How to Win Signings and Influence People

11:36 AM Posted by Jo Ramsey

When I learned that Jupiter Gardens Press had accepted my young adult novel Connection for publication, I immediately started trying to figure out how I’d promote it. Although I’d had a few erotic romance e-books published, the process of promoting those is vastly different from promoting children’s and young adult books. For one thing, people tend to expect children’s and YA books to be in print.
Fortunately for me, Connection is in print, so I had the first step. I could honestly tell people that the book would be available in print, and available through Ingrams, one of the largest book distributors in the US. Since I planned to try to arrange book signings and school visits, that was important.
Once I’d established that, I laid some groundwork. Thanks to the local school system’s summer reading assignments, I discovered that there’s an independent bookstore in my town. Independent stores can be more willing to work with local authors than the chain bookstores are, so that seemed a good place to start. One weekend afternoon this fall, while on a walk with my daughter, I stopped into the store, which also has a small cafĂ© area and very tasty chocolate chip cookies.
Since at that point I didn’t have a definite release date for Connection, when I approached the woman at the counter, I didn’t go into a big spiel. I merely introduced myself as a town resident and author, and mentioned that I had a young adult novel that was scheduled for release sometime in January 2010. She replied, “Oh, great, we love local authors here. When it comes out, come back and let us know!”
Fast forward to January, after Jupiter Gardens gave me the official release dates for the electronic and print versions of Connection. After spending a little time mentally rehearsing what I wanted to say to the store owner and/or manager, I went back. The same woman from a few months earlier was at the counter; although she didn’t recognize me at first, when I introduced myself again and mentioned my book, she remembered having met me.
I told her that I wanted to talk about setting up a book signing. Unfortunately, the store’s owner wasn’t there that day. However, the employee told me what days the owner was in, and even which day would be best to have a discussion with the owner. I’d brought a Connection flyer with me, made by my publisher, containing the cover image, book blurb, and ordering information, and I wrote my name, phone number, and email address at the bottom and left it with the employee.
A few days later, on the day that she’d recommended, I returned to the store. Because she’d spoken with the owner and passed along my flyer, the owner expected me, and she and her husband, who takes care of ordering books, writing press releases for signings, and so on, had the time to sit down and talk to me. Both were very enthusiastic about the signing, and loved the idea of the book since paranormal is a big thing in the young adult world right now.
We didn’t stop with a signing, however. The husband suggested that, to drum up more business, we make an “event” of it by including other people who had some connection (no pun intended) to a theme of the novel. He suggested a psychic; I countered by pointing out that bullying is a theme in the novel, and that the school system here has a great bullying prevention program. Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidence, which I don’t), the employee with whom I’d spoken before is a member of the school committee, and was able to give me the contact information of the bullying program coordinator.
I also suggested having someone from a local yoga studio come in for the event, since Jonah in Connection practices yoga. Again “coincidentally,” the owner of one of the town’s studios happened to be sitting at one of the tables drinking coffee.
If I’d waited until Connection actually came out to try to arrange a signing, I might have had similar results. However, laying a bit of groundwork while Connection was still in revisions enabled me to find out how supportive the store might be toward local authors, and also got my face out there, even if the employee didn’t remember me right away when I returned. Going back with a flyer and being willing to return a third time to meet with the owner gave them a chance to learn more about the book and me before actually speaking with me, and demonstrated that I was serious about working for the chance to promote my book.
Signings can be an important promotional tool. Readers often enjoy the chance to meet and get to know an author, and some face time can boost sales. However, it’s important to do your research. You wouldn’t want, for example, to try to schedule a signing for an erotic romance at a store that specializes in children’s books! Websites such as IndieBound.org, which enables people to search for independent bookstores and other types of businesses in areas around the US, are a very useful tool in determining which stores might be likely to work with you to arrange a signing or other event.
Depending on your location, telephoning stores may work better for you than going in person. However, based on my own experiences, I’d definitely recommend visiting the stores in person if possible. If the store seems busy, you might want to call first to find out when the owner or manager will be in. Speaking to them about doing a signing, though, may be better in person because, just as in sales, it’s harder to say no face to face. Meeting with them in person shows that you’re willing to make the extra effort.
Before contacting them, practice what you want to say and determine whether there’s an aspect of the book that they might find particularly appealing. For example, when I spoke to the store here about my signing, I played up the paranormal/metaphysical parts of Connection, because I knew from my first visit that the owner tries to be on top of current trends in fiction and I know that paranormal is big right now. On the other hand, earlier in the month when I scheduled a visit to my daughter’s high school, I emphasized the themes of bullying and tolerance that appear in the novel, because those are big issues in schools today. Determine whether your book contains something like that which the store might find appealing.
If there’s a giveaway or another presenter that ties in with your book, mention that as well. I wouldn’t have thought of having other people participate in my signing if the store owner’s husband hadn’t mentioned it; however, once he did, I was quickly able to come up with two possible presentations that could be part of the event, the anti-bullying program and yoga. Some stores may not want a larger event and will be happy to just let you have a signing. If they suggest something larger, though, or ask whether anyone else might participate with you, have an answer ready for them. At the very least, check around for other local authors in your genre who might want to do a joint signing or two with you. The more people involved, the more promotion will be done.
Not every store you approach will be willing to let you do a signing, especially if the book you want to sign is your debut. (While Connection isn’t my first published book, it is my first YA novel to be published, so still counts as a debut.) So be sure to prepare yourself for some rejections. Also, though, keep in mind the sales axiom that you might be able to “turn a no into a yes.” Assuming you’ve done your homework and the bookstore is the right type of venue for your book, if you get a “no,” ask whether there’s anything you can do to change their mind. You might be able to come to an agreement with them.
Book signings can certainly help boost sales. Check around your area for bookstores that might be open to hosting you and make sure they sell the type of book you’ll be signing. Find out whether they’ve hosted other signings in the past, and attend one if you have the chance. If possible, talk to other authors in your area and find out if they recommend any particular stores for signings. Know how you’re going to approach the store and what you’re going to say before you go, and be prepared for any answers—or questions they might have.
Good luck, and let me know where your signings are!
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