Monday, April 30, 2012

Face Time—Maximizing Author Appearances in an Increasingly Virtual Age

by Sophie Perinot

My debut novel (The Sister Queens) has been in stores for two months. The launch of a book encompasses lots of new experiences—some exciting, some nerve-wracking, some both. Among them, the author appearance, often better known as “the book signing” (though more than signing can be involved). The author events I’ve done thus far have me pondering (right here before your eyes) the anatomy of live appearances and whether they are worth the time they take.

Once upon a time when a writer sold a book to a publisher live author appearances were pretty much a given. Authors from newbie to veteran gamely piled into their cars (or got on planes if their publishers would spring for air travel) and hit a wide swath of bookstore-land, giving readings and signing novels. Nobody questioned the wisdom of the live author appearance as a way to sell books and generate buzz.

But the times, they are a-changing! In the world of the “virtual bookstore” in-person author events are less and less frequent (unless of course you are a wildly popular NYT Bestselling author with a cult-following and then your publisher will have you out on tour). This is not necessarily a bad trend–the plain fact is the internet provides authors with so many new and more efficient ways to connect with potential readers. Ways that don’t involve spending a fortune on gas, shirking their day jobs or suffering from jet lag. For example, I just finished a blog tour that took me to more than 45 blogs catering to readers looking for new and notable historical novels. My name and my novel were brought to the attention of hundreds (if not thousands) of book fans while I remained comfortably ensconced in my home-office.

Still, especially on your home-turf, author appearances can make sense. My advice—if you are going to do them: 1) keep your expectations realistic; and 2) arrange and execute them in the manner most likely to maximize their sales impact.

If you are a newbie author and you expect a reading or signing to draw an audience full of book-buyers, you are likely to be disappointed. Oh you may have a super turn out—particularly if the event is close to home. Your Aunt Tilly and the cousins will pile into the front row, the book club from your church will wave to you from the “cheap seats.” Folks from the office might even drop by. Everyone will be there to celebrate your success. That’s a gratifying feeling—pretty damn gratifying. Enjoy it. But recognize those full seats probably won’t increase your over-all sales numbers by much. Why? Because these attendees are folks you should be able to count on to buy your book even without an event. I mean, does Aunt Tilly want to stay on your Christmas card list for next year or not? Your friends, your relatives, your colleagues, are BUILT IN sales. You don’t need an event to woo them.

This does NOT mean an event can’t sell books. But you have to plan it carefully AND you need to THINK BEYOND THOSE ACTUALLY IN ATTENDANCE.

“What’s your advice Sophie?” So glad you asked!

Triple-treat author appearance (I am on the far right)

Plan a “value added” event to get the biggest interest and attendance from potential buyers. A signing is easy. You show up, sit at a table surrounded by piles of your books, talk to anyone who approaches, and sign books they purchase. Not much prep on your part. But not too exciting for readers either. Give potential buyers of your book original content—something they can’t get from your book itself or your website. That will make them turn out.

My favorite author thus far was the panel discussion (billed as a historical fiction triple-treat) I did with fellow historical writers Kate Quinn and Stephanie Dray. We prepared a discussion called “Sex, Lies and History: A Literary Threesome.” Those who turned out had something more to see (and hear) than authors sitting quietly at a table. They witnessed a lively debate on, among other things, common misconceptions about women in history and the trend towards more sexual content in mainstream fiction. The audience was also able to participated during the Q&A portion of the discussion—and believe me they did, enthusiastically. Every seat available was filled, and many of those bodies were people none of us had met before. These were people turning out to be entertained and educated, not just to support a friend or family member.

My book (and banner) in the B&N front window

Promote your event—tweet it, blog about it, put announcements in your local paper and in on-line sources for local events and entertainment. Consider having a banner or foam-core poster made that you can use to promote a variety of events (you can see the one I created in one of the pictures accompanying this post). Often you can get the venue hosting your event to display this for you and that can really pay off (see below). Even if the people who see your announcements or poster don’t show up for your actually appearance, this type of publicity increases name recognition for you and for your book. The more often potential readers run into your work the more likely they will start to have the feeling your book is “hot.” That’s a sale waiting to happen.

If you are lucky, the bookstore hosting your event will promote it as well. This, in my opinion, is what really distinguishes the super-worth-while event from the average appearance. The Barnes & Noble that hosted the triple-event mentioned above gave each of our work a prominent window display—dozens of copies of our books right in the front window with huge banners showing our covers super-sized. You can’t pay for that type of exposure if you are a debut author—literally. Your publisher may buy coop placement on those coveted front tables (“New Releases” anyone?!) but the chances of you being in a front window of a major chain bookstore—let alone for a full week—are pretty slim. Now THAT’S the type of exposure that sells books because it makes you look like one of the big dogs.

Be gracious and friendly to the bookstore staff, whether in you are stopping by the store to discuss details of your upcoming event or during your author appearance. I recently did a signing at a nearby bookstore. Unlike my panel event, there were no chairs sent out for an audience and I gave no presentation of any sort. The entire event was just me, chit-chatting with shoppers and hoping some of them would buy a signed copy of my book. And some did—but probably not enough to warrant two hours of my time.

Sophie Perinot is a writer of historical fiction and wielder of a mean moderating ruler at AgentQuery Connect, where you'll find her as Litgal. You can also find her on Twitter and at her website.


Anita said...

My favorite tip here is the value-added thing...I think that's the reason I've attended signings. Good luck!

Lydia Netzer said...

Great advice. :) Love the banner! I want one!

Jeri Westerson said...

It's funny, but after years of doing blog tours, I don't find them to be a very good use of my time for sales. I don't do them anymore. Appearances, on the other hand, still do. That's because I just won't do a sit-in-the-boosktore-at-a-table gig anymore. Those are sad and unproductive. If I'm going to appear anywhere--be it a library, luncheon, or book club--I do a presentation...with props (I bring my medieval weapons). It has to be more than about the book to draw any kind of crowd. But even so. Don't expect to sell a whole lot of books at the event. It's more about the sale after the event...and the word of mouth. Word of mouth still sells more books than all the advertising your publisher might do.

Jean said...

Jeri, love your insights.

Sophie, the banner in the window is gold! That totally catches the eye of the customer. And a discussion would be interesting too! How long did you guys talk for? Did you feel it was a good amount of time?

Stephen L. Duncan said...

*furiously scribbles notes*

*realizes he could just bookmark this page for later*

Great stuff, Sophie!

Sophie Perinot said...

Jeri -- we are on the same page. The "value added" thing is KEY. That (and being excruciatingly nice to all staff and attendees) is the key to building buzz imo.

Jean the banner was so easy to design. It is vinyl and it rolls. I also have a stand for it and it is in my office right now (I am looking at it). The main thing is getting it displayed prominently and early. B&N did fantastic things with it. The last place I went had it a week and it was still rolled up on an assistant managers desk when I arrived (*sigh)

Jemi Fraser said...

Love the banner! How cool to see your book cover enlarged and on display like that! I'm enjoying a vicarious thrill for you :)

These are great tips. I've never been to a book signing (small city Canada here...), but I would imagine they would feel somewhat awkward. Doing a presentation, panel discussion, something would be preferable to me! Thanks for the tips :)

erica and christy said...

While I am still working hard on manuscripts that may never see the light of day, I enjoyed this post and will tuck the advice away in case I ever am lucky enough to need it! :0) Glad I found your blog through Jemi! christy

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