To see my author interview on The Kelworth Files up today click here.
Book junkies everywhere know the thrill that comes when a beloved book is signed by its author, especially when the author signs it just for them. The only thrill sweeter is when you are the author signing the book for a grateful reader. Even in this world of e-publishing and e-commerce, when readers and authors can develop relationships online without ever meeting, the book signing event is alive and well. Selling books hand to hand is time-consuming and slow, admittedly, but to interact with a reader face to face is priceless.
I recently published my first novel, Blue Hydrangeas, in paperback on September 11. A week later, I was the featured author at a Harvest Festival at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Bethel, New York. This venue stands on the site of the original Woodstock concert in 1969, and many consider it hallowed ground. Thousands of people – locals, leaf peepers, and city folk – attend the Harvest Festivals. I’d like to share with you what I learned from my first book signing ever.
How did a newbie author with few sales and little following procure such a plum selling spot? Simple – I asked. I knew the event, held every Sunday in September, sponsored a local author. Weeks before, I sent an email to the organizer and told her a little about myself and the book, and next thing I knew I was on their schedule. They provided me with a space in their craft tent where I worked elbow to elbow with jewelry makers, wood carvers, weavers, candle makers, and other artisans. They also provided publicity about my book signing. I saw it on their web site, in my local newspaper, and had people tell me they learned about my book on the radio and on the internet. The advance notice went way beyond my expectations. I had posted on my social media – facebook and Twitter – but their outreach had eclipsed mine, and brought in the crowd. Lesson 1: Know who puts on such events in your community and ask to be included. Many venues and events are looking for local authors. Most will include you in their advertising.
As expected, the festival had a huge attendance and traffic in the craft tent was heavy and steady. My husband, Lou, had accompanied me for moral support and help setting up my display table. I had put together an assortment of items to help promote my book. I framed an 8 x 10 photo of the book cover, bought a lovely framed print that read, “A true love story never ends,” gathered some blue hydrangeas in a Nantucket lightship basket, and, of course, placed a stack of books in the center of it all with a sign that read, “Meet the Author Today.” I also had, on one end, information about the upcoming Alzheimer’s walk, and, on the other end, information about the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative, the recipient of a portion of my book’s profits. Scattered across the table were Hershey’s Dark Kisses, because experts say dark chocolate may ward off dementia. It soon became apparent the table was cluttered and confusing, so we began to pare away the items that didn’t help my cause, which was to attract attention and readers for my book. Lesson 2: Don’t try to accomplish too much. Although my intentions were worthy, I needed to keep the focus on my book. Once people realized I was an author with a book for sale they were able to either move on or engage with me, and not waste either of our time. Of course, the chocolate remained.
Which brings us to Lesson 3: Engage your audience. I know this is a hard thing for most people, especially authors who often work alone, but this is not a time to be shy. People will not flock to your book table just because you’re there. You need to reach out to them and entice them to come see what you have to offer. I simply said, “Hi, I’m Marianne, the featured author today,” and those who were not readers or didn’t care for books simply smiled and walked by or ignored me. The book people in the crowd were quick to come over, because book people love other book people and are always looking for something good to read. This gave me the opportunity to pitch my book and draw them in. For the first time, I had the opportunity to gauge the public’s reaction to my work.
Blue Hydrangeas is an Alzheimer’s love story, the tale of a pair of retired Cape Cod innkeepers struggling with the disease. Alzheimer’s is a tender subject and touches so many lives. Some people cried just talking about it, such as the woman who recounted the story of her good friend and the husband who cared for her with love and patience until the last day. Then there was the woman who lost her dad to Alzheimer’s last year and had to walk away because the pain was still so raw she could not speak of it without choking up. Others were curious about the book and didn’t hesitate to buy a copy, including the woman who lost her father years ago, yet still reads everything she can about Alzheimer’s to further understand what happened to him and what may happen to her and other family members she loves. I was not sure if those who currently live with the disease would be interested in my story, but was surprised to sell a few copies to current caregivers.
The majority of my customers were middle–aged women, avid readers, with a personal interest in either the disease or a good love story. Some bought the book as a gift for someone they knew living with the disease. I had the good fortune to sell a copy to a local newspaper columnist and his nurse wife, and an English teacher from my daughter’s high school that had lost his mother to Alzheimer’s a few years ago. Lesson 4: Don’t prejudge a possible book buyer. We never know what passions or interests another person carries. The little old lady with the tight perm might be hot for steamy romances while the jock may have a soft spot for sensitive love stories. To prejudge is to lose a possible sale.
Finally, Lesson 5, the most uncomfortable to learn: If it’s an outdoor venue, pay attention to and heed the weather report. This day was cold, cloudy, and blustery, just as the weatherman had predicted, but did we listen? No, Lou and I were under dressed for the weather, and it was tough to keep smiling. This in itself became a topic for conversation, an icebreaker of sorts that helped keep us busy talking about the book and making sales.
At the day’s end, we had sold and I had signed fourteen books. I hear that’s a good amount, but, even if not, I consider the day a success. I met many people. I told them about my book. I perfected my pitch. I learned what to bring to a book-signing event. I made my first sale, ever. Best lesson: I experienced one of the perks of being an author.
Other suggestions for a successful book signing:
- Make sure the venue offers shelter (a tent, indoors), a table and chairs. If not, bring your own.
- Take along a small cooler with snacks, drinks, and a meal.
- Stay hydrated. You will talk a lot and your throat will become dry.
- Keep plenty of singles on hand to make change. If possible, arrange to take credit cards.
- If you’re outdoors in sunshine, wear a hat and use sunscreen.
- Provide cards or bookmarks with information on how to buy your book for those who are not able to purchase that day.
- Listen to your customers whether they buy or not. They may remember you cared and buy the book next week.
- Never get discouraged. One single sale is more than you had before the event.
Marianne Sciucco is not a nurse who writes but a writer who happens to be a nurse, using her skills and experience to create stories that bear witness to the humanity in all of us. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Boston and Regents College, she lives, works, and writes in New York’s Hudson Valley.
Find her book, Blue Hydrangeas, here, or find out more about her at her blogs, http://www.mariannesciucco.blogspot.com, http://www.MyTOSLife.blogspot.com, or http://www.the-reading-writer.blogspot.com. She can be followed on Facebook at facebook.com/marianne.sciucco.1 and on Twitter @MarianneSciucco.