Hey this is Derek – one of the clients I work with has been having a great release – #1 in 7 categories, dozens of books sold a day, and over 12 physical book signings in Barnes & Noble. Generally, I dissuaded authors from focusing on Brick&Mortar sales because it can be a lot of work and you’ll see bigger gains if you focus on online conversion (things you can measure, control and improve).
BUT – any strategy is worth doing if done well. One book signing? Crickets. A few dozen? That could start to make a difference. So what follows is Paul Wilson’s guide to setting up a book signing at Barnes & Noble, sprinkled in with some comments from me to increase your results.
Not to toot my own horn, but the first thing you’re going to need is a great cover and a way to make the book relevant by tapping into a bigger story. We managed to do both of these with Paul’s memoir, Bad Karma. With about $25/day in adspend, the book was already profitable (making about $35/day) – since this isn’t such a competitive category it was easy to keep the orange #1 bestseller tag (most travel/memoir authors don’t have access to AMS ads and/or don’t know or care enough to learn advertising).
But there’s no doubt in-person events can add a certain gravitas and make you look like a “real author.” Check out these awesome banners and displays! Even getting one picture with a sign like this will do wonders for your social media/website credibility.
So, how do you set up a B&N signing for your self-published book?
Barnes and Noble marketing/book signing 101
1. Your book needs to be orderable by the store.
DM: Most print on demand expanded distribution options should get you listed, including Amazon’s – however, IF you go with the free/automatic ISBN from Amazon, B&N probably won’t like it much. If you want to focus on bookstores, it’s probably worth it paying extra to own your ISBN, or just publish directly with LightningSource/IngramSpark instead (which is key for “returnability” which we’ll discuss in a minute.
2. Make a personal visit to the store (at least until you have some successful B&N signings under your belt) and ask whoever is at the help desk if they are the “Manager on duty,” or if the “CRM” (Community Relations Manager) is in the store today.
3. Introduce yourself as the author of your book and say it is being sold on the B&N website and is also set up correctly in their system to be brought into their store, e.g.: guaranteed buy-back.
DM: This can be a huge risk for an indie author – bookstores *could* order hundreds of copies, not sell them, then return them damaged and ask for a refund. However… that scenario is unlikely. It’s more likely they’ll order a dozen copies or so for your event and see how it goes.
4. THEN, tell them about your book, how it is selling, etc. If you do step 3 and 4 the other way around, they will not hear anything up to the point you say it is okay for them to order it. Many times, they will tell you they are willing to “short list” your book. Short listing is the term they use for putting a book on the tentative purchase order for the store, subject to a manager scratching it off when the order is being finalized. That’s okay. It’s a foot in the door.
DM: Nice tip on “short listing” – also important to note, they’ll be far more likely to listen to you if your book *is* doing OK and has some online reviews. Nobody wants to take a risk on something unvetted, and they won’t have time to read your book.
5. Ask for the CRM contact information because you’d like to email them to discuss future signing events the store may be having. (If you’ve already done one, now is the time to say it.) Most stores have a regular “Local Authors Day” once a month. If that’s how you get the first one or two set up, go for it. When you’ve established a reputation of making them look good, by being a professional at their events, AND selling a decent number of books for them, the B&N grapevine will work on your behalf.
6. If you don’t get a signing set up right away, follow up with the manager or the CRM to see if you can stop by and sign the store stock copies of your book when they come in. Make your visit known to them when you are there. (This benefits you in two ways: signed editions sell better, and many stores will put a copy or two in a special “Signed Editions” section, which gives you a second location in the store for your book. Develop a personal, yet professional rapport with the crew in the store. They need to have confidence in you BEFORE they will invite you to set up at the front of their store on a busy Saturday or Sunday and sign books. Question: Would you want YOU to be the first thing YOUR customers encounter when entering YOUR business? Your primary objective is to make the STORE look good, second is to sell your book. Achieve the first and the second will take care of itself.
DM: Halftime – if I were to do an event like this I’d try and make sure the right people show up; you can target *local* people who are interested in your subject/topic/genre with Facebook ads and share the details with them – you may need a strong hook or offer to get people in the door. Don’t assume people will just be there (even if there are people there, the chance that they are looking for you or your book is slim).
Tim Grahl (author of your first 1000 copies) recently held a quiet book reading and only a few friends showed up to support him. It’s funny because his friends (and him) are actually all pretty much experts on book marketing.
Which leads me to my other point; sometimes an event is more important for the social media post, story or pictures – not necessarily books sold. Go into it looking for some great author pictures; online it’ll be as successful as you make it look.
Yay! You have a book signing scheduled!
7. On the day of the signing, arrive at least an hour early and let them know you’ll return in time to get set up, tell them what they’ll need to provide, etc. (I try to be as turnkey as possible so they only need supply the books.)
8. Then, canvass the area around where the store is, and tell anyone who will listen, that you are the author of a fantastic new book and will be appearing at the B&N from 2 to 4 that afternoon to personally sign copies. (I know it sounds hokey, but people eat it up.) I ask each of the smaller businesses (think beauty salon, barbershop, Realtor, exercise gym, doctor/dentist office, sandwich shop, etc.) if I may leave a few of my postcards where customers can find them, and tell them they can toss the cards at the end of the day. If it’s a super busy place, like a popular coffee house, I’ll sometimes offer to give them a copy of my book in exchange for putting my cards by the register, or where customers pick up their coffees. If you do it right, chances are you’ll gain a cheerleader for your book and signing event.
9. If your B&N has a Starbucks inside, tell the manager that you’re holding a book signing event in the main store, and is it okay to leave some of your postcards by the register and/or the pickup station. Go to each of the trash bin/tray return cabinets in the Starbucks seating area and leave a few postcards on top of them.
10. Now that you’ve seeded the area, you’re ready to get set up (without needing to ask for anything more from the store crew.) I always have a plate of cookies on my table. Put some of your postcards next to the cookies. When people take a cookie, hand them a postcard. When people show interest, but seem hesitant to approach, hand them a postcard. Tuck a postcard into each copy of your book. Nobody leaves your table without a postcard.
11. Never sit down, unless it’s to sign a book. Leave your cellphone on silent and out of sight. Ask every buyer of your book (and the ones who might later) to post a review on BarnesandNoble.com. Ask every buyer if they will pose for a photo of the both of you and you’ll send the picture to them. This accomplishes several things: They feel important. The passerby you asked to take the photo sees that getting a book signed by you is a big deal. You get an email or Instagram address. You copy the store on each photo, reinforcing their great decision to have you sign in their store.
12. Whether it’s going great or not-so-great, if your energy level will permit you to run past the official ending time, ask the store if it will be okay if you stay. It’s all about the exposure your book is receiving. Get all you can when the opportunity presents.
13. When it’s time to go, be sure to sign all of the remaining copies for the store, and present them to the person in charge, like they are valuable.
14. The day after your signing event, email the person who made it possible and thank them. Ask if they can tell you how many copies were sold while you were there. If it went well, ask them if they would mind if you relayed those numbers to (another store your working on). Many times, they’ll take the opportunity to tell you the best person and/or store to approach next. If they don’t, ask them. If you’ve made them look good, they’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.
15. I’ve completed signings at a dozen Barnes & Noble stores so far, and have twenty more stores already scheduled. Most of the stores I’ve done have said they’d welcome me back to sign again, whenever I am up for it. We’ve sold as few as 12 copies at a signing and as many as 22 (last Sunday). One thing rings true after every signing: My Kindle sales spike. I suspect a growing number of people are shopping the brick & mortar booksellers to find what they will purchase for their eReader later.
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.