Half or more of published books are now self-published. I published my books myself and was set to ‘reveal’ by wonderfulness to the world. However, after selling it to friends and relatives, I still had boxes in my garage. My writing career was talking a dip! It was obvious, if I were going to sell those books, I would have to be my own promoter. So, I dug down into my own promotion and selling experience, which I developed while producing and promotion country music shows. I developed a plan, and it worked. Now several years later, I’ve sold close to a hundred thousand dollars worth of books. But, I found that of all the sills I thought I had, they faded in comparison to the nitty-gritty determination one needs to make it as an unknown author.
Most self-published authors, unless they are already well known, will find selling their books is tough. For me, the most effective way to get rid of those garage-nesting books was through book signings. Below, I’ve listed ten of the tactics I use in making a book signing financially successful.
The first step is to dig out connections. Contacting them and nailing down dates and places is hard. Large chains (such as Barnes and Noble) want you to send the book to them so they can review it before agreeing to any book signings. This is also true with some military installations; however, once you have their blessings, all the others of the chain will fall in place.
While bookstores and military installations are good book signing locations, don’t limit yourself to traditional places. The most important ingredient to a successful book signing in foot traffic. Anywhere people are in number is a good place for a book signing. I’ve held book signings in shopping mall aisles, super markets, festivals – anywhere I can get foot traffic. I’ve tried local mom-and-pop stores and, almost without exception, the sales were disappointing because they simply do not have the customers needed for decent sales. While many of my book signings have resulted in over $1,000.00, I like to sell a minimum of eighteen to twenty books at each signing (20 books x 14.95 = $299). I’ve developed the following very-loose formula based upon many book signings:
100 Customers Through Door
80 Read My Flyers
50 Turn Around and Look At Me
25 Come Back
10 Purchase My Book
Using the above, I need 200 people coming through the door in order to get my twenty sales. Barnes and Noble usually brought that many in for me whereas other stores struggled. However, in looking for book signing locations, don’t dismiss Malls, Festivals – anywhere you can expect a couple hundred people to pass by your table.
When I arrive at the store, no customers know who I am, nor do the employees. I have to be my own one-man band and barker – no one really cares how many books you sell except me. I have to become my own promoter. Here is how I do it:
(1) Barnes and Noble and military stores are often the only ones who will make a their own poster advertising the coming book signing and display it before you arrive. So, for other locations, two weeks prior to the arrival, I print out some signs. I send my locations these signs advertising the coming book signing. Hopefully, they will display these at the cash register or entrance, but don’t count on it.
(2) In setting up the signing, the store manager will often ask me how many books are generally ordered by the store. I tell them between ten and fifteen, which is true; however I generally sell twenty to thirty or more. Now the reason I ‘low-ball’ my estimate is that, when I run out of the store’s books, I tell them I happened to bring some of my own, which I can sell for them. They bring out a contract where I get sixty percent and they get forty. Originally, I was only getting forty percent, or less, of their stock, so I’ve increased my income by twenty percent. Lastly on price, I encourage the store to have a special discount on the book and call it a SPECIAL BOOK SIGNING DISCOUNT.
(3) When I arrive, I bring a life-size, laminated, stand-up image of myself holding my books. It is impervious to weather so I set it OUTSIDE the store. I got a local sign maker to make this stand-up and it cost me about $200.00. Believe me, it’s the best investment you could make.
(4) Once customers enter the store, I want them to see my book three times before they actually see me. I have made three large (20″x 40″) posters, which feature an enlarged image of the book covers. I place one poster immediately inside the door; another is a few feet further down on the opposite side of the traffic lane; and the third one is a few feet in front of my signing table. By the time they reach my table they are ‘looking’ for me.
(5) I also bring my own folding table. Many stores have a card table for authors to use, but I find this is entirely too small for all the things I’m going to put on it to attract customers. My folding table is five feet in length. I also bring my own table cloth, the color of which will complement my book covers. I found a place that would make me a banner and I place this on the front of my table. On the table I place a lot of books, about fifty copies. I always display a lot of books on my table, neatly and attractively stacked. Remember volume, in itself, is an effective advertising tool and it excites the senses. I stack the books by alternating the angle of each book as I stack them. Simply putting a tower of books is less effective.
(6) I have 500 advertising ‘handouts’ with me. These handouts have a picture of my book, my picture, and a SHORT teaser about the book. It’s very important to make every word on your handout ‘earn’ its placement on the piece. Ensure each word evokes images and emotions, like ‘great’, ‘intriguing’, ‘fascinating’, or similar prompts. Constantly review the handout to make sure it’s the best it can be. Below the book’s ‘Great’ and ‘Astounding’ description, which the reader finds ‘Fascinating’, place quotes from people who have read the book and like it. The first time I went out, the quotes were from my wife, daughters, and friends. I asked them to be honest, and these were the people I could ask to read the book and give me their reaction.
I give these handouts to everyone I can. I don’t talk to the customers at that point; I just smile and say “thanks” as I give them the handout. Chatting at this time might meant I would miss some others who are passing by me. I want potential buyers to read the handout first and then, if they find it intriguing, come back to me. Then, when they come back, I give them the great sales talk.
One last word on handouts: They tend to become expensive. Printing them out on your computer is not economic. I’ve tried to cut the expense any way I could, including cutting the handout to a half-sheet. However, I found the half-sheet not as effective. So now I go the cheapest printer, specify a light weight paper, print in black and white, and order the largest amount I can afford. The number I print may last me through several book signings. Last word on flyers: Many of the flyers you hand out, will be ‘dumped’ by customers as they walk through the store. I make it a habit to patrol the aisles looking for these flyers so that I don’t offend the manager, and I can give them out again.
(7) The placement of my table is very important. Most stores have a traditional place where they conduct book signings, but I rarely consent to their pre-selected place. It amazes me that the places where the bookstores select can be so ineffective. I would think that they would ‘know’ the best place – selling these books is their business! For me, there is only one place to conduct a book singing and that is at the front door. But often the store would place my books in the middle of the store or, for heaven sake, in the Sci-Fi section! In most locations, the purchase of books may not be the reason the customer is coming to the store. In several bookstores, buying books is only one of several reasons people come in the store; they may want a CD, magazine, or a bit of lunch. If I get stuck in the book section, I will miss many of these people. I have sold many books to people who had no intention or interest in buying or even looking at books when they came. Keep this in mind: if you are more than four feet away from the flow of traffic, you lose contact with most people. A good test is this: If I am standing at my table and can comfortably reach out and give my handout to arriving customers, then I’m in a good location. I usually succeed in placing my table directly inside the entrance, even, in some instances, making people walk around it as they enter the store. If I am in a Mall, I will work to set my table out in front of the store in the middle of traffic. Book buyers sometimes don’t even intend to enter the store that day.
(8) Another tool that I think is essential is the store intercom. They all have one. I bring a carefully prepared ten-to-fifteen second announcement. Often a clerk will volunteer to read it for me, but I politely decline. I read my own words EVERY half hour. You will be surprised how it brings people back to your table. When reading over the intercom, I read slowly but with enthusiasm. I worked on this talk a long time. For yours, try to make every word work for you.
(9) I like to maintain contact with those who buy a book. Most authors write a second book – and wouldn’t it be great to contact the buyers of the first book? But, how to do this is the problem. Very few people are interested in leaving contact information – they don’t want to be part of anyone’s mailing list.
I solved this problem by placing on my standing posters a notice that says: “have your picture taken with author”. When someone buys a book, my standard pitch is, “There’s a fun thing we can do. We take a picture together, I send it to you and you can paste it right here, on the inside cover of the book. It’s kinda neat – what d’you say?” I’ve taken thousands of pictures – some of them are on my website, https://www.williamcreed.com. After taking the picture, I ask, “Where shall I send the picture?” Of course, 95% of them give me either their email or mailing address. Now, when a new book comes out, I have a mailing list of people who know me, and may be inclined to buy another book.
As an added note, I also ask the store managers if they would like to have a picture taken with me. After watching so many of their customers having a picture taken with me, they usually enthusiastically say ‘yes’. This builds good will, which helps me when I contact them again for another book signing. I’ve revisited some stores six or seven times.
However, with the heavy use of cell-phones now days, people will say, “Oh, here I can use my own phone to take the picture.” When this happens, I simply say (enthusiastically) “Could you send me a copy?” Of course when they do, which almost all will do, I have their e-mail return addresses to add to my list.
(10) Lastly, encourage those who buy your book to express their opinions about the book. I do this by making my own bookmarks on the computer. These advertise my email address and encourage their reviews. I then take the comments and display them on my website to encourage other would-be buyers, which it does. These reviews had an unexpected benefit for me: A publisher got onto my website, saw the reviews. After he read the book, he had other editors read the book. He then contacted me and I now have signed a multi-book publishing contract. (At that time I had allowed the book to go out of print.)
The result of all these tips on my book sales has been remarkable. I’ve sold thousands and thousands of my self-published books through book signings I conducted in every state east of the Rockies in such stores such as: Barnes and Noble, Hastings Books, Books-A-Million, Most of the Air Force and Army Post Exchanges, K-Mart and many others. I decided to expand my sales so I had sweatshirts made up with my book’s pic on them, and I sold well over a hundred.
In conclusion, writing is a passion that has grown in me over the years. Knowing that people all over the world who I’ve never met are reading my words and liking them is a joy. But in order for that to happen I had to be financier, driver, packer, salesman, autographer, advertising guru, computer site designer, pitchman, and sales promoter. It’s a rough, and sometimes exhausting, path to walk but well worth the journey. I should mention, I’ve been approached just recently by a Film Production company regarding making an HBO series based on the books.
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William Creed after a twenty year career in the entertainment industry producing and promoting music concerts, retired. In 1998, Bill decided try writing. Subsequently, he wrote COMES THE END which received rave reviews from critics and readers alike. The book has became an award winning book when he won the Bronze Medal in the National Illumination Book Awards. In addition the book is now now being made into a TV series. In addition to doing hundreds of book signings all over the country, has visited numerous Air Force and Army Posts all over the country. The author is married and has five children and, he says, has “bunches” of grand children. Creed has written several other books which can be seen on his web site: https://www.williamcreed.com