Today we wind up our three-part mini-series by LINDA KELLER, RWA Bookseller of the year and longtime Barnes & Noble Community Relations Manager. Parts 1 and 2 ran on Tuesday and Wednesday – lots of useful tips for authors!
VII. Stock signings, aka, Drive-bys.
Scheduling a stock signing is another way to acquire visibility and have signed copies of your book(s) available for customers. Please understand up front, just because your book is released, doesn’t mean the bookstore automatically has copies. Remember, books don’t just show up. They’re ordered. Autographed copies of books can definitely sell better than unsigned ones.
Call the store and ask for the manager. Ask the manager if there are copies in the store and if so, tell him or her, “I’d like to stop by and sign them for you”. Do not be pushy or the inventory count actually on the computer screen just went to zero. Ask if the store has Autographed Copy stickers, or if you should bring your own.
If the store doesn’t have stock, ask if they could order a few copies because you’re going to be signing stock at other locations and signed books seem to sell quicker. Some stores have special displays for autographed books, and when a customer is trying to find something for that hard-to-buy-for person, an autographed book can become a special gift.
This would be the perfect time to mention a signing and if your budget allows and you feel compelled, a small thank you gift for the manager wouldn’t be out of place. If not, a nice thank you card will make an equally pleasant impression.
As you travel or take vacations, remember the book retailers located on the way to your destination and the ones where you land. They might like to have their copies signed, too.
Somethin’ to think about…
1. Make a list of locations that could/would carry your book.
2. Ask for the manager’s name. BE SURE TO GET THE SPELLING CORRECT!
3. Plan your route so your time and expenses are cost-effective.
4. Dress appropriately. You are a professional and earned this honor!
5. Take a friend.
VIII. Handselling. FAQ: What makes a ‘good’ book?
“May I help you find something?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’m not sure what I want. Maybe kinda funny. I’m going on vacation and want something.”
Of course, the usual questions follow. What do you like to read? What have you read lately? Pleasure reading? Business? Trying something different? Answers to these questions lead to hand selling the book the customer wants to buy. This is a crucial difference to selling the customer a book. What does the customer want to buy?
I wanted my customers to buy great mysteries. Great romances. Great historical fiction. Great memoirs. See a pattern here? G R E A T. I’m not going to define specific titles as being great or not. But I am going to caution you of falling into the category of a “kinda” novel. “Kinda funny.” “Kinda scary.” “Kinda suspenseful.”
“Kinda” books are forgotten. There’s little buzz or word-of-mouth.
Take a hard look at your book. Would a bookseller call it a “kinda” book? Kinda funny? Kinda sexy? Give them something to sell the customer.
“I have this one author you’ll love. She writes fall-on-the-floor hilarious books. She’ll be great for the beach!”
“Sexy romances? Do I have one for you to try! This is a steamy-sheet sexy book. You think the beach is hot!”
“Oh, I know exactly what you mean. I love those mysteries. By the middle of the book, you’re sitting straight up and poised for flight! I have just the one!”
Make hand selling your novel a piece of cake (kinda easy)
Somethin’ to think about…
1. Approach your writing and marketing with hand selling in mind.
2. You know what you want your book to be…take a long, hard look at what you don’t want it to be.
3. Give your book a tag. When it’s published, you’ve given booksellers a valuable tool.
The top five things my favorite authors do.
1. Write a book not defined as a “kinda book”.
Give me a book rich in characterization and plot. Take me away. Even if I’m familiar with the locale, let me see it through different eyes. Help me to see life differently. To experience through the characters, laughter, tears, fear, rage, love, and joy.
2. Be serious about your work.
Market your book as if you mean it. Go after Jane or John Doe Public as if they are your last customers. Show booksellers this is your most important book – right now. That helps them hand-sell your book.
3. Respect booksellers and never take them for granted.
Booksellers want to tell their customers about great books. Which way does the relationship go? Does the bookseller sell your book for you? Or does your promotion sell the book for the bookseller? Understand there is a partnership. It takes both.
4. Keep the books coming.
Don’t give up! Keep writing. Don’t neglect your talent to produce book two, while promoting book one. Let booksellers joyfully tell their customers, “Yes! There is another book coming!” Believe in yourself and get ready for The Journey, Part 2!! The person in the mirror is depending on you.
IX. The painful news about returns.
Yes, I saved the worst till last. We can’t get away from them. Every author runs the risk of the dreaded return. From a retail point of view, we have to do them. Unsold books need to go somewhere to make room for new releases. Sometimes the books go back to the publisher, sometimes to the distributor. Some publishers sell books wholesale to distributors who at that point, own the book. Books that don’t sell are returned to the publisher. My store received approximately 600 boxes of books a week. There’s only so much shelf space. New releases have to go out and books that aren’t moving, well, they go somewhere else. Trade paper and hardcover go back as “whole volume return”. That means the entire book returns to the distributor and at some point, may very well find its way back to a store again.
And then there’s the saga of the mass-market book. The paperback. The one fitting nicely in our purses or briefcases. Very few are “whole volume return”. The others…well…they get stripped. It is a most painful sound. And there’s only one thing to prevent it. Selling the book. Returns are part of the industry. Understand one thing: the method for mass market returns is not the brainchild of the retail end of the industry. It was a cost-saving issue because publishers at one time paid for mass-market returns – the whole book. A rather weighty and expensive venture. Now, the covers are returned. Look inside a mass market on the title page and you will see the legal warning regarding that book. “If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold” and “destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author, nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book”. ”
Returns happen. Autographing your book does not prevent it from being stripped or returned. An autographed copy can be more saleable than an unsigned one, but a signature won’t prevent it from exiting the store.
Thank you for spending some time with me. While I worked in book retail for 10 years, I’ve been in and around the publishing/writing business since 1981 or so. Gees. Thirty years. I began as a book reviewer for Romantic Times’ Rave Reviews magazine and wrote some articles and interviews for them. I joined RWA in ’91 and was Ohio Valley Romance Writers chapter president for three terms. I helped put together over half a dozen chapter writers conferences. It seems another lifetime ago because our industry is always evolving. Hang in there. Remember, in the beginning, writers wrote books…
Any questions about returns? Marketing? Ask our expert!
Join us tomorrow when Carina Press author KERI STEVENS discusses “Inheriting King Kong.”
Linda Keller is a three-time award winning bookseller and retired Community Relations Manager for Barnes & Noble. She was the 2006 Central Ohio Fiction Writers’ Bookseller of the Year, 2007 RWA Steffie Walker Bookseller of the Year, and 2010 Central Ohio Fiction Writers Lifetime Achievement recipient.
She uses her 20 plus year knowledge of the industry, love of the romance genre, and experience from her years of workshop presentations, including “The Other Side of the Bookshelf” and “Crucial Things to Know BEFORE You Publish” to help published and unpublished authors understand the publishing process as it relates to the retail and wholesale side of the business. She shares information designed to guide writers to finding a publisher, submitting their manuscript, the consequences of publishing choices on their career, the process of publishing and more.
In addition to coaching the craft/industry side, she breaks down in easy to understand language the retail side of the book culture offering best practices for signings based on over 100 book signings in 10 years, including at least three yearly multi-author signings hosting with over 50 authors each time. She has hosted over 80 fiction-writing workshops presented by published authors and industry professionals and continues to coach and encourage writers. Follow Linda on Facebook.
- The Other Side of the Bookshelf: Part 2
- 3-Part Mini-Series: The Other Side of the Bookshelf
- Ask a Bookseller
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for December 5 – 9, 2011
- How to publish your book through PubIt!—and market it, too!