by Laura Michelle Thomas
It’s November 22, 2014. Big deal, right? Well it is a big deal when it’s the last stop of a book tour that started on September 21st. It’s my last day of selling myself before I get back to creative writing.
I have mixed feelings. As challenging and exhausting as bookstore visits are, I’m sad, actually terrified, that the tour is over today. I’m terrified because I know that when I stop making public appearances sales of my books, The Naked Storyteller and Polly Wants to Be a Writer, will drop. But before I get all squishy about that, and talk about the impact that has on my literary dragon as I prepare to work on novel number three, let me review the tour.
Planning My Book Tour
I knew my latest novel, The Naked Storyteller, would be out in August, so in June and July, I started cold calling bookstore managers in major cities that are within a half-day drive of my hometown. Some calls took me nowhere, while others led to a store manager wanting more information about me and my books. Some were really keen to support a local writer and already carried my first novel, so we jumped right to setting a date for me to come in. Others needed more information. So when I had promotional materials ready I sent the following information by email:
Even with all that information, I heard nothing back from some managers, or got a flat no because I’m a nobody. Other managers didn’t get back to me until the tour was already underway, but by the end of August I had most of the 10 weeks booked up so that I was to be at a bookstore every Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
One thing that I came across when booking dates is the retail schedule. Most managers stop hosting author events in November as the floor space starts to get taken up with Christmas merchandise. That’s why in 2015, when I will be touring again, I won’t propose any dates after November 1st.
The Book Launch
When I first contacted Chapters Metrotown by phone and email about doing an author visit, they were not interested as I’m a nobody. But then, a few days later I had a call from the manager who asked if would be willing to do the launch at his store. I jumped at the chance, started promoting it as a Facebook event, on social media, with press releases, word of mouth, and on my website.
Lots of people said they were coming but then two things happened that got in the way of that Sunday afternoon event: the BC teachers’ strike ended so everyone was in back-to-school mode, and we had a rare 30 degree sunny day which made the mall a less attractive option. Trust me, as an author, rain and cold are your friend. It drives readers to bookstores. Regardless, the event was well-attended and much appreciated. It was my first time doing a public reading.
What I Learned on This Book Tour
Even though I have been a host of a TV show, host of my Junior Authors Conferences, teach workshops to teachers, do public speaking engagements, doing author events in bookstores is a challenge. Every store and every event has its own optimal sales chemistry that is shaped by:
- the staff’s attitude and engagement with your book
- where they put you in the store
- a professional-looking setup
- have they thought to stock your other books
- how long they will let you be in the store
- the type of customers (mostly has to do with lifestyle and cash flow)
- what’s going on in the news
- the season
- the day of the week
- time of day
- the weather
These are all factors that an author cannot control, so the best way to handle this is to be extremely observant during the first half hour you are in the store. Try out several greetings as people pass by you. Notice who makes eye contact or looks at your poster or book cover. Talk to those people. Be friendly. Introduce yourself. Be confident.
Just know that it won’t work all the time. You’ll still get people who walk away from or around you, but you need to keep experimenting. Don’t give up. I’ve had five-hour author events in which I sold nothing for the first hour even though I talked to everyone who looked at me or my book for more than two seconds, but then for the next four hours sales were steady. You’ll get your sales patter down…if you keep at it.
Of all the factors above, I think the biggest influence on sales, aside from selling yourself, is the staff. To be honest, when I am booking my tour for fall of 2015, there I stores I will not go back to because the staff acted as if I was invisible even though I was at a table in the middle of their store. The customers picked up on that energy and attitude and made it exceptionally difficult for me to make sales. This is strange because when you are in a bookstore, you become like a staff member, part of a team––everyone on the sales floor could be working to help you sell out.
By the way, on the topic of feeling like a staff member, at least twice at every author event I get asked where the washroom is or where to find a certain book. Quite a few people seem to think that I am a sales lady, not the author of the books on the table.
Recovering from a Book Tour
As I said, today is the last day of a very long, very enlightening, very rewarding book tour. I have been in hardcore sales mode since June when I started pitching book store managers on my worth as an author. Then it’s been selling myself over and over again to individual customers since the launch in September.
And this practice of selling yourself hundreds of times over has an impact on your state of mind, heart and soul and, of course, on your literary dragon. For the first time in my literary career, I’m having trouble letting go of selling myself as my dominant personal narrative and reason for being. My literary dragon is ready to pack up shop and just let me keep selling myself. After all, my dragon and I both know that as soon as I stop selling myself that my income will drop. It’s scary.
But I need to let go of the “selling yourself” mantra after today’s event so that I can get back to work on my next novel project without worrying about how that book will sell or how sales of my other two novels will go. Somehow I have to coax my literary dragon back into our creative workshop so that we can work freely together on our next novel project without worrying about sales. As for today, I’m going to put together all I have learned during this book tour and have an incredible afternoon.