Friday, 25 May 2012

ABIDE WITH ME: Book signing tips

So the first stint of the ABIDE WITH ME Book Tour has drawn to a close.  Six book signings, those being at five Waterstones branches around Essex and East London, and The Newham Bookshop, in, well, Newham.

Apart from learning a lot about myself during these weeks, one of the most gratifying things I have learnt is people still buy books in bookshops.  Loads of people.  Loads of books.  They even order books from bookshops.  Yes, my friends, Amazon have not yet taken over the entire world.  With the recent development of Waterstones decision to soon have a Kindle section in their stores, however, it may not be too long.

Anyway, back to the book signings and the things I learned.

  For every signing I could, I popped into the shop a week or so beforehand.  I did this for a number of reasons - all as important as each other.  The shop have invited you as their guest for the day, so it's pretty polite to say hello and thank you.  It is also a great opportunity to speak to the staff and the manager - to build a relationship.  And to also get an idea of the layout of the store, to confirm the books have been delivered, and to discuss practical arrangements for the book signing itself.  For instance, where will the table be positioned in the store, what size will the table be, etc.  Don't be shy.  If they're offereing you a small table near the back of the shop, ask to be moved somewhere else, and ask for a bigger table.  Do it nicely, obviously, but this is your book signing, your day.  The store has invited you.  They can only say 'no'.  

Throughout every one of my book signings, however, every member of staff in every store was hugely accommodating.  Popping in beforehand can make all the difference.

Before every signing I could, I also dropped off a big wedge of bookmarks for the store to have sitting by the counter.  Punters love a free bookmark.  And it's a bit of free publicity too :)

Takes some photos of the shop, of any display they might have.  Anything.  Liven up your blog/Facebook wotsit before the signing.  Makes it real, you know :)

At a book signing, you will have a table.  Sometimes a large table, sometimes a small table.  And on this table, you will have your books.  What you don't want is empty space.  The table is your shop window.  

Make it sing.  

Punters love something to pick up and look at, and most of all, they love a free bookmark.  I got my bookmarks from the good people at StressFreePrint, and I'd have to say not only are the bookmarks terrific quality, the ordering system is dead easy to use. They'll even send you a proof before confirming your order.  And if you can get some leaflets/flyers knocked up as well with a bit about the book on one side and some great reviews on the other, all the better.  

Any artifacts connected with the book are also something worth thinking about.  I had copy of the 1980 FA Cup Final programme between West Ham and Arsenal - a pivotal chapter in the book - sitting on the front of the table. I sold more than a few books on the back of West Ham supporters browsing through the programme.  

Balloons, balloons are great, but be careful they don't stick out to far from the table or you'll spend all day trying to sellotape them back on.  Trust me.  I know ;)

So here's what my table looked like after several trial and errors, seeing what worked and what didn't:

My nephew George(above) is available for weddings,  Bah Mitzvahs, and childrens parties - anywhere bookmarks need arranging in a fan-like fashion.  He's very good, and quite reasonably priced.

 Bookshops, like any other shops, have their quiet periods and their busy times.  All my book signings started at eleven in the morning, except for the Newham Book Signing - but that was a different animal altogether.  At one signing, I sold almost half my stock within the first hour.  At others, I sold nothing in the first two.  Stay relaxed.  Keep smiling.  Chat with the staff, have a coffee, eat chocolate.  If a punter walks by, offer them a bookmark.  Most will take one.  They will look at it.  They will ask what the book is about.  They might say 'no thank you', and move on.  But that's fine.  Nothing is wasted.  It was through these incidental customer contacts that I built the confidence I now have.  One of the best tips I had was from the brilliant Howard Linskey - author of The Drop and The Damage.  He said, during those quiet moments, just remember the store has invited you to be their guest for the day.  Never forget what a privilege that is.

Be nice to the staff, be nice to the punters, be nice to everyone.  Keep a smile on your face at all times.  These aren't just empty words.  It is all about building  a relationship with these two key groups.  Being pleasant, approachable, and adaptable can be the difference in between selling a book and not, being asked back by the store and not, and most importantly, the amount of coffee and muffins you are offered throughout the day by the lovely staff.
  Note: coffee and muffin

Not everyone who comes into the store will want to buy your book.  Honest.  They really won't.  If your table is set out well, and you have an approachable manner, some might stop and chat, ask you about the book, etc. with no real intention in buying it.  They might chat to you for ages.  Thirty, forty minutes.  If they buy, they buy.  If they don't, please resist the urge to grab them buy the throat.  It doesn't go down well.  Instead, say how great it was chatting to them and wish them a great day.  I had a lot of writers at the signings, and we talked about publishing and writing and all this book signing lark for ages.  Some of them bought a book, some didn't.  But remember, remember that privilege you've got.  You are in a book shop signing books.  How many writers do you know that would batter you senseless just for a sniff of a chance?  Allowing yourself to be battered senseless in a bookshop is also to be discouraged, and is best taken outside. And if you're thinking of keeping a baseball bat under your table or some other form of blunt weapon, don't do that either - or at least hide it well.

Just don't . . . 
It's not all about the numbers.  A book signing is an opportunity for you to meet the book-buying public at first hand, to build your local profile, for the opportunity to have photos of you at the book signing on your blog/Facebook, etc.  It's an opportunity to create a relationship with the store that may well serve you well in the future.  High numbers rather than low ones are great, obviously, but not everyone will buy your book that day.  Some might go home and think about it, and buy it a few days later.  Others might tell a friend who ends up buying it.  A book signing is about you putting yourself out there into the world.  You and your book.  Be proud.  Be very proud.  But don't sweat the numbers.

If you can mange it, don't sit down behind your table all day.  Stand up.  Be proactive.  If there is a table between you and a prospective punter, it'll only get in the way - literally.  Throughout all of my six book signings, I didn't sit down once.  It was exhasuting, blimey, it was.  But I know if I'd been stuck in me chair the whole time, I'd have probably sold a fraction of the books I finally did sell.  So, keep on your toes, ready and waiting.  You never know where the next sale might come from. 
Mind you, one of the downsides of not sitting down is you will be asked where the children's books are, where the autobiography section is, where the toilets are, when is the latest JK Rowling out, do you take vouchers, and a million other questions.  Which leads onto my next point . . . On your pre-signing visit to the shop, check out the staff uniform.  It really does pay.

Me and my mate, Pete.  One of us is dressed exactly like a Waterstones employee, the other is not.
By supplies, I mean chocolate, sandwiches, chocolate, drinks, and chocolate.  The store will ask if you want a break for lunch.  But why on earth would you want to leave your table for a single second when you are having the time of your life.  Don't forget the privilege.  And don't forget the chocolate.
 Chocolatey and chewy.  The food of the gods.  But try not to get any on the carpet - sorry Walthamstow :)
Just well, Purple Yorkies . . . come on :) Biscuity raisiny loveliness.  But like it says, not for girls. Sorry ladies.

If, as a writer, standing in a bookshop, piles of the now published book you sweated tears and blood over spread out on the table before you; complete strangers taking the time of day to ask you about the writing, the story, you, congratulating you on your efforts, shaking your hand; people you've never met in your life handing over their hard-earned money in return for a copy of your book and a signature doesn't make you feel how wonderful this life is, blimey.  Don't waste the opportunity.  This is an opportunity not only to live your dreams, but to live the dreams of a million other writers in this world that might have to write a lifetime to be standing where you are today.  Never forget that.

I know this isn't an exhaustive list of the things I've learned through my first book tour, and if any others come to mind, I'll post them on the blog.

Look after yourselves, people.

Have a great day.


1 comment:

  1. Beautiful! I can't even think how many authors have turned me off by being unenthusiastic during signings. I mean, I don't need them to be cheerleaders, but they really ought to show an interest in being there.