Welcome, Tomato Pie Fans! I’m taking a hiatus from blogging to finish the sequel to DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME. Meanwhile, I have a series of guest bloggers taking care of the place. Let’s hear from today’s guest, Amy M. Bennett.
Dream a Big Dream: On Doing an Author Event at Barnes & Noble
It’s every author’s dream: a book signing at the local Barnes & Noble with local TV crews and radio stations on hand and throngs of fans waiting in line since the wee hours of the morning to get their hands on your latest novel and your coveted signature inside the flyleaf.
If you think this post is on how to achieve that dream, then my personal experience only qualifies me to give this bit of advice—go back to sleep.
Yes, I’ve had success in having a book signing event at a Barnes & Noble, but having a signing event and selling your books are two separate accomplishments. Still, not many fledgling authors are able to achieve that goal of having a book signing at a major book retailer and I have to say that I am very humbled at the idea that, somehow, I managed to do so. But it was not easy, and there were, admittedly, many factors that were outside of my control. Nevertheless, I’ll try to give some advice on how a new author can approach a “big box” store about having a book event.
First, it’s a sad fact of life that if your book is self-published, it is highly unlikely that Barnes & Noble or any other national chain bookstore (Hastings is another) will carry it. The reason is that they only work with traditional publishers. That is, they must be able to return the books if, for whatever reason, they don’t sell. That’s the most insidious thing about the publishing industry. No other retailers, as far as I know, can return stock to their suppliers on the condition that it simply didn’t sell. Therefore, if your book has not been published by a company that offers not only standard industry discounts but also accepts returns, you won’t be considered to have the book listed on their website, much less carried in stores.
But even if your book has been published by a small press that is a genuine, royalty-paying, yes-we’ll-take-’em-back, publishing house, then the battle is still far from over. Your publisher must be listed as an approved vendor to that particular store or its distributor (this is how Walmart operates) and this isn’t an easy club to join. My publisher had an easier time getting me into Barnes & Noble than Walmart… and I’ve worked for Walmart for seventeen years! Usually it requires that your publisher fill out a sheaf of forms that describe their business practices and, especially, marketing. If your publisher, like mine, expects the authors to do a lot of their own promotion, this could cause the retailer to shy away. Still, there is a chance that this obstacle can be overcome as well.
Now let’s talk about what an author CAN do to improve their chances of seeing their books on the “big boy’s” shelves… and the strategy isn’t much different from what an author needs to do to get their book on an indie bookseller’s shelves.
First, you’re selling more than your book. It’s a package deal. Presenting your book with its professional and compelling cover and an engaging and intriguing story isn’t enough. The bookseller sees the author long before they see the book. And while we’ve all been admonished not to make snap judgments based on appearances, the fact that THEY decide who gets on the shelves and who doesn’t means that rule doesn’t apply to them. So remember the old dandruff shampoo commercial and take that advice: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Be professional, know what you’re talking about, and don’t be shy! Remember, it’s all about promotion and the bookseller’s first priority is sales. If you don’t look like you believe in your products—you and your book—how will you get potential readers to believe in it enough to pull out their wallets?
Second, do your homework. Scope out the store prior to approaching the manager. See where they carry your type of book and if they have a special section for local authors and see what else is out there. Be able to speak knowledgeably about other books similar to yours and how the publishing industry works. You don’t have to know it all, but you should know some things. The bookseller doesn’t want to have to explain every detail; he or she just doesn’t have that kind of time. So if they ask, “What’s your publisher’s discount for stores?” it reflects favorably on you if you know what it is. It’s also a good idea to have a “sell sheet” printed out and ready to hand to the person asking. It should contain your cover art, author photo, book blurb, ISBN, suggested retail price, and contact and ordering information. If the bookseller has to take the time to look up all that information… well, many just won’t. Sadly, many booksellers, like many agents, editors, and publishers are primed to say “no”. Don’t make it easier for them.
The most important thing is to be enthusiastic. Approach the manager or book buyer in person. Don’t be one of several calls that they don’t have time to answer or return. Present your book in an appealing manner. Smile! Be excited about your book, even if you’re terrified. Excitement can be infectious. And it gives the bookseller an idea of how you would present your book at a signing event. Trying to get a book by an unknown author on the shelf isn’t enough; you must arrange for an event, a signing and maybe even a book talk. And have a promotional plan. Bring bookmarks, pens, whatever promo items you may have, or set a dish of candy on your table (of course it’s bribery… don’t judge!) Assure the bookseller that you will use your social media and you’ll also personally contact whatever groups of people you might know who would be interested. And definitely be prepared to pound the pavement with flyers. The bookseller wants to know that you’re not expecting them to do all the legwork and that you’re committed to making the event a success as well.
Persistence is the key. Remember that you’re not the only author who wants shelf space in Barnes & Noble or any other bookstore. Understand that you might be competing with other, better known authors. Be flexible, work with the bookseller, and always be courteous and thankful.
You might not sell out your books at an event—you might not even sell any—but for every person you spoke to, every bookmark or business card you handed out, there is an ever-widening chance of your book finding its readership.
And when you have a reader approach you and ask you to sign their book, just for a few moments, you can live the dream!
Amy Bennett’s debut mystery novel, End of the Road, started as a National Novel Writing Month project in 2009. It went on to win the 2012 Dark Oak Mystery Contest and launched the Black Horse Campground mystery series, followed by No Lifeguard on Duty. No Vacancy is the third book in the series. When not sitting at the laptop actively writing, she works full-time at Walmart of Alamogordo (not too far down the road from fictional Bonney County) as a cake decorator and part-time at Noisy Water Winery in Ruidoso (where you can find some of the best wines in the state of New Mexico, including Jo Mamma’s White!) She lives with her husband and son in a small town halfway between Alamogordo and Ruidoso. Visit her website at www.amymbennettbooks.com and The Back Deck Blog at http://amymbennettbooks.blogspot.com