Monday, June 6, 2011

May I Sign That For You?


Or Booksigning 1A  

 L.J. Martin

Booksignings.

To some authors, they’re about as much fun as a root canal.

Booksignings, after the initial ego gratification of a first book, are a unique form of torture where one sits astride a cold metal chair in a corner of a musty book store while passerby’s presume you’re registering voters or offering petitions to “save the whales.”

But they can be a career builder, sometimes even ego gratifying, and a way to sell books. To some of you, that concept, selling books, may be repugnant. In fact, selling anything may be repulsive to you. Having been a salesman all my life, it’s second nature to me, and, by the way, it’s also the highest paying profession in the world. To put it in your perspective, even Louie, D. Steel and S. King are pikers in the income department compared to some of this country’s great salespeople.

Nothing happens in this free enterprise system of ours until someone sells something. Publishers can’t pay the help, or buy manuscripts, or sponsor book tours unless someone is out there selling books.

And it’s my belief that it’s your responsibility as a major contributor to the book process to contribute to that effort--at least to not hinder it.

But selling, like writing, is a craft. A learned art that takes some practice.

The fact is your writing career can’t grow unless your readership grows. So the more of your books you get into the hands of readers, the more opportunity you have to find a few who like what you do, and may just look for your next book without you personally shoving it into a reluctant hand.

There’s only one primary reason to do a booksigning, and that’s to sell books. Delbert, the bookstore manager at D. Balton has not gone to the trouble of stocking a case of your Cruising the Strip Joints of Southern Louisiana, of contacting your publisher or his own corporate office and getting that great poster made, of rounding up a table and chair and vase of plastic flowers because he wants your sparkling company for a couple of hours.

And Delbert sure doesn’t want to re-pack and return forty five of the fifty books he’s stocked because his “author” has elected to read a good book rather than sell his own while he or she’s warming the booksigning throne. And you sure as hell don’t want him to strip the covers off those paperbacks and irritate your sacred sell-through. For those of you not familiar with the term “sell-through,” it’s the percentage of books not returned (presumed sold) of those shipped. In the case of Westerns, many times that percentage is as low as 40%. And I’m sure you’re aware that returning a book, when it’s a paperback, means only returning the cover. The rest of the 250 pages go to the shredder.

But back to booksigning. Reading a good book is definitely the wrong way to do a booksigning.

Besides selling books, there is a secondary reason for doing a booksigning, and that’s to please a bookseller. But trust me, you’ll please and impress them more if you sell the hell out of those books.

If you don’t want to sell, stay home. A signing is not an invitation to be idolized by an adoring public, it’s a bookstore to which you’ve been invited. A bookstore, with rent and light bills and personnel costs.

Unless you’re D. Steel or S. King, the likelihood of having a line of patrons salivating for a signature is slim-and-none and Slim’s out of town.

So what do you do? You take advantage of every live body within polite (and sometimes not so polite) speaking range. And you can do that far better if you set four simple ground rules with the bookstore before you agree to sign.

1. Find the right day to sign. An event at the location of the bookstore, a sidewalk sale for instance, that’s the best day to sign. More people, more targets.

2. You have to have people to sell to in order to sell, so locating in the highest traffic area of the bookstore is best, and out on the sidewalk or in the mall walkway itself is even better. You want to send the guy who came to the mall for a pair of BVD’s away with a book and a pair of BVD’s. It’s usually much easier to sell him a Western, than to sell one to the guy who came into a bookstore to buy a manual in order to pass his concrete contractor’s exam.

3. You need the books on the table, not on the shelf, even if you’re outside in the mall walkway. (You’ll see why later)

4. You don’t need a helper. Save the chat with the bookstore personnel until after the scheduled signing time. (He’ll “step on your close,” which I’ll explain in a moment.)

Now it’s up to you.

You’ve got the table, the prime location near the front entrance or out in the mall; a pile of books on hand; a great poster on the window behind you; and the manager and his employees, at your request, are leaving you to do your job. There are a lot of folks passing by, most intent on buying new underwear.

Now what?

Sell books, that’s what.

All direct selling is an interchange between buyer and seller. Great salespeople sell to those who may not yet know they want to buy. You can’t ask a closing question unless you establish a relationship, even the most tentative of ones, and you can’t do that without talking--communicating.

Step one is letting them know why you’re sitting on that cold chair.

Greet everyone who passes. “Hi! Are you a reader?” Or, “Do you read westerns?” Or, “Do you like strip joints?” Or whatever is applicable.

It’s seldom you get a “no” to the first question. You do occasionally get “What do you think I am, an imbecile?” To the second you may get a straight out “no,” then the question is, “How about your dad, or husband?” Or “An autographed book makes a great gift.”

This is the easy part. “Good morning, are you a reader?” is an easy question, but not a closing one, and closing questions are how you sell. If you get the least encouragement, the next piece of selling business is to get the book in the buyer’s hand. And you do that by handing it to him. “Have you read mine?”

This also informs him that you’re not about to ask him to sign a petition. Even though you’re sitting there with a pile of books and a poster, his mission was to buy a pair of skivvies or socks, so you’ve got to slow him down and make him think books. Let him read the cover copy. Don’t talk while he’s digesting the product. It, too, is there to sell.

Now maybe he gets it. You’re an author.

“Did you write this?” is something near what his next question will be.

“Yes, it’s a great guide if you’re into strip joints,” gives you a chance to relate to your buyer and his/her interests. The easiest sell is one that satisfies a need.

“Looks great,” he says. . . .And now is when 99.99% of you farm it out.

Now what.

Step two. A close, that’s what.

“May I sign that for you?” you ask, with your best smile.

It’s decision time. The book is in his hand, he’s already said it looks great. You’ve offered to autograph it. And more importantly, you’ve given him an easy question to answer. You haven’t asked, “Do you want to part with a hard-earned $5.95 rather than have lunch?” That’s a much tougher question to answer. His choice is replying, “No, doofus, I don’t want your autograph,” which is a little like saying “Who the hell are you?” Or admitting that he doesn’t have the $5.95 until pay day. All tough ego-preventing responses to your close. A much easier answer is “yes.”

You’ve asked your closing question, and he’s silent for an interminable five seconds. . .and you know what 99.999% of you will do? You’ll get sucked right into that maelstrom of torturous silence with, “That’s a great belt.” And you know what--you’ve let him off the hook. Now he can tell you about his Uncle Charley who does leather work, and ignore your close while casually slipping the book back on the table. You’ve given him the easy out--right through your big mouth.

Don’t ever forget that you’re doing them a favor by selling them your book. If you don’t believe that, stay home. Let someone else who believes in you, even if you don’t, sell your books.

The largest real estate deal I ever sold, I waited in silence 23 minutes (by the watch) after asking a closing question. Now, when you’re waiting for an answer that may mean a 50 foot sailboat or six bedroom house, 23 minutes seems enough time to read War and Peace. But, I knew the rule--first guy to speak loses. So I waited, and he took a couple of phone calls, looked out the window across San Francisco Bay for a while, and finally spoke--and I won, or should say “earned,” the largest commission of my life.

You speak, and he’s off the hook. Silence, is the salesperson’s best friend. Silence is the loudest closing technique of all. Not chatter. But silence after a closing question. Silence is what separates the salespeople with yachts from those with yearning. That’s why you don’t need the help of the manager or store personnel. They can stand the pressure even less, and they’ll speak into the silence. Hell, if they were trained to sell, they’d probably be making a lot of money somewhere else, not schlepping your books in a chain store while working their way through college so they can get as far from that bookstore as possible. They, in their well meaning enthusiasm, will “step” on your close every time--by speaking and letting your buyer off the hook.

You can’t get that book into their hands unless the books are on the table in front of you. If the bookstore owner is worried about someone hooking a book, then he doesn’t think much of the value of your time. You might be better off staying home and working on your next, Strip Joints of Northern Louisiana.

Kat, my wife, and I make a game out of booksignings. A contest, with inner self to sell more than we sold the last time, and with each other. Sometimes the closing questions go a little overboard, such as the time I suggested to a haggard looking man that he was probably going to have a heart attack if he didn’t relax with a good book. I lost that sale. But it was good advice. Or when Kat turned to a passing lady and asked, “Do you read?” before she noticed the red and white cane. To the lady's credit, she laughed even though she could not see Kat’s red face.

But then again, we sold 650 books in six hours—three two-hour booksignings in three consecutive days. And made a lot of friends at Anderson News.

And not one of those folks who walked away from that table with a book in their hands knew Kat or Larry Jay Martin from Adam’s off ox before that day.

Now they do.

A few other tricks to help you sell books for that hard-working bookseller.

Have a representation of all your titles on the table if you have more than one, not just your newest book—including a couple of your audios and large print titles, if you've got them.

Help him and yourself by providing him with press releases a couple of weeks in advance, or by offering to contact the press yourself and get those articles in the local paper. Sometimes large malls have their own newspapers! Sometimes military bases have their own papers, radio stations, and T.V. stations.

Sign all the unsold books before you leave. The bookseller is less likely to strip covers and return them if the books are signed. Chains will sometimes circulate those signed copies to other stores. And take and use your own “signed by the author” stickers.

Make sure some of your books remain on the shelves during the booksigning. Many times a shy customer will bypass you, but look for the book on the shelf or in the racks.

Don’t presume your buyer realizes you’re the author, even though you’ve got the book in his hand and told him it’s yours. He thinks it’s yours, as in ownership, and you want to sell it to him, not that it’s yours, as in authorship, even through you still want to sell it to him. Many times he thinks you’re a bookstore employee. Even these “not-so-quick-ones” may have the $5.95, and may become fans. Usually they’re not really slow, just distracted by the need of a new pair of BVD’s.

If you’re selling a Western, don’t be bashful about calling it a Historical if it’s a woman buyer, or a man who has expressed a dislike for “Westerns.” Or if she says she only reads suspense, your book is suddenly a suspense, in a western setting. Cross genre lines, you may do us all some good.

Dress the part. They want to see a star, give them a star.

Don’t be offended by anyone. Tell those who say they’ll wait until it’s in the library that you hope they do and to please read it when it arrives there, or those that want to wait to buy it in the used bookstore to make sure they tell their friends if they like it. Go on to the next live one. What you’re doing, after all, is not just selling, but selling in order to spread the word and build your readership. So spread the word, even if you don’t make a sale.

“I don’t read that crap,” is the worst you’ll normally get by being assertive. You must then assume he’s stupid because he probably doesn’t read any crap, not only your crap. Or more likely that his hemorrhoids are flaring up--as yours will be if you sit there unmoving and un-selling for two hours.

Get a signing partner if you’re so inclined. I sell a lot of books to ladies Kat stops, who don’t read romance or romantic suspense; and she sells a lot of books to women (and even men) I stop, who’ll buy for themselves or for mom or sis or grandma. But make sure you don’t step on each other’s closes.

Sell those books, and that two hours on a hard seat won’t even be noticed.

And maybe, just maybe, you'll win a few faithful fans.

3 comments:

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Those are some great great tips. I would have never thought of signing all the unsold copies so they wouldn't be shredded. I once attended a workshop about book signings by an author who wrote adventure stories. When he held a book signing he would dress in the costume of a character from the book. That's interesting--if you can afford the rental. I found a lot of great information in this article. Thank you, L.J.

Oscar said...

I'll try this next Friday night in Mesa, AZ, at the 2ndFridaynight out event which will be featuring books and authors. Thanks.

D.M. McGowan said...

Great article with great tips ... no, more properly called professional instruction. Information I and any other author can profit from.
I don't understand the avoidence of book signings. True, I've not sold a great many at signings (due to not properly following the above information) but I've recieved great feedback on my stories and had some great conversations that have (and will) lead to passages in another story.
Dave
www.dmmcgowan.blogspot.com
PS. Do you read? Drop by and enjoy a free short story at the blog above.
Can I sign that for you?