Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Behind the Scenes of a Book Signing--Part 1

Last Saturday the launch party/signing for my new novel, Exposure, was held in Kentucky. It went very well for a book signing. Frankly, you never know how a signing is going to be attended, I know New York Times bestselling authors who've held booksignings and hardly anyone came. In my event I signed for two hours, selling 105 books. That's the best one I've had, other than the annual signings on the convention floor of ICRS--but that's an entirely different situation (starting with the fact that those books are free).

Because attendance at a signing is so unpredictable, and no author wants to look like a pitiful wallflower in some store, most of us novelists hate the very idea of a signing. But they can work. It just takes a lot of planning and marketing. And some out-of-the-box thinking.

Before discussing the logistics of the Exposure event in particular--what makes any signing "successful?" Many would look only at the bottom line--how many books were sold at the event? If that were the only criteria, the vast majority of signings would result in a poor return on investment. If your signing is held in a bookstore, you should also consider:

1. How many books were sold before the event as a result of being featured in the store?

2. How many people read marketing information about the signing--whether a blurb in the newspaper, in the store newsletter or on its Web site, or on a flyer in the front window? This could mean a fair amount of advertising for you. Every point of advertising is one more time of getting your name before that potential reader.

3. Do book sales pick up in the store after the event as a result of handselling and/or signed stock you've left behind?

4. Did you make a good contact at the store? Is the buyer more likely to stock your books as a result of the relationship?

5. Was there something about the event that will keep people talking about it and your book after the event is over? Something that helps the "buzz" factor for your book?

I chose some rather unusual tactics for the Exposure launch party/signing. Fortunately my publisher was behind me all the way, providing much-needed support and materials.

1. The signing was not in a bookstore. It took place in a combined drugstore/restaurant. Why? Because that actual store/restaurant is featured in the story. As I was writing the book, set in the small town of Wilmore, Kentucky, I asked for permission to feature Tastebuds, a little pizza restaurant/old-fashioned soda fountain, in Exposure. The owners agreed. As a result Tastebuds was written into the story as my protagonist's favorite restaurant. Tastebuds then became the perfect and obvious venue for the local signing.

With Tastebuds owners Beth and Gary Hoenicke.

With John, owner of Sim's Drugstore

The general point here--going beyond just signings--is to think "marketing" even as you're writing your book. So often we write our novels, then consider how to market. How might your marketing be more effective if you thought of publicity factors first?

I chose Wilmore as the setting for Exposure because I grew up there. Typically I create a fictional town. If you do create your town, you can still feature a real business. I did this for Violet Dawn, first in my Kanner Lake series. My fictional town, Kanner Lake, was in the setting of northern Idaho, around the Coeur d'Alene, Spirit Lake area. I asked permission of a real Coeur d'Alene business, Simple Pleasures, to use the lovely gift/home items store in my book. The launch party/signing for Violet Dawn was then held in Simple Pleasures. That signing was also a successful one,

The marketing benefits for such a signing cut both ways--for the business and your book. In both cases I did all I could to make the event worth it for the store itself. And the unusual venue creates a slant for local news stories--"Author Features Local Business in Novel."

2. No bookstore furnished the books. I bought them from the publisher at my author's discount--which meant I was fully in control of the selling prices.

Whenever I sell my own books, whether at a signing or at a conference, I never look at it as a money-maker. It's not about profit. It's about marketing. All I want to do is cover my expenses for buying/shipping the books. The cheaper I price the books, the more they'll sell.

For the Exposure event I created a sliding scale for the book, which retails at $15. I sold them at 1/$10, 2/$18, 3/$25, and 4/$30. Every book after four was $7.50 apiece. I used these flat amounts, not adding tax. For customers, that's akin to discounting books online, then adding in free shipping. Many people at my signing bought multiple books. I'd actually rather have fewer people buy multiple copies, than more people buying one apiece. Multiple sales to one person means that person is going to give the books to friends/family. It means a personal recommendation, often to a reader who has not read me before. Gaining new readers is always the primary goal.

3. I increased the potential for publicity of the event by asking local businesses to participate. Last January I went around to businesses in the small downtown Wilmore area, asking the owner if he/she would like to donate a prize for the event. In turn the name of that business would be included in all marketing--press releases sent to local media, flyers and posters. Almost everyone I met with donated at least one prize--free hair cuts from the barber, a flower arrangement from the florist, a free massage, a cut and style from a beauty salon, gift certificate from the Mexican restaurant, certificates for food from the grocery store, etc.

Front side of 8 1/2 by 11 publicity flyers. Zondervan printed 2000 of these.

Back side of flyer.

When you get more people on board, you're going to generate more buzz. Again, I made it a priority to ensure that these owners were well compensated. I kept my promise about including them in all publicity pieces. Before the event I gave each one a signed book. And I used their prizes in a way that would increase my sales and potentially increase theirs as well.

On my side--for every book purchased, a buyer put his name "in the basket" for the drawing. Five purchased books equaled five entries into the drawing. On the business's side--all winners received the certificates, not the actual prizes. That is, even those prizes that were sellable items rather than services were to be picked up at the business in return for handing in the winning certificate. That way the winner has to enter the business to pick up the prize, and maybe while that person is there, he/she will buy something else.

Part 2 on Thursday, after I return to California from Kentucky.

In the meantime, what signing event ideas have you seen that worked well? Or didn't work?

Read Part 2


Eileen Key said...

My hairdresser sold fifty copies b/c she's a mentioned as a character in the book. Believe me, she'll show up again!

Grady Houger said...

I haven't been to an actual book signing, but have gone to some book readings / guest lectures where the author signed afterward. Sales seemed to hinge on speaking ability and percent of attendees just there for class credit.

Richard Mabry said...

I have to sneak out of lurkdom to comment here. You did a magnificent job of planning and excuting this book-signing. Maybe I can hire you to put together my launch party next April.
I was especially taken with the idea of selling the books yourself. Since I have a good idea of how much the author discount is, it appears that you did just price these to cover costs--excellent marketing idea. Each one probably was responsible for a purchase of one or more at full retail later.
How about paying tax on the sales? I'd be surprised if you didn't have a state sales tax license from your home state(s), but because this was KY, did you owe state sales tax on these sales? This may be too complex to handle on a blog post, but I'm sure others are asking themselves this question.
Thanks for the way you give unselfishly to the writing community through your blogs and your support.

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Yes, you do need to figure out what your tax situation will be, according to where you live and where you're selling, and price books accordingly to cover that. It's just nice for customers to not have to add tax onto your price. Like I said--it's like free shipping. Still has to be paid, but not by the customer.

Margaret Daley said...

Thank you, Brandilyn. I enjoyed reading how you marketed your new book and why you did certain things.

Pamela Tracy said...

I enjoyed the post, too. It made me think of the plot points in my next book, where I could sell my next book from.

Rose McCauley said...

Since I live about 1 1/2 hours from Wilmore, I was able to attend Brandilyn's fabulous booksigning and bring two friends along who also love her books. Besides getting books at a very good price, my favorite part was seeing Brandilyn and Mama Ruth again and also the yummy chocolate shakes the drugstore makes by hand!

Sheila Deeth said...

Sounds like it was a wonderful event, and it's fun to read about the places I "saw" in the book.

Cara Putman said...

Great post, Brandilyn! Thanks for sharing your experiences and marketing savvy. I enjoy booksignings. But I'm an extrovert.

Raven said...

I learn so much from stopping in to read your blog. Wonderful advice and great tips on how to go about promoting a book signing.

The last couple of signings I attended as a customer weren't so notable. Unless I was actually there for the book, there was no way of knowing who the author was and what book he/she was selling when I walked by the table.
I also felt awkward about walking up to the table to pick up the book and check it out. I didn't want to hurt the author's feelings if the book turned out to be a genre I never read.