I first published Northwest of Eden in April of last year, but as some of you know, I was living overseas, so flying back to the U.S. to sign books just wasn’t in the budget. Now that we have returned home to live, this fall has been all about getting the word out. I’ve been at it for a month now.
If you are an author or aspiring author yourself, and happen to have stumbled upon this site, you should know that I have absolutely no clue what I am doing. Maybe you will learn something anyway.
Largely due to my mother’s relentless and persistent PR efforts, my first signing in July 2014, in my hometown of Alton, MO, was a huge success (I think I sold 64 books in two hours and signed several more that people had bought previously). Even with that, I knew that I had a few local fans who were holding out, so I set out to sign books in a neighboring town, where I used to work. I strolled into a used bookstore and coffee shop and told the owner what I had in mind. It was less than encouraging – he had a number of excuses that bordered on the obtuse.
“I wouldn’t want to do one unless I thought it would sell 200 books.” Not likely or even possible in two hours.
“I would lose money on the advertising.” You mean the advertising that I would pay for?
“I’d have to hire an extra person.” For what, exactly?
Then he attempted to convince me of his vast knowledge by telling me he’d hosted book signings for 20 years. I quickly decided an argument wasn’t worth the effort, so I walked out. I approached another used bookstore in the middle of town, a wonderful little spot called The Book Nook.
The owner was very friendly, and agreed to provide me some space. He wanted nothing in return, but the advertising was up to me. In addition to the usual social media outreach, I sent the local newspaper and got a great write-up.
When the day came, I sold 9 copies. Not a blockbuster event, but I paid for my gas to visit my parents and got some great exposure locally. No complaints here, especially since several of my peers told me that sometimes a signing was a big goose egg.
For my next event, I stayed local to try something different. Since my book appeals to veterans, I convinced an old friend to let me piggyback onto a Veterans Variety Show he and another entertainer were hosting at the local VFW. I spent a few minutes talking about my book, and the rest of the time telling a few jokes. I was the butt of several more. I sold 11 copies to a crowd of 40 or so, and laughed a few of my troubles away.
The numbers were essentially the same, but at the second event, I’d succeeded in connecting with my audience. People were genuinely interested in what I had to say! If I could figure out how to do that, I could get my book in front of its intended audience.
For my next act, I wanted to replicate that connection. A friend of mine, Dan (who also happens to be the subject of Medic: Desert Storm) invited me to participate in his local VFW post’s first annual beer festival. I drove 200 miles one way, and in eight hours, I sold 6 copies. The event hosts could not have been nicer – I got several shout-outs on local radio and at the event itself. I even spoke to the crowd for a few minutes later that night. I made the same type of connection, but the participants came there for the beer and music. Both were fantastic. Plus, I got to see Dan. However, I learned that book signings come at a risk, and to keep that low, I needed to stay inside a 100-mile radius. I also learned that outside events can come with a bit of wind – my signs and bookmarks were blowing around, so I might need to consider that for next time. I also think that a sign on either side of me, with a few sentences answering the “What is the book about?” question that I got throughout the day, would draw potential customers in who were too shy to ask me directly.
Here it is in a nutshell:
- Know your audience, and be where they are. Don’t sell the book – connect with the reader.
- Leverage your event with the media, so people will know you are there.
- Take a good look at your travel distance. You are wagering a tank of gas against potential sales.
- Build your display. That is what people see, and what they see determines if they take a step forward.
- Have fun. Sales is the ultimate metric, but if I’m not having fun, then what is the point of doing any of this? I might as well go out and get a real job. Yuck.