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Dread the Book Signing Nevermore: Profitable Lessons Learned at the Mall
by Beth Fowler


I was looking forward to my first book signing. Sales were gonna skyrocket along with my royalties.

During the two-hour autographing gig at the bookstore, I was asked for directions, out on a date and if I'd appeared on TV. Oh, book sales? Look in the dictionary under "embarrassment." The entry reads "emotional state suffered by authors who, after unsuccessful book signings, must lug stacks of unsold books home, esp. under the watchful eyes of mall security."

To spare yourself similar embarrassment, employ these battle-tested tactics for a book-signing victory.

1. Launch a publicity blitz. I assumed the manager (a pro in the book vending biz with a massive national chain store budget to spend) would publicize the book signing. She didn't. To avoid disappointment, invite friends, family, editors, librarians, writers' groups, clubs, your hairdresser, and high school English teacher. Post press releases on the bookstore's and your websites. Send releases to local papers, magazines, radio and community TV stations. Plaster notices on college, grocery store, café and other bulletin boards.

2. Arrange a "double header." Combine the book signing with a free complementary attraction. At my second signing a blues duo performed cool tunes. Serving up a cookbook? Demonstrate garnish making with rutabaga. Pushing an exercise manual? Offer free pulse rate monitoring. Or be the warm-up author for a Big Name the way lesser known, albeit talented, vocalists front for k.d. lang, Sting and their ilk.

3. Set out props & don a costume. Second time 'round, I wore a cheong sam (traditional Chinese dress), hung paper lanterns, and designed an Oriental window display to draw people close enough to read the title, Half Baked in Taiwan, I was promoting. The window dressing was on show two weeks before the signing as well as during.

4. Hand out handouts. In keeping with the Chinese theme, I gave Formosan teabags, bamboo chopsticks and a humorous quiz about Taiwan to passersby who, in most cases, then stopped to chat. Some window shoppers were inspired to pay money for books written by the generous author handing out freebies.

5. Be extroverted, yet subtle. I avoid eye contact with salespeople unless I've already decided to buy the widget they're advertising. When I was wearing seller's shoes, I had to devise a way to establish eye contact without coming on too strong. ("Hey, you in the rent-a-cop uniform! Wanna buy a book?") I engaged people with classic icebreakers having nothing to do with the book. After people defrosted, they'd say, "Did you write this book?" or "My daughter writes, too," or "I don't have time to read," in which case I'd ask what bookworms they did know. Finding common ground paves the road to sales.

6. Make the store purchase your books. Even though selling my books direct to the public would've meant higher royalties per book for me; I preferred having the manager purchase books from my publisher. Managers are more motivated to promote sales to avoid having unsold stock after the book signing. How you negotiate this angle depends on your royalty terms, whether unsold books are returnable to the distributor, if the book is POD (print-on-demand), store policy and other factors.

7. Smile. Junior dribbles chocolate on your books. The U.S. Navy recruiter fishes off your pier. A scarecrow panhandles for coins. Smile, smile, smile and.

8. Veer from discourses on religion, sex, politics and stem cells unless your book is about the controversial subject.

9. Sell other stuff. With the manager's permission, while holding the book signing for the Taiwan travel book, I displayed and sold copies of my newly released environmental thriller, The Universal Solvent. In addition to selling books from their oeuvres, writers can sell articles and pamphlets. They can advertise availability to present workshops and speeches, ghostwrite, write résumés and so forth.

10. Bank on making money at your book signing!

© Copyright 2001, Beth Fowler

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