Well, this is not Stephanie--so when you are wondering why this post sounds nothing like the amazing Stephanie, now you know why! My name is Megan Anderson--if you have done any author signings for Seagull Book (most recently in the Murray store), you have probably met me! (Super talkative, crazy curly brown hair, recently pregnant…) I was the manager of the Fashion Place Seagull Book for two years, and I was the manager of the Brickyard location before that, and I have also worked in the Riverdale (manager-in-training), Bountiful (it’s not even there anymore!), Logan, American Fork, and Orem locations over the years. I started working for Seagull in 2003, right after I graduated from high school. I left for two years after getting married and worked as a wedding coordinator for a hotel in SLC, and then came back to Seagull once a management position opened, which I worked up until the day I went to the hospital to have my son, Noah, in August. So--I know books! I know fiction, and I know non-fiction, and I know how to sell them, especially to the LDS market.
I “met” Stephanie through Facebook and let her know how much I loved her latest novel. Then, I pestered her a whole bunch, and finally she offered to let me be a test reader for her current manuscript! (which I am HAPPY to do for anyone else…just sayin’…) Through lots of email conversations, Stephanie asked me if I would mind doing a guest post on her blog with advice to authors on how to make your signings as productive as possible, from the bookstore perspective. So, here you go!
Top 5 Tips for a Successful Signing
1 Introduce Yourself! The best thing you can possibly do is get your name out there. Introduce yourself to customers. Even if you aren’t delivering a sales pitch, at least be as friendly and approachable as you can. Try to catch them as they come in the door--but also learn to read people; if they are in a rush to get what they need and get back out, or have screaming kids, or are on a cell phone, it’s not a great time to interrupt. Depending on the store, they may have an employee “stationed” at your table to take care of the introductions for you (I always tried to be right by the author table to herd the customers in the right direction) and if that’s the case, still try to get in a little something to let the customers see your personality. If you are introduced by an employee, begin to ask questions like, “Do you enjoy mysteries?”, “Are you looking for a good romance novel?”, etc. Questions are always the best segue into a sale; invite the customer to come see what you have to offer.
2 Get to Know the Employees. Remember, long after you leave, the employees of the store are the ones who can either encourage a lot of sales for your book, or talk people out of it and into something else. There have been several times when I have read a book and enjoyed it, but wasn’t totally caught on fire to sell it, but then we would have the author come and if that person was very happy and fun to have in the store, it made me want to sell their books. There have also been other times when I was on the fence about a book, the author came in and was either boring or rude, and it became very hard to sell their book. I would even talk people out of it and into something else, on principle that the author wasn’t very nice. The employees in the store have more power than the best book cover in the world, more power than an incredibly gripping synopsis, and more power than the best written story since Gone With the Wind (my personal favorite). The employees are the ones the customers see often, and especially in companies like Seagull Book, the customers are “repeat offenders," coming in often enough to get to know and trust the employees. I had several customers who would buy whatever I told them to, and wouldn’t buy whatever I told them not to, just because they trusted my recommendations. One lady would just hand me her basket, give me a spending limit, and wait by the doors for me to get her weekly books! If you want your books to sell well, really get to know the employees. Talk to them when there aren’t customers to be attended to. You can even bring them in a little trinket relating to your book, a treat, or send a thank you card after your signing is over. The employees of the stores you sign in will remember you, and it’s up to you to make sure that memory is a positive one that will drive your book sales up.
3 Stay Close to Your Product. There is nothing more frustrating than an author who is wandering the store when they are supposed to be doing a signing. Once your scheduled time is over, feel free to browse and shop your heart out! I know that I couldn’t possibly walk into a bookstore and sit at a table for two hours, then leave without looking around, but just make sure it’s after your scheduled signing is over. Sometimes, you might even get that extra sale or two because if someone is interested in your book, and you are still in the store, they will be grateful for the autograph and will make the purchase! Just be sure to stay close to wherever you are supposed to be, especially if the employees of the store are trying to draw customer’s attention in your direction.
4 Have a Handout. For those of you who have published with Covenant Communications, I know that they will often print these great bookmarks that have a picture of the book on the front and a synopsis of the book on the back. These are awesome! Get as many of these as you can! When a customer comes in the front door, even if they don’t want to stop to talk to you about your book, you can give them a free bookmark that may spark their interest later on and get a sale! Not many people turn down the offer of, “Would you like a free bookmark?” You can even say, “If you’d like a free bookmark, this will tell you more about my book.” Once your signing is over, leave a stack of them with the employees (if they are okay with it) for them to put in customers' bags. We did this all the time and had a lot of success with it. I had people often come back in because they saw the bookmark in their bag and read the synopsis and were intrigued. If you don’t have these or aren’t able to get something like it from your publisher, make your own! Anything that has a picture of the book, as well as a synopsis of the story, is a great thing to hand out to people. Not everyone will keep it, or even read it, but you never know who will be inspired enough to come back and buy your book. (It’s not sacrilegious to compare these to pass-along cards and missionary work, right?)
5 Don’t Over-Crowd Your Table. I know that it’s tempting to bring in lots of props, posters, banners, or what have you to dress up your table, but resist that temptation! A few SMALL things here or there can be fine, but remember that you want the focus of your signing to be your book, not the life-size photo of your pet cat, even if he was the inspiration for the cat in the novel. I once had an author that brought in his own extra 6 foot table to add on to his signing table for his props, and it was a huge concern because we didn’t have anywhere to put all of that! Having a little something like a bowl of candy will entice more people to your table as well, but again, moderation is the key. Also, if the store wants to feature your newest release, and has a display set up with only that book, don’t go to the shelves to get all eight of your other books and try to cram them on the table as well. Odds are that the employees have read the recent one and are more prepared to sell it. If it is a sequel that you are signing, it is appropriate to have the first one on the table, but less prominently displayed. It’s frustrating to the employees who are trying to focus on their new releases to have the authors only trying to sell older books. The store usually bulks up on the new book to sell, and they don’t want to sit on the merchandise. (Without getting into all of the logistics of merchandising requirements and balancing purchasing power, just trust me that it’s frustrating!) If you want to have at least one of each of your books on the table, let the employees know so that if you can sell one, then you do have it at your disposal, but do try to focus on selling the book that the store is focusing on also.
General Sales Tips:
*Always ask questions to start a conversation with a customer. It’s more approachable and less intimidating. “Do you like romantic fiction?” “Did you say you needed a gift for your mom?”
*Be prepared to talk about your book: where the idea came from, how long it took you to write it, why you like it, possibly even books it’s similar to (in case they are an aficionado), why you chose to write the genre you did, etc.
*Smile and don’t refer to groups of people as “guys," especially older folks! For some reason, this is a little off-putting to customers.
*Even if you aren’t talking specifically about your book, if a customer is willing to talk to you about anything, just keep talking! Odds are, if you have a ten minute conversation on tricks to getting your kids ready for school, the customer will connect with you which in turn will make them interested in your book.
*Always strive to leave a good impression. “Have a great day!” is a good send off, to your current customers and to the potential ones that may come back in another day for your book.
Well, I hope this was helpful! I have hosted many, many authors, some great, some not so great. Signings really are great tools to get your name out there, get your book noticed, and build good relationships with the stores that sell your product. I always enjoyed having authors in the store; it was fun to put a face to the book, and I know that a lot of Seagull Book stores (can’t definitively speak for any other company) feel the same way. Good luck, and happy selling!
(Stephanie here: Megan, thank you SO much for these awesome booksigning tips. I'll be coming back to review your post before I do a signing! It's so good to get the bookstore perspective on how to make a signing successful).