In the Internet era, so much has been lost due to the lack of personal contact and everything being done online. It is a genuine pleasure to get out and meet and greet people who buy your product or services. I’ve been quite fortunate as the author of The March of the 18th: A Story of Crippled Heroes in the Civil War, and to have met and spoken with those who have purchased my book. Many thanks go to the accommodations that local branches of a national bookstore chain have provided. It’s a lot of fun and something I look forward to every time.
In doing this over the past six months, I have learned quite a bit about what you should and shouldn’t do as an author in presenting your book at these locations. It’s not rocket science, but if you pay attention to some of the things that I have learned, you, too, can achieve a great deal of success in selling your book at these venues. I’ve compiled a fairly extensive list that should be of great help.
DOs and DON’Ts
- Know what the first impression will be: dress business casual, have a good display of books, and make sure there’s a large sign somewhere. Set up your table (most stores do that for you), but you need to arrange where your work is, and how it is seen from different angles.
- Smile. Have fun. Kibitz with people. Say hello to everyone, even if they seem angry.
- Have an attention getter as part of the display. I give away small US flags to kids, if they drift my way. I have a small tent desktop sign on royalty donations to be made.
- A couple good, tested pens, and bookmarks or business cards to go with each purchase.
- Have flyers with important information. If the customer you engage is not interested, don’t give away an expensive bookmark or postcard. Give the flyer. If a person wants to think about it, give the flyer, and ask them to circle back if they don’t find something as unique. Smile.
- You will have stacks of books. Bring book/plate holders to display books upright at different angles. Have some flat on the table, as these are easier to see when someone is standing there.
- Have a wingman. When you are engaged in the sell with a customer, this draws other people, but they have not had the benefit of your attention. And you don’t drop one fishing pole with a bite for another, right? Your wingman sets the hook with the second customer until you can reel him or her in.
- Your initial contact is important. Say “Hi” to everyone. Keep that smile. Sell yourself. I am not a particularly pretty person. But a smile is an invite, and eye contact counts.
- Say hello to everyone within 10 feet. If they are walking, it’s easy. If they are browsing a display, say excuse me…
- “Do you like historical fiction?” If ‘yes’, it’ll sell. If ‘not really’, it could be a sale if you can tell quickly why your book is different. If ‘no’, take it as a no. But, if ‘no, but my father likes it’, then it should be a sale!
- “Can I tell you about the book I wrote?” Even non-buyers want to meet an author.
- Hand them the book. Once in their hands, a customer will either like it or hate it. If your cover intrigues, you’ll be able to say something pithy about it.
- Launch into your talk. Gotta do it in 30 seconds.
- The customer will play with the book, read the front and back, flip through pages. They are listening. Keep your pace. OR
- The customer will look you in the eye as directly as possible. Hold the gaze, and finish your sell points.
- You have to practice your talk. On sale day, you may give the talk to four customers for every sale. You will get very good at it. Start with why your work is unique, give enough filler to spark an interest, even including a climactic scene (without giving away what happened).
- Ask the bookstore people to make an announcement every half hour or so. They usually do this without prompting, but all requests are honored quickly.
- Finish light. A self-deprecating joke works. It will humanize you more.
- Say, “Can I sign it for you?” and “Would you like me to inscribe it for you?”
- Sip water, or have a granola bar handy. Stand your post.
- Have too much on the display table.
- Sit down.
- Type-cast people. What may look like a non-buyer could be a CEO who likes to dress real low on weekends.
- Get discouraged by low traffic. Only one location asked me to be there on a Friday night, the toughest night for a mall bookstore… movie night! I sold all but 2 copies. I stood there for six hours, but each book sold may be another enthused fan.
- Try too hard on reluctant or unengaging people. They may be carrying a burden that you don’t want to know about.
- Be rude. Book store people like books, and can be really nerdy. And lonely. Listen to it all, especially if they committed to buying the book, but if a potential customer comes by, don’t feel bad about looking over the person’s shoulder and get back to selling. Almost all get the hint.
- Assume the sale. The eager listener may just like to opine. The uneager person may buy two.
- Take someone’s bait. If the customer is rude, or obnoxious, smile and say ‘thanks for your time.’
- Be too serious.
- Drink too much water, or you’ll be away from your table and sales may slip away. Even though there’s a coffee shop now in almost every store, this is not the time and place to be drinking from a paper cup and a dirty lid. God forbid you spill it.
People like to meet authors, especially if they look like… them. Be yourself. If you are naturally private and introverted, take a chance and act out of your comfort zone. Re-invent yourself for an afternoon.
I have a theory about customers at brick and mortar bookstores. Half know exactly what they want, and are on a mission. These folks are hard to engage. The other half are killing time. They are looking for something that peaks an interest, is reasonably priced, and may teach them something they didn’t know before they met you.
This customer is your target market.
Each sale is very gratifying. But selling them all is tremendously satisfying.
“Kevin Horgan is a USMC veteran (’79-’84) and served as an infantry officer. The March of the 18th http://www.marchofthe18th.com is his first published work. He enjoys writing and talking about the book, and discussing with everyone the forgotten heroes of our nation’s history. He is committed to giving half his royalties to charities for wounded veterans, and is deeply appreciative of the support he has received for writing and marketing this historical novel. “