Posted by Steven Lochran
In a couple of days I’ll be flying out to the Somerset Writers Festival to kick off the promotional tour for Vanguard Prime: Wild Card. There’s a variety of events you’re asked to do as a writer, and I have to admit that I find the Q&A-style events the easiest; after all, it’s pretty straightforward answering questions about yourself.
In promoting a book, however, you’ll sooner or later be asked to do one of the trickier style of events; the in-store appearance. Of course, if you’re a famous author you’ll more than likely find a clamouring crowd of fans waiting with bated breath on your arrival, and you can just sit down and start signing.
But when you’re starting out, the situation’s very different. You’ll arrive at the store to find a table set up with a chair and a pile of books, and you’ll take a seat and wait…and wait…and wait.
If you’re a new author heading out for their first in-store appearance, allow me to offer three pieces of advice that may make the experience a more successful one for you.
1 Everyone loves a freebie
It can be hard getting people’s attention, and even harder finding a way to strike up a conversation. There’s a very simple solution to this; sugar.
If you take a big bowl of lollies with you, you’ll have something to offer people as they pass by/enter the store/do their best to avoid making eye contact with you. I recommend a variety pack of individually wrapped lollies; that way people can pick a flavour that appeals to them, and they know they haven’t been breathed all over.
I know one author who makes up goodie bags whenever they’re doing an in-store appearance, with a couple of lollies included in a netted bag with a postcard flier for their book.
If you feel guilty about the prospect of widening the spread of diabetes, however, you could look into getting promotional bookmarks made up with your book cover printed on it…but people will be less likely to take something like that than they are a free sugar hit.
2 Don’t be afraid to come out from behind the table
One problem that keeps authors from having a successful in-store appearance is that they feel they should be anchored to the one spot, sitting in their chair behind their signing table waiting for people to come up to them.
You may feel shy, you may feel like you’re owed the public’s attention, but the simple fact is that no one’s going to come to you; you have to go to them.
So stand up, make eye contact, stand in front of the desk, or even on top of the desk if you have to. Smile, say hello…and then ask them if they want a lolly. You’ll have much more success with the public if you engage with them instead of sitting there thumbing your iPhone.
3 Don’t go for the hard sell
People don’t like being aggressively marketed to; they prefer to make a connection with someone. You’d be surprised the kind of reaction you’ll get if you ask people what kind of books they read or what they’re looking for, rather than jumping straight to who you are and why you’re here today.
In fact, I had that very experience myself – people were much more likely to pick up my book and consider buying it if I’d chatted with them first, rather than falling all over myself to try and put the book in their hands. Be confident enough to take the slower path. Make a connection. In short, have fun.
At this stage, I don’t have any in-stores lined up for this tour, but should one arise I’ll be doing my best to keep my own advice in mind. After all, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re in a situation like that…but if I were to add one more piece of advice, it would be to relax, breathe and remember; this is life as an author. Enjoy it!