Sunday, October 14, 2012

Learning to Like Book Signings

Signing at Barnes and Noble
My experiences with book signings began back in 2001 when Oak Tree published my first novel. It was at a Barnes and Noble, and I was really excited. Another Oak Tree author, Wendy Howell Mills, and I were signing together. At the end, we happily autographed all the left-over books, expecting them to be left out in full view in the front of the store ready for anxious readers to purchase them later. We believed the store would never send back autographed books.

Were we ever wrong about that. Without doubt, all those books were on the first truck out the next morning. Wendy and I were both naive first-time authors.

Wendy and I had another book signing together scheduled in Richmond for September 11, 2001. You know what happened to that signing.

Although I never got to enjoy signings back then, I loved having them with Wendy who was charming and fun to talk with during many lulls with no customers. Book signings were much easier to schedule then. Most Barnes and Noble stores were happy to have us and put out lots of nice promo signs all around the stores. We also had signings at Waldenbooks, Borders, and Books-A-Million stores.

In the years since those days, scheduling signings has gotten much harder, especially at Barnes & Noble stores. Earlier this year, I had my first book signing since Hotels to Remember came out  at the William and Mary Barnes and Noble. I was thrilled, but I was shy and didn't attempt to draw customers into a conversation. Of course, I didn't sell many books either.

The thought of book signings was starting to make me feel sick!

What to do. The job of an author is to market as well as write.

I realized to be successful an author must interact with readers. Will all of them buy from you?

"Guatemala Parrot" copyright MMSikes
Of course not.

However, you might as well enjoy being there for a four-hour signing. I decided to smile at everyone. Engage in conversation with anyone who smiles back. And I started to offer free stuff with the sale of each book. I hand out Billie's green bookmark offering free books for reviews. And I give away a free signed art card with every book purchase. A card, printed with archival ink and suitable for framing, of the "Guatemala Parrot" I painted to go with my book has been my most popular free card. I also carry the 36" x 24" painting on canvas of the parrot with me as part of the decoration.

Sometimes I wear my Indiana Jones outfit to signings. That gives me something else to talk about.

Now, I'm selling books and enjoying the events. Happily, the William and Mary B and N did not pack up my books and send them back following that first unsuccessful signing. Instead, they scheduled more signings.

I've learned a lot talking to people, many of whom are tourists visiting Colonial Williamsburg on tour buses. Yesterday, I sold books to visitors from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Missouri, and Canada as well as to local Williamsburg folks.I had a very nice discussion with a visitor from London who didn't buy a book because of luggage limitations.

Best of all, I'm learning to like book signings!

Mary Montague Sikes

Please visit the Romancing the Heart blog where I am guest author this week.


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Yep, you have to feel brave and reach out and talk to people even if you're shy if you want to sell books. Sounds like you've got it down pat now, Monti!

Monti said...

Thanks, Marilyn. You're right about reaching out!

Beryl Reichenberg said...

I've learned, like you, that you need something to draw people in to look at your books. I write stories for young children and so have a couple of folded book forms that I offer to teach those passing by my table. Normally, children will try their hand and this gives the parents time to look at my books and maybe buy. It's never fail safe, but I enjoy teaching the children and they go home with something they have made. I give the parents a brochure and hope that when they see my books again, they will purchase one. Anything you can do to interact with your potential customers is worth the effort. Beryl

Monti said...

Thanks, Beryl. That's a good idea!

Joyce A. said...

Upon reflection, your good advice makes sense in a variety of situations--at a volunteer event, with one's children and their friends, during transactions with dour sales clerks--and, certainly, smiles and conversation from the author should help sales at a book signing. Thanks for reminding me.

IC Enger said...

You are absolutely right that writing and marketing/selling are two different skill sets. One comes naturally, the other pushes me out of my comfort zone. I just tell the people right up front that I'm the shy type, they seem to relate to that and it eases the situation. I should have a poster printed for book signings that reads like the bumper sticker,"I'd rather be WRITING."