If you’ve been following my blog or other social media, you may know that my friend Sarah Mensinga and I did a mini-book tour of our local Half Price Bookstores. I thought I’d write about how we set up the tour, and what results we had in terms of sales and experiences. It’s been a fun and exciting journey!
Setting Up an Author Event
It turns out that arranging book signings and other events at local bookstores, at least at the Half Price Bookstores here in Texas, is fairly easy. Honestly, I started by just visiting the bookstores and asking if they did events for local authors. If they did, I asked who to contact or talk to arrange an event of my own. Sometimes we had to fill out a form online or send one into the store, but most of the time either me or Sarah just had to email or talk to the manager of the store and arrange a date. Truthfully, I was surprised at how easy this part was!
Now, I do think that it’s likely easier to arrange events at used bookstores or indie bookstores than it may be at larger chains, but since I love used and indie bookstores, that didn’t bother me. There’s also a waiting list of a couple of months at the larger bookstores, such as the Flagship Half Price in Dallas. But if you’re patient, professional, and flexible on dates, I don’t think it would be particularly hard for most authors to arrange a book signing at a couple of local stores.
Presenting Your Books—the Display
Sarah and I had already bought banners, banner stands, and book stands for our table at Dallas Fan Expo, so we didn’t really need any more materials for our events. The nice thing about a good author banner is that you can reuse it at tons of different events! I also had a few books leftover from Fan Expo and Arlingcon, though I did end up buying about ten more copies of both Sapience and Saints & Curses to bring on the tour.
A good display should show off a couple of copies of your books, have a clear and easy to read price list (including any deals or sales you’re having), and be eye-catching (dramatic colors, texts large enough for people to read at a distance, etc.). We had cute little mini-easels that held copy of each books upright, so people could see them easily. Sarah found these at an art supply store for a steep discount. I also printed a couple sheets of QR codes, so that people could scan them and easily find our books/website online if they wanted. I’d also recommend that you have a way to take credit cards, which is easy to do using the Square App (they’ll send you a free card-swiper).
I think one of the things a lot of author miss at book events, however, is a clear communication of genre. As a reader and a writer, I generally prefer science fiction and fantasy. Whatever genres you write, your banner—its pictures, its text, and its style—should reflect that. One thing I’ve discovered is that many people have clear preferences for say, science fiction, and they are looking for a display that screams “scifi here!” Which is fine, as my banner does just that, and that’s what I like to write. But if your banner is genre ambiguous—if people can’t tell if it’s high fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk, or scifi—tons of potential readers will give you a hard pass. So make your genre clear! Even if it turns off a few casual readers who don’t care for say, Urban Fantasy, that’s okay. Those people probably wouldn’t have bought your book anyway, and your banner will be a beacon to people who are interested in what you write.
Smiles and Professionalism—Meeting Your Readers
Most of the book signings we did were about 2-3 hours long, and the amount of traffic we saw during that time was highly variable. Our position in the stores seemed to matter a bit too—we generally sold more from a central location, right where people entering the store could see us clearly. I also sold dramatically more books at the large Flagship store in Dallas than in the smaller suburban stores. But, we made sales and connections at every store we visited, even if we were in an out-of-the way corner.
I think it helps to smile, greet people, then have a short pitch ready for people who come by your table. Try to give the basic of your book in a sentence or two—genre, length, topic of interest, price. My pitch for Sapience went something like this:
Hello! I’m a local author. Sapience is my collection of science fiction short stories. Many of the stories take place on a colony on Jupiter’s Moon Europa, because Europa is one of the places that NASA thinks we are most likely to find extraterrestrial life in our solar system. All of the books are ten dollars a piece.”
Short, simple, to the point. If they seemed interested in any of our books, I had a short description of each of them ready. I encouraged people to pick the books up, read the back, flip through them, and many people did. At that point, I shut up and left them alone. I wanted a chance to explain the basics of my books, but I didn’t want them to feel pressured or harassed. What’s more, if someone walked away, I kept a smile on my face and thanked them for coming by. No one will buy your book if you come off as sullen or resentful, and people will sometimes come back to buy your book as you’re leaving, or even online. It may be coincidence, but I often had an online sales bump after good sales at a bookstore. Besides, if you come back to the same stores, you may see regular costumers, and you always want to treat them with kindness and respect! Make their memories and encounters with you positive, and even if they don’t buy your book right then, they may buy it later or tell their friends.
In fact—here’s a fun story! One lovely lady who bought a copy of Sapience at an earlier event, came to see me a second time at our big event in the Flagship Half Price! She liked my book so much she bought copies for all of her friends!
Results and Sales
One of the nice things about doing the book signings in Half Price Books was that our table was free (unlike cons, which can charge a significant amount for a table at the larger events). Furthermore, since we already had most of our set up and display equipment from previous events, the only cost for our tour was the books themselves. That’s nice, because it meant I felt less pressure to sell a certain amount of books to cover the cost of the table.
We sold books at every event, but I definitely sold dramatically more books at the Flagship Half Price. It was a significantly larger store, they did signs in the store to promote us, and we were very centrally located. However, one of the major sales I had was to a reader who’d met me at a previous event at a smaller store. My point is, while you will likely sell more at larger stores and events, that’s not the only thing that matters. Sometimes making a meaningful connection with a reader, even if you only sell one or two books, is what’s most important.
Overall, I’d highly recommend organizing in-person local bookstore events to any author, whether traditional or indie. Many people really enjoy meeting authors face-to-face. It’s easy to get bogged down in the digital world and think that the best way to promote your books is on social media, but I’ve found in-person events can give you great connection to readers, as well as good sales, that you might not find online.