A few weeks back, @TaylorTrade raised the issue in a comment on another post about authors referring readers to particular stores or online accounts — if you’re an author and someone asks where they can buy your book, what do you say? Or if you’re a book publicist and an author asks you this question, what advice do you give?
First, if a book is only available at a certain account (store), i.e., because it’s self published, then the answer is obvious. But for most books published by large (and small) publishing houses, they are sold in independent and chain bookstores as well as online at Amazon, BN.com and numerous other online accounts, including, in some cases, the publishing house’s website.
The bottom line is that if an account is selling a book, then we — authors, book publicists, literary agents and anyone else seeking to promote or market a book — need to support them. I like to say something relatively generic like, “[Book title] is available online and at bricks-and-mortar stores nationwide,” leaving it up to the reader to pick whichever store they prefer.
When adding buy links to a website, one should include at least these accounts:
- Indiebound (which represents most independent booksellers)
- Publishing house (if they sell directly to the consumer)
Some authors also include links to accounts like 800 CEO Read and Hooks Book Events (both for bulk sales), Powells.com (which has a particularly large online — as well as, in Portland, a bricks and mortar — business) and others.
For those authors with author / book Facebook pages, you may consider adding a “Buy the Book” tab to the page with the iFrame HTML tab app (although you should note that Facebook no longer supports iFrame, i.e., it still works now, but may not eventually). So while it doesn’t hurt to spend a couple of minutes copying and pasting the following to a FB page for a book coming out this fall, don’t spend a lot of time installing it or count on using the following forever more.
— Search for the iFrame HTML tab app for Pages.
— Click “Go to App.”
— Connect with Facebook and allow the app access to your FB account.
— In the HTML field, add the following code (or whatever variation you prefer). The words in capital letters below represent what you need to replace:
Purchase <em>INSERT TITLE</em> at your favorite bricks and mortar bookstore or from the following sites:
–<a href=”INSERT AMAZON URL HERE” target=”_blank”>Amazon</a><br>
–<a href=”INSERT BARNES AND NOBLE URL HERE” target=”_blank”>Barnes & Noble</a><br>
–<a href=”INSERT INDIEBOUND URL HERE” target=”_blank”>Indiebound</a><br>
–<a href=”INSERT PUBLISHING HOUSE URL HERE” target=”_blank”>PUBLISHING HOUSE</a><br>
— To change the name of the tab (which will appear on the left together with Wall, Info, Notes, etc.:
Edit Page > Apps > iFrame HTML tab app for Pages > Edit Settings > ENTER YOUR NEW TAB NAME > Save > Okay
Over the years, many publishing houses have been scaling back on traditional book tours — not the least because bookstores themselves are disappearing — because travel can be expensive (and time-consuming) and sometimes there can be cheaper and just as effective ways to sell books. That being said, there continue to be plenty of authors speaking at non-traditional, i.e., non-bookstore, venues.
If you are an author booking a talk for yourself (or a book publicist trying to answer an author’s questions), here are some tips to keep in mind / pass on:
- Before agreeing to a speaking engagement, consider requiring the host venue to either sell books themselves, arrange for a bookseller, or — the holy grail of arrangements — purchase them in advance for attendees. Venues are looking for stellar speakers. For them, book sales rank somewhere between a secondary issue and an annoyance. If they won’t / can’t sell books, think about whether your personal connection to the organizer, the “caliber” of the audience or, in some cases, the fee, make it worthwhile for you to speak anyway.
- Some venues assume that authors will sell their own books. Some authors don’t mind doing this (books are purchased at a steep discount but sold full price — you do the math), but if you do not want to go through the trouble (many authors don’t), make sure you inform the host that you will not be selling your books and that they will need to make alternate arrangements.
- If you will be speaking at a venue shortly after a book comes out, you might consider waiving a speaker’s fee if the venue sells books. Or ask the venue to use the fee to buy books for attendees. (Obviously, this is not an option for everyone, particularly if the venue is not covering travel costs.)
- Be vocal with the event organizer about the importance of book sales. If you feel awkward “hawking” your book, talk about how hard you worked on the book, how much it means to you to get the book into the hands of readers and how strongly you feel about supporting local bookstores. If you don’t raise the issue of book sales, the organizer won’t know this is concern for you — don’t assume they will “get the message” because a publicist or someone else has asked about book sales on your behalf.
- Make sure the organizer / bookseller knows about your most recent book — they may not think to promote this title. (Many authors are well-known for books they wrote years ago.) Likewise, if your paperback has just been published, let them know this edition is now available.
- If at all possible, meet with the bookseller just before the event to sign all their books (signature only — no personalization); that way people who dash out of the event before the end are still able to purchase signed books. (Of course, people who want books personalized, i.e., “To Mary …” will need to wait for you after the talk.) The bookseller will bring back unsold (signed) books to their store where they can sell them or they can return them to the publishing house.
- Plan for your talk and Q&A to last no more than about an hour — people tend to get antsy after that and many will head out without buying books. Discuss the timing with the organizer / moderator ahead of time and have them issue a “Last question” just before the hour is up (or you can do so).
- If you anticipate a large crowd have someone — the event organizer, an assistant — work the line with a pad of Post-Its. This way, your helper can flap all books to the title page and write names on a sticky attached to the book cover before the reader gets to the front of the line. (Otherwise, you will be scrambling to find the appropriate page to sign and figure out how to spell the name … for every single person in line.)
- If you regularly speak to large crowds and have any restrictions when it comes to signing books (signature but no personalization, no photos, only signing the current book, only signing books purchased at the event), let the event organizer and / or bookseller know ahead of time. (Of course, if you are a celebrity author, there will likely be a number of other issues with which to contend including fans bringing gifts / memorabilia and security, but that’s another post for another day.)
- If you are cornered at the end of the talk, rather than remain on stage, encourage the people asking questions to talk and walk with you to the book table so you can start signing immediately.
- Bring a nice signing pen — although it’s not against the law to sign with a Bic pen, people are spending good money on your book!
- If you have any time restrictions, i.e., you’re rushing to catch a flight, make sure to let the event organizer and bookseller know beforehand.
And here are some suggestions to pass on to event organizers. (Bookstores are old hands when it comes to events and probably don’t need this information.)
- There are several ways for books to be available for attendees: your organization can sell books (purchased at a discount, sold full price), you / the book publicist can arrange for a bookseller (if you don’t already work with one regularly) or, if budgets allow, you can purchase them in advance for attendees.
- If you are looking to buy books in bulk (you will get a discount), you can do so in a number of ways:
- Purchase directly from the publishing house — the editor / publicist can provide the phone number / email address of the appropriate contact.
- Purchase from 800 CEO Read (if they carry the book).
- Purchase from Hooks Book Events. I have worked with owners Perry and Loretta for years and have always been impressed by their initiative, organization and — most importantly! — ability to sell loads and loads of books. Sales go through their local independent bookstore, but they offer discounts comparable to what can be obtained elsewhere.
- If you choose to work with a bookseller, you will need to let them know all the event details (date, time, location, etc.) and also how many people are expected at the event so they can bring an appropriate number of books. Typically, most booksellers will operate on the assumption that one out of three attendees buys a book. Unless you let them know otherwise, they will plan to spend about two hours at the event, arriving about half an hour beforehand and leaving about half an hour after the talk ends.
- If you or a bookstore are selling books, at least one table and chair with the books should be set up, about 30 minutes prior to the start of the event (since some people do like buying books beforehand). A second table and chair may be required at which the author can sit and sign books, particularly if there is a large crowd.
- The book selling table should be positioned where people enter and leave the room / auditorium — usually just outside works. If you don’t force people to walk by the book table, they won’t.
- If you are working with a bookseller, you can expect them to bring a cash box and credit card machine (and books, of course). They will take away unsold books at the end of the event; if at all possible, it is helpful if you have packing tape on hand. Some booksellers need to be near electrical outlets (for certain credit card machines) — they should specify this if this is the case, but it probably doesn’t hurt to check.
- If a post-talk reception / dinner is planned, please allow some time for the author to sit and sign books once the talk finishes (usually 15-30 minutes, more for a couple hundred people or more). It’s tricky for an author to sign books at a reception (no matter how informal) / dinner.
- Promotional materials for the event should mention the book signing (in addition to the talk). If you can, include the name of the store that will be selling books — they will appreciate the mention.
- At some point during the introduction, the author’s latest book should be mentioned. Also, as the talk begins and ends, the moderator should let the audience know that the author’s book(s) are available for sale.
For more information about book events in general, you may want to check out:
What are your top book event tips (or questions)?
There’s no doubt that bookstore events (talks / signings) are an important part of the book promotion process. At the same time, the goal of a book publicist isn’t simply to carpet bomb bookstores within a 50-mile radius of an author. Let me break it down.
Why We Do Schedule Events:
— Sales: Sending an author to a store to talk about / sign their book usually (hopefully) helps increase sales.
— Support: Thus, scheduling events is a way for authors and publishing houses to support bookstores.
— Audience: An author appearing at their local bookstore is as close to a sure fire hit as you can get since authors can, generally speaking, get their friends / neighbors / colleagues to show up a book signing and buy books.
Way back when, I thought the only reason for an author’s friend (or mother) to show up at a signing was to keep the seat warm — they probably already got a free book, right? Then my friends started writing books and I found myself buying books at their signings — even though I work in publishing and can often get them for free. Moral of the story is that bookstores know they can count on pretty robust crowds and sales when an author’s friends show up at an event. (Not to mention that as foot traffic in the store increases, so do spur-of-the-moment purchases.)
And Why We Don’t:
— Topic: Some topics work really well for certain stores — fiction, for example. Other stores find novelists simply don’t draw an audience. Some topics are great for certain types of venues, but not for general-interest bookstores. Some stores only sell mystery titles, or travel, or science fiction. Bookstores know what works best for them.
— Location: Typically, we’ll schedule no more than one signing in a given area. Realistically, there are a limited number of people in a designated location who will attend a talk / signing for an author. If they show up for the signing at the local independent bookstore on Tuesday evening, that doesn’t leave very many people attending the signing at the Barnes & Noble half a mile away that Saturday (or vice versa).
— Audience size: When was the last time you went to a book signing for a non-celebrity author? How many people were there? Bookstores do their best to promote events with in-store signage, information on their websites, newsletters and sometimes, advertising, and book publicists do likewise by trying to schedule interviews for the author with local media prior to the event, but sometimes even the best efforts don’t pan out.
Which is why if an author has no local connections and the book’s topic would not be of particular interest to a community, stores may be a little more reluctant to schedule events. Of course, we know that plenty of stores do welcome authors with no local connections, but they spend a fair amount of time and money promoting their talks and signings, so they do need to be selective about the authors they host.
— Time: Events take time. Book publicists take time to set up events. Stores take time to promote them. Authors take time to talk and sign at them. All that time is time not spent promoting books in other ways. So while scheduling some books events is a good thing, it is possible to go overboard and reach a point of diminishing returns.
I realize it looks like there are far more reasons to not schedule bookstore events than to schedule them, which isn’t necessarily the case — I think it’s more like the “Don’ts” just need more explanation than the “Dos.”
How do you feel about scheduling / hosting / speaking at bookstore events?
Last week I posted about book publicity FAQs that pertained to the media. Of course, book promotion also involves scheduling author events, which is another area in which book publicists often get questions. Here are a few of the most common.
Can you add [city(s)] / [bookstore(s)] to the book tour?
Sometimes it simply isn’t possible to make changes to a planned book tour; in cases where it might be, we need to approach additional opportunities strategically. (You may have heard that Seattle has great bookstores, but that doesn’t mean we’re automatically going to add Seattle to a book tour — or that you would get a good crowd at a Seattle bookstore.)
What you need to know: First off, book tours are scheduled after very careful consideration about whether a tour will help sell books (or whether this is a media-driven title), potential local interest in an author / book, a store’s / venue’s history with a certain type of book / author, media possibilities in the market, budget (of course) and with input from sales representatives and from stores themselves. Second, book tours are typically scheduled three-six months in advance of the book’s publication. If you have any questions about the tour (or if you are wondering whether there will be a tour), your best bet is to ask about it early. If you’ve been assigned a publicist, talk to them; otherwise ask your editor. (A month — or even two — before the book’s publication is really too late in most cases.)
Sometimes authors do a fair amount of traveling on their own. If it happens that your personal travel will take you to certain cities at certain times and you’d like to see if a bookstore talk can be arranged at the same time, talk to the publicist as soon as you can. Keep in mind that bookstores are most inclined to host signings for authors with recently-published books (“recent” being in the month or so before the event) and will want to know if an author has local connections — friends / family in a city who will attend an event (and buy books) — or if the book would otherwise be of local interest. Stores spend time and money promoting their events, so they really need to be selective about scheduling author talks. Do keep in mind that even if it’s not possible to schedule a book talk, you can always stop by stores to sign copies of your book(s). Signed books, particularly hardcovers, always go over well with readers, and some bookstores may order additional copies of a book (assuming they think they can sell it well) if they know in advance that an author will sign copies.
Can you arrange for books to be sold at an off-site event?
Possibly, if we find out early enough.
What you need to know: Rule of thumb — most booksellers will ask for an anticipated audience of at least 100 people in order to consider selling books off site. Arranging for books to be sold at off-site events can be time consuming for the book publicist and unless an event is expected to draw hundreds of people, selling books off site often isn’t particularly lucrative for the bookseller. (The bookseller needs to send at least one staff member to the event, which means they’re now shorthanded at the store and people who buy books at lectures don’t browse and make additional purchases at the store.)
For details about off-site book sales (including options for selling books if it’s not possible to find a bookseller), check my post What you need to know about off-site book sales. And again, contact your publicist early so they (and the store) have time to make arrangements.
How do virtual events work?
With fewer authors traveling on book tours, more bookstores are trying out virtual book events these days, for example Skyping in authors or having authors participate in Facebook or Twitter conversations.
What you need to know: Being something of a technogeek myself, I’ve talked to a number of bookstores about the possibility of them hosting virtual events. For the most part, stores have found that while virtual events can be successful for big-name authors, it can be hard to entice a large audience to interact virtually with lesser known authors. (Truth be told, it’s hard enough enticing people to interact IRL.) Which doesn’t mean that it’s not possible if you target the right readers for the right author, but generally speaking, stores seem far more willing at this point to experiment with virtual events with known quantities.
Needless to say, virtual events will be much easier for authors with some technical savvy, but most people with a computer and the ability to follow instructions can probably muddle their way through. (FYI regarding Skype events — Macs have built-in webcams; otherwise you can find one at an electronics store for under $100.)
As a book publicist, author, agent, or other publishing industry professional what other book event questions come to mind?
Atlanta’s Wordsmiths Books closed up shop yesterday, becoming the latest bookseller to fall victim to our foundering economy. As book publicists, we always try to schedule print and broadcast interviews in advance of bookstore talks to drive readers to the stores (where they will, presumably, buy books). This technique is somewhat dicey these days, not the least because the journalists themselves are facing layoffs.
Fortunately, a slew of websites have emerged that list and categorize author events. These include BookTour and LibraryThing Local. BookTour has lots of partnerships with other organizations including Indiebound and Goodreads, the idea being that you submit information once and it automatically appears on multiple sites. (The downside is that information can easily and inadvertently be duplicated.)
Bookforum Magazine is starting its own events calendar (similar to Artforum’s events calendar) at the end of the month / early next. Details of author talks (anywhere in the country) should be sent to Marketing Director Valerie Cortes at valerie[at]bookforum[dot]com. Or, you can simply include Valerie on your tour mailing list if that is more convenient:
350 Seventh Ave
New York, NY 10001
Another way to draw readers to an event is to hone in on the right readers. Yesterday evening, for example, I attended Lady Jane’s Salon, a reading series dedicated to romance fiction. A group of about 30 ladies (and gents) had packed into a Houston-street bar — a respectable crowd at any time, but particularly admirable given that the event succeeded New York City’s biggest snow storm of the season.
Gabi from Viking Penguin suggests using the site Meetup to find like-minded individuals. Groups are listed by location and interest and are run by moderators. Some groups are pretty general, like the outdoor adventurers who belong to The Next Adventure; others, like the the New York Turkish Coffee Group, have rather more specific interests. Like many networking sites, Meetup requires registration and groups must be contacted individually, so it takes time to list events (which are only listed with the approval of the moderator). Still, if you’ve written a book about Turkish coffee, where else can you reach out to 259 people professing a love for Turkish coffee? Actually, possibly at a site like Eventful.
With so many event listings sites available, book publicists can’t realistically take the time to submit information to each one, so authors, if you have time to lend a hand … No doubt I’ve left out other sites that list author talks nationwide. What are some of your favorite?
Yesterday I received an email from an author at 5:09 p.m. asking if I could arrange for his book to be sold. Today. In Hawaii. 200 copies of the book would be ideal, he said, although 100 would suffice.
I doubt very many bookstores have 100 copies of all the Harry Potter and Twilight books combined. The chances of a store carrying copies of a book — published nearly a year ago — in quantities larger than, well, one, are slim. While this is Book Publicity 101, I realize it may not be quite so obvious to others, so I thought it would be useful to compile some basic information about off-site book sales for authors and for publicists to pass on to authors. (Publicists, Agents and others — plagiarize these instructions at will although I would appreciate, of course, if you could credit The Book Publicity Blog.)
Arranging for books to be sold at off-site events:
— Allow time to arrange for a bookseller. Typically, bookstores need at least about three months notice to arrange for events on-site since they need time to promote them. Although they don’t need this long to arrange to sell books at off-site venues, they still do need time (a month is ideal) to arrange staffers’ schedules. Orders take about a day to be processed and books take at least a week to ship from coast to coast, so two weeks’ notice is pretty much the minimum.
— Publishing houses do not sell books on consignment, nor can our “representatives” sell books at an event. (We’re asked this all the time.) It may seem odd that a publishing house would balk at, well, selling books, but aside from a couple departments — customer service, the website — we’re not set up to sell books directly to consumers. (It’s like this with most commodities: you buy your toys or your Tylenol or your bananas from Toys ‘R Us or Duane Reade or Whole Foods, not from Hasbro, Johnson & Johnson and Chiquita.)
— It’s hard finding a bookseller for a small event. With some exceptions (like in smaller communities where bookseller and author are acquainted), booksellers ask for an expected audience of about 100 people at off-site events. It doesn’t make financial sense for a bookseller to send a staff member to an event for three or more hours — not including commuting time — to sell 10 books to 30 people. (Which doesn’t mean books can’t be sold, but you might consider selling them yourself, which many authors do.)
— Arranging for off-site book sales is time consuming. Of course, for large events, we’ll do whatever it takes to get books there (not to mention it’s pretty easy finding a bookseller to sell to a large crowd), but for small gatherings, we can spend an awful lot of time contacting an awful lot of booksellers only to sell awfully few books at the end of the day.
— Some venues do not allow book sales — some houses of worship, for example. Others, such as many universities, require you to use their bookstore. Keep this in mind when you are asked to speak.
— College students do not buy a lot of books. Particularly hardcover books. Probably because they’re too busy with their Wiis.
— Be realistic about the number of books you will sell. The most accurate way to determine the number of books you will sell is to take the average of the books you’ve sold at previous events. But if you don’t have previous events to go by — and many authors won’t — you can use the 1/3 rule for book sales: one out of three audience members will buy books (obviously this figure is higher sometimes; sometimes, lower). I’ve had authors insist that booksellers bring a large quantity of books, only to have them sit unsold at the end of the night — what authors don’t always realize is that this is a tremendous waste of money for the bookseller (they have to pay to ship back unsold books), it’s embarassing for the publicist, and all it does is make the bookseller wary of selling at the next event.
If you cannot find a bookseller to sell at an off-site event, consider:
— Handing out flyers with a picture of the book and your and / or the publisher’s website.
— Selling the book yourself. I have one author who speaks often at schools. He throws a box of books in the back of his car and off he goes. Depending on how often you speak (and depending on the size of the expected crowd), consider purchasing your book from the publishing house — with your author discount, of course — and selling them yourself.
— Working out an alternate arrangement with a local bookseller. This one needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis, but it is possible that a bookseller who can’t spare the staff to sell books at an event might be willing to order books for an author (sparing the author those logistical details), provided the author (or a media escort / friend / colleague / spouse) can actually sell the books. This can get complicated so some stores simply won’t consider it, but if you’re willing to help out on the sales end — and you’d like to support a local bookstore — it may be worth checking with your publicist or the store to explore how flexible the bookseller might be.
Now, in some cities, there are nice people who arrange off-site events and book sales like Hooks Book Events in Washington, DC (and some other cities) and Kim Ricketts Book Events in Seattle and San Francisco. You can imagine the excitement.
What else should authors know (or would you like to know, if you’re an author) about off-site book sales?