Thursday, April 22, 2010

No More Lonely Booksignings

Back in the 1980s when I worked at Science magazine and often went to scientific trade shows, I noticed a curious phenomenon when I manned the Science booth: Even though sales were forbidden in the exhibit hall, few attendees looked us in the eye. In fact, some stepped around our booth—and other booths—as if we exhibitors were liable to thrust out a hooked cane and yank them in.

Veteran exhibitors told me that people fear getting trapped in a long sales pitch and having to be rude to escape. Over time, I learned some techniques to overcome people's reluctance to approach the booth.

Years later, when I started attending friends' booksignings, I saw customers had the same reluctance to look at the author or walk within arm's reach . . . except when they needed directions to the restroom.

When it came my turn to publish books and do signings, I put into practice the same techniques I used when working trade shows. These techniques can't help draw people into the store, nor can they help people find you when the bookseller puts you in a dark corner. But they do increase your chances of talking to the people who do happen by your signing table.
Arrive early so that you can arrange your table attractively and be relaxed by the start of the signing. Bring a tablecloth that highlights the color of your book cover in case you're given a bare table. Also bring a small easel to display a copy of your book, an attractive bowl filled with wrapped chocolate candies or other give-aways, and (optional) a small tray to keep your bookmarks neat. Also have a sign with the price of your book on it because some people will be too embarrassed to ask.
Smile at each person who walks by and look them in the face.
In a friendly, relaxed voice, offer each person a free bookmark or chocolate.
Some people will stretch an arm toward the table to grab a chocolate and then dart away. If someone approaches, ask them something that has nothing to do with your book: "Are you enjoying the con?" "This is a nice bookstore. Do you shop here often?" "What's the most interesting new book you've found today?" "This is my first time in [name of city]."
After answering your question, some people will thank you for the chocolate and start to turn away. With a smile, thank them for stopping by and ask them to take a bookmark if they haven't already.
After answering your question, other people will linger. Either continue the conversation you're having—some people will buy your book without any pitch if they have fun talking to you—or steer the conversation toward your book: "I'm signing my new book today." "What genres do you read?" "Did you know that civilization started in what is now Iraq?"
Answer the reader's questions about the book, and tell them something interesting about it—perhaps why the setting appealed to you or some surprising fact you learned while researching the book. You and your book will come off as more appealing if you:
  • Continue smiling.
  • Sound enthusiastic.
  • Look at the reader.
  • Nod occasionally as the reader talks.
  • Pay attention to what the reader says and perhaps follow up with a question.
  • Sum up your book in a sentence or two and then answer questions rather than droning on and on.
  • Establish some common ground with the reader—perhaps you went to the same college or lived in the same town or share a favorite author.
If the person decides they're not interested today or says they don't have enough money, smile, thank them for stopping by your table and talking to you, and suggest that they take a bookmark for when they are interested or do have money.

Clearly, the above approach is not a hard sell of your book. Rather, it's a soft sell of you, the professional writer who will publish other books in the future. In my opinion, a hard sell may get you a sale today, but cost you future sales if the person walks away with a bad taste in their mouth.

Personally, I would rather have the person walk away without my book but with a good opinion of Shauna Roberts the "brand" than vice versa. I don't want a purchaser telling ten friends how they got suckered by Shauna Roberts into buying a book they didn't want or couldn't afford. I do want the impression I make at a signing to favorably dispose a reader to stop and look at any book by Shauna Roberts they come across in the future.

What techniques do you use at a booksigning to make a reader comfortable enough to approach you?

Thanks for visiting Novel Spaces today. I'll be blogging here again on May 9, when my topic will be alternate personas and why you might want some.

—Shauna Roberts


Phyllis Bourne said...

I bring my knitting along. It makes me more approachable and less needy looking. People always come up and talk to me instead of going out of their way to avoid the table because they assume I'm going to try to give 'em a hard sell.

I also set up my table with chocolates and bookmarks.

Shauna Roberts said...

PHYLLIS, what a great idea to bring your knitting! It also solves the problem of boredom when the bookstore is empty.

Liane Spicer said...

Great pointers, Shauna. Will add to my 'book signings' resource folder.