Friday, May 14, 2010
How to Avoid a Book-signing Disaster
Ruthy, here, and I'm pleased to welcome Harlequin American author Leigh Duncan!!!! Thanks so much for joining us in Seekerville today! Guys, sit back, it's Friday (do I hear a resounding YAY from the studio audience????)grab some fresh coffee and donuts while you chat with Leigh about her debut novel "The Officer's Girl".
So, you’ve sold your first book and you’re ready to brave the crowds of eager fans and do a book signing. Or two. Maybe even string several appearances into a book tour. If you’re like me, you educate yourself by reading your publisher’s promotional guidelines and attending a workshop on the topic. Much to your dismay, you learn that, short of hiring a PR firm, no one sets up book tours for new authors, so you have to do all the leg work yourself.
What does that mean, exactly?
Mostly, it means you start early. Have some decent, if not expensive, publicity photos taken. Because retailers will ask for them, write a short bio and a catchy blurb about your book. Five seconds after you stop ooh-ing and aah-ing over your cover art, order book marks. Decide when and where you’d like to sign, hopefully arranging appearances in a straight line instead of back-tracking all over the country (the way I did). And, since the major book sellers require three months to arrange a signing, start lining things up ten minutes after your editor gives you a firm pub date. (Those three months include the time it’ll take to get in touch with the right manager, plus the lead time corporate offices require if they’re supplying posters or including your event in their e- or print newsletter. Surprisingly, smaller stores may want even more lead time and might ask for referrals or a connection to the local community.)
Once all your appearances are scheduled, buy some candy to entice and reward, pack your suitcase, and you’re all set to hit the road. What could possibly go wrong?
Unfortunately, a lot.
Having just completed seven book signings for The Officer’s Girl, my debut release for Harlequin American Romance, I’d like to point out a few ways your well-planned book signing can fail, and how you can save those uh-oh moments from turning into a disaster.
First up, a little problem I call, “The manager has left the building.” The scenario—a book signing with a major retailer five hundred miles from home. How was I supposed to know Manager X got the boot shortly after he scheduled my event? Fortunately, sales of The Officer’s Girl hit #1 on Amazon.com’s list of Harlequin American releases and, thinking he might want to order more copies, I called Manager X to share the good news. After a few disconcerting moments, I found myself talking to New Manager Y who said not only had Manager X left without ordering a single copy of my book, he hadn’t notified the corporate office of the event, or even put it on the store calendar. But that one phone call turned a disaster into a save and taught me a valuable lesson: For any book signing or appearance, double- and triple-check everything.
Next in line, “Cat Hair Eeew!”
The setting, a large book store where the sales staff had gone all out with balloons, posters, a cloth-covered table, and even candy for the candy dish. There was only one little problem: the clumps of cat hair on the tablecloth outnumbered the dandelions in my back yard. What to do, what to do. I’m open to suggestions, but I’ll tell you what I did—I sneezed.
And sneezed. And sneezed.
No, I’m not allergic to cats, but I can manage a pretty fair imitation if it means saving potential customers from hair-coated candy. And, thanks to the instructor of that book signing workshop, I had a disposable white cloth in my car. Which I spread across the table after whisking the feline-i-ous one out of sight. Disaster averted.
But what if you show up for a book signing, and your books don’t? After you get through singing, “Oh, where, oh where have my little books gone,” how do you handle this disaster-in-the-making? Well, first you smile and remain gracious. Allow the staff time to search the store from top to bottom. After all, the computer said they had 48 copies which have to be… somewhere. Keep smiling. Keep assuring everyone within hearing that “these things happen” and you’re sure it will all work out. Most of the time, it will. On those rare occasions when it doesn’t, offer to bring in that case of books you stashed in the trunk of your car, and work out a fair exchange.
When this happened at one of my book signings, a very flustered and apologetic manager offered two options. I could handle my own sales, in which case the store would receive nada. Or I could allow the store to handle the sales and replenish my supply with books they’d ship to my home. I chose Door Number 2 and sold 45 copies of The Officer’s Girl within a 2-hour window. Not only did the store replace my books within a week, but I made great friends with a staff which has asked me to return when my next Harlequin American is released in 2011. Lesson learned: Toss an extra case of books in the back of the car…and smile.
On to “Negotiation 101,” or what to do if the store wants a huge slice of your pie. Imagine showing up at the only book store in town where the manager regretfully informs you that her shipment hasn’t arrived. She asks if you can supply your own copies and, thinking about that extra case of books in the car, you agree. At which point, the manager demands a 50-50 split. Since you paid 60% of the cover price, plus shipping, to obtain the books, that stings. But what do you do?
Remember, unless you regularly hit #1 on the New York Times list, your goal on any book tour is to make friends with book sellers and get some face time with potential fans. That doesn’t mean you should lose money on every sale. Explain your costs and negotiate, hopefully in a gracious manner and well out of the sight and hearing of any book buyers.
One final word to the wise about providing candy for your guests. Buy one small bag. Seriously. Unless you’re signing with Nora Roberts, it’s your first book signing for your debut book in your home town, or you’ve hit the NYT top ten and you write YA, plan on fifty people—max—at any one book signing. Most people aren’t going to eat the chocolate. The ones who do, will take one piece. Any more than a single bag of Hershey’s kisses is going to melt in the back seat of your car or go straight to your hips.
Okay, that pretty much sums up all I wanted to say today. No, I’ve by no means covered all the ways a book signing can fail. Sometimes, no matter how well you’ve planned, no one shows up. Or one person lingers too long at the table. Or your relatives form a gauntlet that not even the most ardent fans can brave. But those are topics for another day.
In leaving, I’d like to share with you the list of things I place in my tote bag whenever I head out for a book signing:
A clear plastic display stand holding an 8x10 color copy of my book cover
A collection of Sharpies (Or the pens of your choice. Be sure they don’t bleed through
A roll of gold foil “Autographed Copy” stickers
A pretty candy dish
Inexpensive, disposable tablecloths
A cheat sheet listing the names, addresses, and phone numbers of every book store on the
tour, the dates and times of every event, the contact person at each stop
A copy of my book to autograph for each store manager or contact person
Those items, along with a case of books (or maybe two), are my staples for every book signing. What goes in your tote bag? Is there something I should add to mine?
Harlequin American author Leigh Duncan believes solid relationships lay the foundation for true happiness. Married to the love of her life and mother of two wonderful young adults, Leigh writes the kind of books she loves to read, ones where home, family and community are key to the happy endings everyone deserves.
Her debut book, The Officer’s Girl, is in stores now, and her second Harlequin American is slated for release in early 2011. Leigh is a long-time member of the SpacecoasT Authors of Romance (Florida STAR), the Washington Romance Writers, and a charter member of RWA’s on-line women’s fiction chapter. She coordinated the wildly successful Launching A Star contest for 4 years and, hosted the first Online Romance Reader’s Circle with Michelle Buonfiglio at www.barnesandnoble.com. When she isn’t busy writing or helping aspiring authors, Leigh enjoys curling up in her favorite chair with a cup of hot coffee and a great read. To learn more about her, visit www.leighduncan.com.