When I received my first copy of Dreamshaper, back in 2009, I was absolutely beside myself. As I held the book up and stared lovingly at the cover, finally seeing my work come to life as a finished product, I'm not ashamed to admit that I shed a few tears.
Over the next few months, the real work began. Marketing, promoting, trying my best to not read my own work, because all I could see was everything that I should have done to make the story even better (we've all done this, haven't we?)...the journey was just beginning.
The first step towards selling my book was something I had always dreamed about. My first author's signing table.
It was glorious. I still remember the day. I walked in Chapters in St. Albert, Alberta, Canada, and found a table sitting there, waiting for me. Stacks of books were piled on the table, brought in by the bookstore just for me. Family came, friends stopped by, employees smiled politely as they tried to avoid being pulled into yet another conversation by an aspiring author...it was everything I wanted.
More than anything, however, I remember one conversation I had, with the assistant manager of the store. This man wasn't an author, but his insight changed everything I had planned to do in an instant.
As I sat at the table, flashing my book in everyone's face, he came over to say hello, and asked how things were going. 1-2 copies had left my table in the first hour I was there, which was great, but not the success I had hoped for. I told him it was a bit slow, and he nodded. He had been watching me, and wanted to offer some helpful advice. I listened eagerly. Here is what he told me:
There are 3 types of authors that hold book signings.
1) Authors who think their work alone should be interesting enough to grab people's attention.
These authors have a tendency to have a table full of books, posters, and a magnificent set-up, and then they sit at the table, waiting for people to come to them. They don't talk to people who don't seem interested, but feel that people who are interested will come there way.
2) Authors who shove their work down everyone's throats.
These folks are over-sellers. Every passing person suddenly has a book cover flashed in front of them, or waved in their face. Every conversation they try to start is about their book as they try and sell it to absolutely everyone.
This is where I was sliding into.
3) Authors who connect.
Authors who engage people in daily conversation, asking how they're doing, learning about their potential customer's stories rather than just pitching their own.
As soon as the Assistant Manager laid this framework down, I knew what I was doing wrong.
You see, being an author is awesome and rewarding. It's a magnificent feeling. But just because you wrote a book, it doesn't mean everyone wants to hear about it. Most customers, when walking through a bookstore, have a general idea of what they came there for. They want to quietly and peacefully browse the store, coffee in hand, and explore worlds in their own minds. Shoving your world into their faces is a turn off. We've all experience the irritating and awkward push from sales tables in malls and shopping centers. People throwing soap at you, or driving little remote control cars into your feet. If you're like me, you've awkwardly faked a phone call to avoid talking to those folks, because you didn't want to reject their advance.
Instead, I started making simple conversation. I asked people about their day. I asked what they liked to read. I asked how their families were. In short, I guided the conversation onto them. As I did so, I found conversations starting to erupt regularly. And the more people wanted to talk to me, the more curious they became about the books sitting at my table. I became part of the world they were exploring, rather than just an annoying voice crying out from the side.
On average, the Assistant Manager told me that authors at tables in that store sold between 5-10 books during their signings. By the end of my first signing, after changing my tactics, I had sold 12 copies.
The next signing, I started right off the bat. I made the conversations focus first on my potential readers, and gradually let it turn naturally towards my work. Some of my conversations last one minute, some lasted 10-15 minutes. Most importantly, books were leaving my table. 15 books left my table.
On my third signing, 23 books walked away from me. On this day, a gentlemen who was part of a motorcycle gang walked away with my book. A boxer walked away with my book. To give you some perspective on why that rocked my world, Dreamshaper is a Middle Grade adventure novel. Not the type you would normally see in the hands of Bikers and Boxers.
That encouraged my next challenge: Every signing, I wanted to sell my book to one person that looked like they had no business buying a kids' book. I wasn't always successful, but more often than not I managed to accomplish this task.
Since I shifted my approach, Dreamshaper did moderately well. While it didn't sell thousands on their own, table signings went very well, libraries were bringing it in, school teachers were inviting me into their classrooms.
And, most importantly, I was having fun.
Long story short, the best thing I learned about successful book signings came down to one simple idea. The reader is ALWAYS more important than the book. And when you make them feel that way, your book will start to walk. At it's peak, Dreamshaper cracked the top 20 shelf for one of the busiest stores in Canada, situated at the heart of Canada's biggest mall, West Edmonton Mall.
If you can "buy" the reader, you can sell your book.
Happy writing, everyone. Thanks for reading.