It’s the day –that day—that you agreed to step in front of your reading public to promote your book. Maybe it’s a book fair. Maybe it’s a signing. Maybe it’s a table by the checkout line at the grocery store. Whatever/wherever it is, one thing is for sure. Where you’re going is like another dimension to the writer, it’s the polar opposite of sitting in a chair not speaking, hammering out words on a keyboard, occasionally using words that, if your mother was around, would get your mouth washed out with soap.
You want to sell your book, and by selling your book, you are selling yourself. Only, your skirt isn’t short enough, you don’t feel good in fishnet stockings, and God bless the bookstore people, but they chose not to set your table up in a red-light district. With so many things stacked against you, what are you going to do?
By trade, I work on commission sales in a luxury store. We like to say that we don’t carry anything anybody needs. Our business is built on wants and desires. As much as I need people to shop so I can pay my rent, I don’t approach customers by saying, “Please buy something so I don’t have to live in a cardboard box.”
Think about your book in the same terms. Nobody needs it, but you want people to want it. Based on years of interacting with customers, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. Here are basic tips that you can use when selling your book to the public:
1. LOOK BUSY. Often comical but always true: customers approach busy sales staff instead of those idling by the register. When you aggressively approach a customer, she/he instinctively becomes defensive and closed off. How often have you heard the words, “May I help you” and how often have you automatically responded, “No thanks, just looking”?
Customers want to make their own decisions, but they occasionally want help. They do not want to feel like something is being pushed on them. If you appear unapproachable (or desperate) a customer will bypass you to find someone who appears busy and not so obviously needy.
2. DON’T WASTE PEOPLE’S TIME. Be efficient, be aware. If someone wants to chat you up while other customers are in line with cash in hand, politely ask them to step to the side so you can attend to everyone.
I’ve been on the customer side of this one, and after fifteen minutes of waiting behind one person, I set down the book I had planned to buy and walked away. The author was aware of my presence but appeared not to care about my time. I could have interrupted her conversation to pay but was more interested in seeing how she handled the situation. I don’t know if she was as interested in how I handled it--by putting my cash back in my wallet and leaving.
3. CAREFULLY CONSIDER FREEBIES. People will take stuff that is free. Don’t overextend your budget, and don’t offer the equivalent of a glass bowl of peanuts in a strip club. Somebody else’s hand has been in that bowl. Let’s keep it clean, folks!
Yes: if it relates to the book you’re promoting.
Yes: if it is small and portable.
Yes: if it is a minimal investment.
Yes: if it is individually wrapped.
Suggestions: ½ cans of soda or aqua pods, sourballs (consider a sugar-free version, too), M&Ms, bookmarks. For alcohol, be sure to check with your venue first.
4. GET OFF YOUR IPHONE. This is an important event for you, for your career. These next few hours should trump whatever else exists in your life, and should be treated with the same care you’d treat your writing time. Still, we all have personal emergencies. If Uncle Fred is in the hospital and you’re expecting an update to his condition, let the people helping out with the event know. Arrange a place you can check your phone periodically so you don’t look preoccupied to the people who showed up. Besides, Uncle Fred will be fine. He’s not the first person to put his hand down a garbage disposal and he won’t be the last.
5. HAVE A RAFFLE. This one small idea can trigger a three-pronged result:
*Acquire email addresses for future customers. It stands to reason that you will interact with people who don’t buy your book the day of your event. Getting their name and address for the future will let you keep in touch via a newsletter, thus keeping your name and product relevant.
*It gives you another reason to talk to people and a way to look busy.If the golden rule of the day is to avoid the words “Please Buy My Book”, then this should become your default phrase: “Would you like to enter a raffle?”
*The right raffle prize is an additional way for you to define your book through a visual medium. Example: For DESIGNER DIRTY LAUNDRY, my fashion-themed mystery, I could raffle off any number of fashion items or a collection of more than one, limited only by my imagination and what I am willing to spend. Having a visual presentation by my table will draw people interested in this sort of thing to me and allow me to say, “My mystery is set in the retail fashion industry.” I may not get as many names and emails as if I was raffling off a $25 AMEX gift card, but the people who will enter to win this kind of giveaway already have an affinity for my subject. They are my target customers.
6. GIVE AWAY WHATEVER YOU’RE ALLOWED TO GIVE AWAY. Find out if the store validates parking, offers free gift wrap, or has a monthly calendar of events. Offer these freebies to customers before you’re asked. You’ll be supporting the store and you’ll have something to say other than “Please buy my book.”
Nobody said hawking your book was going to be easy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. You’re building your community here. You’re paving the way for your next event, and the event after that. You’re making friends in the industry, finding readers for your books, and building a reputation. And when it’s all over, be sure to remember the all-important last step: THANK EVERYONE. Thank your customers. Thank the bookstore staff. Thank the raffle enterers. Thank the woman who took a handful of sourballs and the man who asked if the store had a restroom. Thank Uncle Fred for not interrupting your event. And thank yourself. You’re the one who made it all happen when you decided to become a writer.
Diane Vallere, a 20-year fashion industry veteran, writes comic mysteries with a stylish twist. She taught assortment planning for a major luxury retailer, placed the first ever order for Spanx, and puts a touch of Halston into everything she writes. DESIGNER DIRTY LAUNDRY, the first in her Style and Error mystery series, comes out June 2012. She started her own detective agency at age ten and has maintained a passion for shoes, clues, and clothes ever since. Visit her at www.dianevallere.com.
DESIGNER DIRTY LAUNDRY
Samantha Kidd, ex-buyer turned Trend Specialist, designed her future with couture precision, but finding the Fashion Director's corpse on day one leaves her hanging by a thread. When the killer fabricates evidence that puts the cops on her hemline, Samantha’s new life begins to unravel. She trades high fashion for dirty laundry and reveals a cast of designers out for blood. Now this flatfoot in heels must keep pace with a diabolical designer before she gets marked down for murder.
(Book is scheduled for publication June 5, 2012. Updates at www.polyesterpress.com)