Being thrust into the spotlight at a book signing event doesn’t come easy to most authors who are accustomed to writing in isolation. Bob was familiar with being ‘in the news’, the TV cameras and the radio mic’s - a necessity in his role as a Detective Superintendent (SIO). I on the other hand - I was absolutely petrified!
In our first TV interview we were sat on the ‘sofa’ awaiting to be interviewed when Bob turned to me. ‘Don’t look so nervous,’ he whispered leaning towards me, squeezing as he did so my shaking, very clammy hand. ‘Look. I’ve heard the presenters talking and they’re going to ask us how we write together, so leave that to me.’ I smiled at him relieved he was going to take the lead. ‘I’ll tell them you write the sex scenes and add the swearing!’ he said brusquely at which point I open my mouth in a gasp, turned to shake my head at our hosts with eyes wide and the ‘red light’ turned ‘green’. We’re live! You can see my reaction and nervous anticipation throughout the interview below:- It’s had 2.4K hits!
Despite his wicked sense of humour I know I am very lucky to have Bob by my side...
So, for all those authors who have to go it alone we have put together some simple, tried and tested good practice tips for debut authors. These procedures not only kept me focused but also resulted in excellent sales at consecutive signings.
One of Bob’s favourite sayings is ‘Fail To Plan Is To Plan To Fail’. He took charge of hundreds of major operations in West Yorkshire Police, where he spent 30 years as a career detective. In his last three years alone of his CID lead career he led 26 murders enquiries, 24 major incidents and over 50 suspicions deaths; he was also a Hostage Negotiator for kidnap, terrorism, suicide intervention and extortion’. Quite useful you might think for our present career as crime writers. I also worked for the same Force, as a civilian employee for 17 years.
The following is not prescriptive by any imagination - just suggestions.
Your publisher will make the initial contact with the organisers well in advance, send a press release to the media and arrange with the manager of the bookstore to have sufficient copies of your novel in stock, as well as discussing with them advertising your attendance in the store. So you may think that all the preparation is complete? Far from it!
If the store is local to you, prior to the event it is wise to speak with the manager yourself confirming the details. You might want to know what time they want you to arrive/depart? It is a good idea to arrive at least twenty minutes before your book signing starts. What do they expect of you at the event? Are they relying on footfall on the day? If so what advertising are they doing? Think what you can do to advertise the event. Do you use social media for instance? If it is outside shop hours do they want you to invite people? Or will they do that for you?
ASCERTAIN: Who will be the manager in the store on the day and speak directly with them.
Ask where you will be located in the store for the signing? Will a table and chair be provided? We assume there will be BUT, we never assume. Ensure you are near to the door, clearly visible so people have to walk past. Confirm that there will be visible advertisements by them, in store, before and on the day. We have found on several book signing events that our publisher sent posters and show boards prior to book signings but they have been no where to be seen on arrival. Although these had been received on each occasion, in plenty of time, they had been stored away ‘somewhere safe’ and forgotten about it we found out. Display boards (usually a blackboard) outside emphasising there is a ‘BOOK SIGNING TODAY’ are most helpful and we find brings in footfall from passing trade. There may be space here to write the name of your novel or genre type. It all helps.
THINK: Photo opportunity with the staff on your arrival. Pictures with people who purchase your novel. This is not only good PR for your website but also to display on your social media. Posts on social media before and during the event are very popular amongst our followers.
CONSIDER: speaking to local press before the event - book a photographer from your local newspaper - if they are doing a write-up this will be free. If you’re local or have a connection to the town it makes a good story for them - but you must ask well in advance. This book signing might be the highlight of your year, you’re quite rightly very proud, but they won’t necessary know about it if you don’t tell them and what’s the worst that can happen - they say no?
WEBSITES/Social Media: Make good use of both. Does the store have a website/other social media where they can advertise your book signing? What I’m trying to say is you have to take ownership of your own promotion (unless of course you can afford to pay a PR company), otherwise you may find no one else does any promo and you will have missed a great opportunity to tell everyone about your great book - and therefore sales.
LOCAL: Think local Radio/TV. Some radio stations have a simple system where you can ring and record your message about a local event. If not, then ring their reception/admin office and ask if they would consider letting you be a guest on a show. If not maybe they’d give you and your book ‘a plug’? Most local radio stations are only too happy to have a guest in the studio we have found. Don’t just look for the national radio stations such as the BBC; look for the internet stations too they are really popular these days.
CREATE: your own display boards. An A5 sized board that can be bought quite cheaply from stationary stores, or on the internet, is an excellent show piece and a talking point for you and your potential buyers. A carrier for these can also be bought again quite cheaply from Argos or via the internet. Cover the board with photo’s, press cuttings and advertisements for your book – plus the price. These advertisement boards about you and your novel will build up in time - we now have twelve!
BADGE: We have taken to wearing a badge that says thereon our name, AUTHOR and the title of our book. It may be a minor detail but it quickly identifies, to the customer, who you are and saves you being asked to help locate other literature. Bob is often mistaken for the manager as he always wears a suit, shirt and tie! On that point, choose carefully what you wear including comfortable shoes, you may be standing for a few hours; and it always looks more professional if you’re smart.
BOOKMARKS: Ask your publisher to supply you with bookmarks. A handout with your latest book - previous books, your websites etc. is a great way to interact with shoppers and if they are ‘too shy’ to buy at the time or ‘too busy’ the bookmark may tempt them to purchase at some later date.
BOOKS: The store may have a dozen copies of your book in store – it varies from store to store how many they will purchase. But, before you even turn up it is often the case that the book store where you are holding the event has sold one or two to people who have seen the advertisements in the press, or heard you on the radio. Our advice is take extra books with you. We very often sell out of the book stores stock before our allotted book signing is over. We always speak to the manager beforehand about this and how they wish to proceed with payment for those sold books.
The manager may wish you to sign any stock that they have left after the book signing so that they can put a sticker on these books which says, ’signed by the author’. People often collect author signed books - any book - it’s a sale!
TIME: Most stores allocate or expect you to stay for a two hour period for the book signing. For some renowned authors it is sufficient to sell as many as they need, or to clear the queue. For new authors you are probably just finding your feet as the two hour time allocation runs out. We have found all stores welcoming us to stay as long we wish and in our experience it is worth staying for as long as you can. Let’s face it it’s probably taken more than two hours for you to get there. Advice: Go prepared. Although some stores have in-house cafes and the staff keep you supplied with warm drinks others don’t offer you as much as a drink of water.
APPEARANCE: Like I said before appearance is really important. You want to be noticed for the right reasons. A well known writer of children’s books always turns up dressed as a pink fairy... STOP! No, I am not suggesting that for one moment you should be in fancy dress. But, as the ex detective Bob always wears a suit, collar and tie and I go as if I’m going to work. We treat the experience as a job interview, first impressions really do matter.
ALL PREPARED? If the day goes well you should be exhausted and have a sore throat. Never before will you have spent so much time passionately talking about you, your book, your agent and your publisher.
Set up your display how you think it would work best. Even take along an easel if you can to get your showcard at eye level. Advice: In any downtime – we find shoppers tend to come in ebb and flows for no apparent reason at all - sign the books that are on the table. That way you only have to personally dedicate them should you get a rush on!
WARNING – Never assume does not just apply to the detective - always ask the customer how to spell the name of the recipient. We’ve had so many spellings of Ian you would not believe!
READY TO SELL?
There may be a seat but it doesn’t mean you have to use it at all times. You need to now become a market trader and interact with the customers. The initial smile and contact; ‘Good morning, are you interested in crime fiction’ for instance, is a great ice breaker. You will soon get the vibe if the person is interested or totally blanks you – yes, there are some strange/rude people out there. Don’t be put off, move on to the next.
Staff at the major retailers regularly tell us they are pleased we interact with their customers as some authors just sit down waiting for people to approach them which they tell us doesn’t work.
Ask the staff if your book fits into the 3 for 2 offer presently in store? If so, ask if you can use it and this will allow your books to go on the ‘3 for 2 table’.
There is nothing stranger than people. As I briefly mentioned before you will get blank looks, curt responses and even rebuffs but think of that as a challenge. I have stood outside the shop wearing the badge and got people to come inside and make a purchase. It can be fun - take the lead from the staff. They know their customers, and customers for each store, each town can be very different in their approach to authors.
Never underestimate your ability. You know everything there is to know about your novel - better than any one else; so who better to sell it? You want people to read it. It’s your chance to tell them about it. Your eagerness will rub off on them, with any luck - although it’s a fine line between enthusiastic and pushy. Suggest to the shopper that they might like to read the blurb on the back, hand them a book, and if they start to read you are halfway there. Remember you spent months crafting this work of art for them to enjoy. It’s the best read in the store. So tell them it is!
You’ll get the local oddball or the confrontational shopper. We once had a six foot-five biker, clad in a tight leather jacket, carrying a helmet walk straight up to Bob, nose-to-nose. He told us he ‘hated f***ing coppers’! He bought a book. I’m still unsure of how Bob managed that one. He assures me it wasn’t a tight grip in the groin area. ;-)
Remember, most people that walk through the book shop doors intend purchasing at least one book. WHY NOT YOURS?
What about the staff? They read too, and you know they will enjoy your novel so don’t miss an opportunity of a sale when you speak to them.
A sell out? When’s the next one going to be out? Do you know? If so, tell the people who have purchased your book.
If it didn’t go to well, don’t let one bad day at the office dishearten you. It maybe the timing of the event, two hours might have been insufficient. The number of footfall in a shop varies throughout the day. You may have hit the quiet spell for your book signing event. We are aware stores monitor their footfall so when you speak to the manager prior to the event, ask his advice on this.
Don’t forget to thank the staff. We always buy them a box of chocolates - they’ll certainly remember you, and with a bit of luck they’ll look forward to you coming back.
Exhausted after a successful day promoting yourself, your novel, your agent and your publisher you might think its time to put your feet up and have that much needed glass of wine? Not yet! Send a message to the store manager and HQ thanking them for their hospitality and professionalism.
We have been requested to return with our future novels after all our book signing events, an endorsement in itself.
Finally before you fall asleep updates are required to your publisher, friends and followers on social media - they love sharing your success and seeing photographs you’ve taken at the event. Be assured the more book signings you do. The more accomplished you will become at selling.
The below mnemonic can be used as a quick check list:-
B - Boards, Books, Badges, Bookmarks.
O - Overt postion in the store.
O - Opportunity to promote yourself and your novel.
K - Keep pleasantly positive and don’t be offended or defeated.
S - Sell your books. Seize every book signing day!
I - Indicate where people can buy your book on kindle - there are a lot of kindle readers out there!
G - Give it more time than perhaps intended.
N - Need to become the market trader - speak to people.
I - Initiate communication - say ‘hello’, give the shopper a bookmark.
N - Negotiate with manager/staff about time, location in store, amount of books etc.
G - Go that extra mile. Remember to give the store feedback about your experience - get ready for the next!
Finally, last but not least, don’t squander every book signing opportunity you manage to achieve. There are lots of people out there who are going to love your books but they don’t know about it/them yet! So, tell them!
Our website is www.rcbridgestock.com
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