. The trick is to be extremely nice. I'll be honest--this is difficult for me to do when I know a bookstore hasn't put forth one whit of effort. Always remember you don't know what is going on someone's personal life. Their dog may just died.

Jeffrey Siger said...

I could not imagine you ever being anything but nice, Charlotte. Though there was that time in St. Louis...ONLY KIDDING.

I frankly go to every event thinking there will be no one there except for the manager, cashier, and moi. That way the cat is safe...though a certain potbelly Vietnamese pig who knows who he is had better keep his distance:)).

I approach each signing as a party in formation...one that I may just have to leave before it really gets jumping for another pressing engagement.

The key to a book signing (especially for the new author) is the relationships you build with the bookseller (often more upset than you with the low turn out), and I'm happy to say that some of my appearances--where even the absent cat would have drawn a bigger crowd--still resulted in my book making the shop's monthly top ten best sellers list! Besides, low crowds mean more cookies for me.

As for the rude store person, I haven't yet run across one of those. Or just didn't notice. After all, I am from New York City.

John R Corrigan said...

Multi-author events, when you can, are the way to go. You are never lonely, and the cross-over sales help everyone.

Donis Casey said...

Well, for some reason I'm not smart enough to figure out how to comment any more. I left a brilliant comment on this yesterday, Charlotte, but it never appeared! I guess you'll just have to take my word for how great it was. All I remember now is that I said I call ahead two weeks before a date and make sure they know I'm still coming.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Jeff, I so agree on who is the most upset. Booksellers are embarrassed and defensive when no one comes. That's why its so important to be nice.

I like to approach these events with an open spirit. Anything can happen.

The best advice I can give anyone in this business is that if you don't have a sense of humor--rent one.

Charlotte Hinger said...

John, the biggest multi-author event is Western Writers of America. It's awesome and held during our annual convention.

But the problem is--we buy from one another and don't sell much to the public.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Donis, I always read everything you write. Yes, calling ahead is a good suggestion. Maybe that will galvanize everyone into action.

Angela Ackerman said...

. You mentioned some things here I didn't even consider, like fans showing up with books purchased online and that ticking off the store management. This is a tough one, because it isn't the author's fault, but at the same time, bookstores need to think of their own revenue stream. Not sure I agree with the charging a refundable fee, however. Most people who enter a bookstore don't leave empty handed, so even if it isn't the author's book, it's still a sale. Charging a fee must leave a bad taste in a potential customer's mouth, and the unknowing person might also associate that negative action with the author.

Great food for thought, and great advice!
Angela Ackerman

Charlotte Hinger said...

Angela, The bright side to stores charging (usually $10) is that most of them treat the signing as a real event with large posted signs so at least customers are warned that it isn't free. I agree with your "bad taste" comment. There's so really strange situations that pop up.

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