Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Blechta’s book signing manual

I’ve got a new book out. It needs promoting, and like so many other authors, I’m expected to do a lot to help with that promotion. Fine. Actually, I don’t mind it, even though balancing the book’s promotional needs with my regular working day, as well as the general stresses and strains of daily life makes it a pretty tough load to carry at times.

I’ve gone through this for each of my books, so this is the tenth occasion I’ve hit the road to do signings in bookstores. I’ve learned a lot, refined my approach, changed tools, figured out what works and what doesn’t. In short, I’m now pretty good at it. Given reasonable traffic in a store, I can move 20+ books in a three-hour “author event”, even though most people wandering by have never heard of me or my books.

Today, I’d like to share my formula with you, so you don’t have to go out and invent it yourself.

First of all, there are things you must have with you when you leave the house. They will be essential tools to help you find success. 

Here’s the list:

Your patter well worked out beforehand: You need something to say to people. My go-to line is generally, “Do you like mysteries?” Another one that often works is “May I tell you about my new novel?” Find something that works for you, your book and for that particular store/event/crowd. If they seem inclined to want to hear more, you have to be able to set your hook in under 30 seconds max. Don’t tell them what your book is about. Think of a movie trailer. Sell them the sizzle, not the steak. Do all of this at home where you can practise it until it flows smoothly. The worst thing is to stumble through something like this. Even if you need to say the same thing every time to get through it, that’s not such a bad thing. If a publisher sat you down and said, “Convince me why your book is worth publishing,” what would you say? Make your last line a shameless cliffhanger. I’m currently telling people things that happened before the opening of the book. It is mysterious, intriguing and I give it frisson of danger (which is not a stretching of the truth), then finish off with “And that’s where the novel begins.” It’s working about 25% of the time, so if I talk to 80 people during the course of a signing, I’m doing pretty well at the end of the day.

Bookmarks: Have a good-looking one to hand people. Most people will take it. They will probably wind up using it in some other book, but the bookmark will remind them of you. I think it’s very important to have a good teaser line on it, along with the required cover image. My current one reads, “Soprano Marta Hendriks has a devoted fan who sends her beautiful bouquets of roses... but what does he really want and where will he stop?” Even better was my previous novel’s teaser (and not my idea): “Only one thing is standing in the way of Marta Hendriks’s opera career... her dead husband.” If someone does by your book, I always tell them “And today only you get the matching bookmark absolutely free!” Why do I want them to have a bookmark at all costs? Because on the back, I have my other books and the address of my website. If you don’t have a double-sided bookmark, you’re missing a great opportunity.

Another sort of handout: Sometimes I do up a double-sided newsletter, the purpose of which is to introduce myself and my new book, but also to talk about previous books and, of course, any reviews your current book has received and maybe a few older ones. Establish your literary bona fides with this piece. This time out, I’ve produced a smaller piece called a tear sheet to see how that works. It’s smaller and easier to carry while someone browses in another section of the store. Once Roses gets a newspaper or magazine review, I’ll put an excerpt from it at the bottom where the blue copy is now.

A poster of your book’s cover: You need something to stop traffic, grab people’s attention. I had my go-to firm for large output do up a 20" x 32" poster and then mount it on foamcore. The finishing touch is some slid on metal framing to protect the edges. Total cost was $110 — and it was money very well spent. Trust me, it stops traffic, and that’s what you want. When it catches their eye, you can spring on shoppers with your come-on line. This time out, I purchased an inexpensive metal easel that puts the poster near eye level (it also holds the poster securely and breaks down easily, storing in a small cloth pouch). I put the poster and easel right next to the signing table on the outside where passersby will be sure to see it.

Book stands (in case the venue doesn’t have any): Get your book standing securely upright. Most stores have these, but this past Sunday they didn’t give me any. I just whipped out two that I always carry in my bag.

A pop-up with a printout of any reviews your book has received: This is one of those plastic sleeve-like things into which you can slide a sheet of paper. Copy out any reviews your book has received (or any blurbs). I find this especially useful when you’re talking to one person and another one stops. Hand them the pop-up and tell them you’ll be right with them. If they put that down, hand them a copy of the book. Hopefully they’ll stick around.

Water: You’re hearing this from someone who taught band every period of every school day, plus before school, during lunch, and after school. Trust me, you need to keep your throat and especially your vocal cords irrigated. I always bring a big thermos of water and take a swig every now and then. It makes a huge difference.

A toothbrush and toothpaste: I was offered a muffin at my signing on Saturday. Am I glad I had a toothbrush with me! I would have spent the afternoon with a piece of raisin glued to one of my front teeth. Not a happy thought...

A big smile: If you want to attract people, you have to look happy and upbeat — even if you’re not. Always be cheerful and look welcoming. I’d say at least half the people I reach out to with my come-on walk right by with a negative answer or no answer at all. That’s their right. Don’t take it personally. If someone does stop, listens to your patter, and then walks on, just shrug and carry on. You did nothing wrong — and neither did they. They’re just not interested. If someone tells you they’re not interested, then just drop it with a pleasant, “Well, thank you for stopping by” or something similar. Even if you loathe doing signings or are having a horrible day, you don’t need to burden potential readers with that.

I’d like to close with this thought: Signings are a necessary evil for all authors. If you’re a beginning author or even a mid-list one, they can do a lot of good. If you’re shy and don’t do well in public, you need to think of this as a “performance”. Anyone will tell you I’m a glib bastard (sometimes they neglect the word “glib”), but you’re not, then practise being glib and approachable. After all, you just lied your way through your novel, didn’t you? You must appear confident, friendly, and prepared to do what’s needed. Be pleasant to the staff in the store, even when they have screwed up. Make a good (and professional) impression on everyone. It really helps.

Oh, and a final tip: Bring along printouts of all correspondence you’ve had with the venue to set up the event. That way when you show up at a store and someone looks at you blankly with an “I have no idea who you are,” you can shove the confirmation email into their hand and tell them, “Obviously, someone has slipped up. How can I help so we can get started selling books?”


Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks for the post. I'm going on my first book tour in about a month so this will come in handy!

Rick Blechta said...

Good luck to you!

Diane Vallere said...

Great suggestions!

Donis Casey said...

Excellent advice. Will use as a checklist at my next signing.

Craig Faustus Buck said...

Sage advice. Thanks!