So you’ve written your book. My sincere congratulations and kudos. It’s not easy, and takes a lot of work. You’ve got a physical book too! Awesome. Whether you’ve independently published it or you’ve been taken on by a publisher, you’ve done a lot of work in that area too. But this is not, of course, the end of the story. Chances are, you’d like people to read it. So it’s time for some self-promotion.
A few years back I self-published a collection of poetry. I’d had some success with getting my poems published individually and I had some good links with bookshops and libraries so I decided to self-print and hand-sell. This took me to a lot of book fairs, book signings, and craft stalls, often where there were other authors promoting their books. Some people did well, some people didn’t, and over the years I’ve been making some notes on what draws people to an unknown author and what turns them away.
So, Why Would People Want to Approach Your Stall?
The fact is most customers are going to feel pretty awkward approaching a table with a pile of books and an expectant author staring at them while they read the blurb. It’s intimidating and uncomfortable.
Have a few things on the table- at the very least a ‘join our mailing list’ form, which gives people something to do and is a really useful tool for you.
If you have more than one book, bring your other works. Even if you’re mainly there to promote one book you can simply have others on display which shows customers you’re established. Also you never know who will be taken by one book but not the other.
Consider Related Products
This is particularly important if you’re in a craft stall or similar, but can be equally useful in a bookstore, you’ll just have to check with the store before hand. You may wish to charge, you might just keep them free and let them attract people to your table. Bookmarks and postcards with your book cover or extracts from the book are both really great promotional tools; for children’s books consider activity sheets or colouring in.
But you might also want to sell related products. My book was illustrated so I had some cards printed of the illustrations and these were hugely successful. If you have a children’s book, have one or two things printed with the characters on them.
Make Sure it’s Clear What Your Books Is
Your book should be doing this on its own, but if there is any ambiguity have some signs around indicating content. A quote from the book or a review can be helpful here.
Leave the Table
If you’re doing a book signing in a bookshop and you haven’t got a line of people at your table, maybe wander away a little. That lets people come and look at your book, and then you can approach once people have had time to read a little bit.
Consider approaching people who are browsing, but be careful here; hounding customers won’t go down well with them or the bookshop. The best tactic I’ve seen is simply to approach, say ‘Hi I’m Blah-Blah, I’m signing copies of my book here today, as I saw you’re browsing fiction/poetry/(whatever). I thought you might like to have a look’, hand them a copy and then go back to your stall. People often come back to you.
Don’t Underestimate The Booksellers
So many authors remain aloof around the booksellers in the store they’re signing at, and this is just madness. Especially if you’re in a chain store- those guys are trained to hand-sell books they haven’t read- trust me I used to be one of them.
The mark-up on self published books and books from small publishers is a lot lower than from big publishers, so the economic interest of the store probably isn’t to shift as many of your books as possible, but to keep pedalling the bestsellers. Getting the booksellers on your side, better yet to actually care about your book, is going to be a huge help.
Be friendly with the booksellers, tell them what your books is about, take the time to chat. If they get asked for a recommendation they’ll be likely to point customers in your direction.
Also general polite and friendly behaviour is a good way to get invited back.
Be Friendly- Just Not Too Friendly
Really this is the key point. Say hi, acknowledge people when they come to your stall, but don’t force the product on them, it will put people off. Likewise don’t just stay silent while they browse. Once they’ve got the gist, start a conversation. Come prepared with interesting facts about your book and it’s background.
Getting out there with your book is rewarding both financially and because you actually get to meet your readers and share your story with them.
Best of luck!
J Harker Shaw is a poet and writer from Scotland. She is one of the three poets in The Harker Poets volume ‘Songs of the River’. She currently lives in London where she is doing a PhD in English literature. Follow J Harker Shaw on tumblr or facebook.
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