Thursday, August 24, 2006

Tour Day 52, 53, 54, and 55

Miles driven: 11457
Books signed: 4066
Books hand sold: 214
Booksellers met: 952
Bookstores visited: 504

I'm happy to be home again. But the tour isn't over yet. I'm planning on visiting at least 5 bookstores a day until I finish the Northern Illinois area. Then I'll be doing limited visits to Wisconsin and Michigan, along with a few events in the upcoming months.

Catching up on all of my email is a daunting task--I've got over a thousand in the in-box that require responses--but if you're waiting for some kind of response from me, you should be getting it soon.

Several people have emailed asking how the bookstore visits are going. Are the booksellers always happy to see me? Have there been any strange or terrible signings?

Here are a few snippets from the tour. Each bookstore drop-in begins with me finding my books on the shelf and taking them to the Information Desk (or Customer Service, or a register.)

JA: Hi. My name is JA Konrath, and I'm a Hyperion author on a national tour promoting my third hardcover, RUSTY NAIL. Thanks for carrying my books.

Bookseller: Thanks for coming by. Would you like to speak to a manager?

JA: If one is available, I'd love to say hello.

A manager is called. I talk about the series, sign the stock, sign some coasters, and ask who the biggest mystery reader in the store is. That person gets a signed copy of Rusty Nail.

JA: I'm also thanking booksellers in my fourth novel, DIRTY MARTINI, coming out next year. So, if you'd like, write down your names and you'll be immortalized in print.

Booksellers write down their names. There are plenty of smiles and hand shakes and thank yous, and then I'm off to my next store. That's the typical signing, and about how 85% of them play out. It's a good, productive experience for everyone involved.

Ten percent of them played out like this:

JA: Hi. My name is JA Konrath, and I'm a Hyperion author on a national tour promoting my third hardcover, RUSTY NAIL. Thanks for carrying my books.

Bookseller: Oh my god, I love your books!

JA: Thanks!

Bookseller: I still can't eat Halloween candy after that scene in your first one.

JA: Thank you.

Bookseller: Wait right here, I have to introduce you to some of my co-workers.

In some cases, the booksellers were expecting me, and had anywhere from 20 to 140 copies of my books for me to sign. This happened roughly a dozen times, and every time I was humbled and thrilled.

Did I meet with some apathy? Sure. Usually, booksellers love to meet authors and love to read. But all businesses employ some people who hate their jobs. Here are a few episodes that stand out:

JA: Hi. My name is JA Konrath, and I'm a Hyperion author on a national tour promoting my third hardcover, RUSTY NAIL. Thanks for carrying my books.

Bookseller: Okay.

JA: Can we check to see if there are any others in the store?

Bookseller: Check the mystery section.

JA: I just checked the mystery section. That's where I found these. Do you have any others?

Bookseller: Maybe there are more on a table somewhere.

JA: Can you help me find them?

Bookseller: I can't be bothered with that.

I'm shocked by this. I've met over 900 booksellers, and they have always been helpful and courteous. I look around, but don't see any other customers in the building, so it isn't as if I'm preventing her from helping anyone else.

JA: Well, I'll go take another look.

I find some copies on an endcap and bring them back to the Information desk.

JA: I found a few. Thanks for having them on the endcap.

Bookseller: You can't sign those.

JA: Pardon me?

Bookseller: If you sign them, we can't return them.

JA: Actually, you can return signed copies. Stores do it all the time.

Bookseller: Well, you're not signing them.

JA: Can I speak to a manager?

Bookseller: I am a manager.

JA: I'm confused. Normally, managers are happy that I'm signing copies, because they have a better sell-through.

Bookseller: You're not signing anything in this store.

JA: Well. Nice to meet you. What's your name again?

Bookseller: Diane.

JA: Thanks for your help, Diane. Do you have a last name?

Bookseller: I don't give that out.

JA: So on your business cards it just says Diane?

Bookseller: I don't have a business card.

JA: A pity.

I left the above store wondering if I should alert a GM or DM or someone to let them know that they have a crazy person working for them. After thinking about it for a while, I decided to let it go. There's nothing that could be done to Diane that real life already hasn't done to her.

I was also refused signing stock at another store, and it played out like this:

Bookseller: It's a corporate policy. We don't allow signing stock.

JA: Really? I've already signed stock at over forty of your other locations.

Bookseller: They shouldn't have allowed it.

JA: The last one gave me extra stickers from your store that say AUTOGRAPHED COPY. See? These are from your chain.

Bookseller: We can't sign returned stock.

JA: Why is that?

Bookseller: They don't accept them back.

JA: But how do they know the copies are signed, when they're returned? Don't you strip off the paperback covers?

Bookseller: The sticker on the front. We're not supposed to put stickers on the covers.

JA: What about that big stack of books over there, with the 30% off stickers on them?

Bookseller: We don't allow authors to sign books.

JA: How about I put a signed coaster in each book?

Bookseller: That would be fine.

While Diane was openly hostile, this manager simply seemed robotic. I signed some coasters and left.

Like everything you do in life, you can't have a 100% success rate. Here's a scenario that happened to me twice:

JA: Hi, I'm an author. Is a manager around?

Bookseller: Sure. I'll find one.

I wait around for five minutes, then find another bookseller.

JA: Can I speak to a manager? I'm a writer on a national tour and am in town for a limited time. I dropped in to sign stock and say hello.

Bookseller #2: I'll get one for you.

I wait another five minutes.

Bookseller #2: The manager is busy right now. Can you wait a minute?

JA: Sure.

I wait for ten more minutes. No manager appears. I try to engage a few other booksellers by asking if they like mysteries. None of them do. I sign the stock and put it back on the shelf myself.

Now, I probably wasn't purposely snubbed. It may have simply been some miscommunication, or the manager on duty was super busy. Usually, booksellers are happy to help me. I've met almost a thousand booksellers, and 99.9% of them were experts in customer service.

Some, like this one, were not:

JA: Thanks for carrying my books. Can we check to see if there are any more paperbacks in the store?

Bookseller: We had a bunch. I just stripped them and sent them back.

JA: Ouch. You stripped them?

Bookseller: If they don't sell in 90 days, they get returned.

JA: You know, the book has only been out for 45 days.

Bookseller: Well, we needed the shelf space.

Ouch indeed. At another store, I pulled some of my paperbacks from the shelf, and the cover on one was 95% cut off, hanging by a thread. Apparently the earnest bookseller had stripped one too many, and reshelved it.

Those were the only two stores where I encountered returns. In at least 200 of the stores I visited, the booksellers ordered more copies after meeting me. Which, of course, always resulted in an outpouring of gratitude from me.

The following strange scenario happened to me twice:

JA: Thanks for carrying my books. Do you mind if I sign them for you?

Bookseller: Can I see some ID?

This puzzled me. If I were some lunatic, signing other people's books, wouldn't I pick an author more well known than JA Konrath? Wouldn't I try to signed some Koontz or Clancy?

In both cases, I showed ID, and the visit turned out to be worthwhile. Still, what an odd thing to ask.

I was also very surprised by how many stores stocked all three of my titles. At least half, probably more. In 3 of the 5 major chains, my books were stocked automatically, so even if they were missing a title, a quick computer check showed that some were on order. That felt really good.

The following scenario happened a handful of times, and it always blew me away:

Bookseller: Everyone in the store loves your books!

JA: Thanks! That means a lot. Really. Without people like you, I wouldn't have a career.

Bookseller: I'm buying this one. Can you sign a copy for me?

JA: I'd love to.

Bookseller #2: I want a copy too. Can you sign it?

JA: Absolutely.

Bookseller #3, #4, & #5: We're buying these. Please sign them for us.

JA: Sure. Thanks. You guys are awesome.

In a few cases, maybe ten, I visited stores and they didn't have any copies of my books. I'd give them a free copy of RUSTY NAIL and say that I hope they stock them in the future. Most of them ordered copies right then.

Several times on tour, an author friend would invite me to do an impromptu speech at a bookstore, where a writer group was meeting. The last time this happened was in Tampa, where I met a few Florida writers.

Big hugs and sloopy kisses to Jeff Strand and Lynne Hansen, who invited me to the shindig and then took me out for a lovely lunch. If you like my writing, you'll also enjoy Jeff's, who writes with the same combination of funny and twisted. Lynne does horror for the YA crowd, and if you have children, her books come highly recommended by me.

So, what's the final verdict? Was all of my running around worthwhile?

Absolutely. While every bookstore I visited didn't result in a home run, the vast majority of them were terrific. Meeting booksellers, signing stock, and passing our free books, is easily the most effective thing I've ever done for my career. I feel like I've actually made a difference, and I believe I'll continue to benefit from this tour for years to come.

Plus, who else can say they were on tour for so long that they actually got callouses on their fingers from driving?

If you're looking for signed JA Konrath books, look no further than these fine establishments:

Books & Books Coral Gables FL

BN Coral Gables FL

BN Naples FL

Border Naples FL

Borders Sarasota FL

BN Ft. Myers FL

Walden Ft. Myers FL

BAM Ft. Myers FL

Walden Port Charlotte FL

BN Sarasota FL

Walden 3501 Tamiami Sarasote FL

Walden 8201 Tamiami Sarasota FL

Borders Plantation FL

BAM Sunrise FL

Borders 909 Dale Mabry Tampa FL

Borders 12500 Dale Mabry Tampa FL

Borders St. Perersburg FL

BN 213 Dale Mabry Tampa FL

BN 11802 Dale Mabry Tampa FL

BN St. Petersburg FL

Walden West Shore Blvd Tampa FL

Walden West Shore Mall Tampa FL

Walden Folwer Tampa FL

Walden Citrus PArk Tampa FL

BN Ocala FL

MAN Ocala FL

BN Gainesville FL

Borders Gainesville FL

Walden Gainesville FL

BN Macon GA

BAM Centerville GA

BAM Macon GA

BAM Valdosta GA

Book Warehouse Lake Park GA

BN Schaumburg IL

Borders Schaumburg IL

Walden Schaumburg Woodfield IL

I'm going to continue to post tour stats on my blog, as I visit more local stores, but from this moment on blog entries will revert to my pre-tour intention: posting about the publishing business, how it works, and what newbies need to know.

While I'm happy to be done, I'm only getting started...

18 comments:

John Gooley said...

Thanks Joe, this is exactly the info I've been wondering about, what precisely do you do when you walk into a store unannounced, how do the booksellers react etc. Fascinating stuff. A shame about the bad experiences. Even though they were only 1 percent or so, I guess those things tend to stay with you.

Elizabeth said...

Welcome back, Joe! Sounds like it was a huge success!

schlabalabadingdong said...

Thank you!
Your more vague, uh, directions were really helpful, but this really makes it seem much easier. :)
Have fun with life!

Bryon Quertermous said...

Yay Michigan. If you make it up near Ann Arbor let me know and I'll take you out somewhere. Congrats on the succesful tour.

Jim Winter said...

I had one run-in with the psycho manager you mentioned. It was at a certain large chain whose first initial is B, but has a number in its name. (How's that for cagey?)

I dropped by with galleys of my first book to talk to the manager.

"What's a galley proof?"

Uh-oh.

"It's an advanced copy of a book coming out."

"Who's book is it?"

"Why, mine, of course."

Ooh! Ick! An author! Go away! Call the home office and leave me alone! Ick!

I won't bother with that chain again until I rate some coop.

Chances are, I won't bother with that chain again.

Adam Hurtubise said...

More steak and bourbon when you come back to Boston, Joe.

Adam

Maria said...

Joe,

Thanks for the tour posts. I learned a lot from all of the, especially this last one.

Mark said...

A genuine thanks for the education here, Joe.

And when you come to Michigan, if you make it north of Detroit, give me a call. I can get you to some of those bookstores pretty straightforward & I'm sure we can rustle up some food for you.

Best,
Mark Terry

clare said...

That's great - and congratulations it sounds like it was well worthwhile. I've been published for a few years now and had no idea. What you've said explains a lot. So thank you.
(Arrived her via Debra Hamel's link btw)

Patrick said...

Thanks for keeping us informed. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have met you in person while you were in Virginia.

The thing that would surprise me about the "typical" encounters you've described is that more booksellers don't actually ask for ID. I have just enough of a devious mind to imagine people pretending to be real authors as a prank.

(And you ask whether someone who wanted to pretend to be a famous author wouldn't be more likely to choose a bigger name? I'd be more likely to choose a far less-known name, assuming that the book store employees wouldn't have seen any press on them. I certainly wouldn't pick authors as well known as Koontz, Clancy or Konrath!) ;)

Beth Ciotta said...

Welcome home, Joe! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. Dizzy from just reading about the tour, but equally inspired.

Anonymous said...

Your previous entry summed it up:

You rock.

Thanks for taking us along on the journey.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Congratulations on meeting your goal! That was a lot of hard work...I'm impressed!

tess gerritsen said...

Joe,
ouch about the store owners who wouldn't let you sign books. "If you sign them, then we can't return them" is somethng I've several times while doing drop-in signings (once when my book had only been on sale TWO DAYS), and you have to wonder where they heard that signed books can't be returned, because that hasn't been true in years. "It's corporate policy" is another reason I've heard. All you can do is accept that the bookseller isn't gonna be convinced otherwise, and gracefully exit the store. And move on to the next bookseller who, you hope, will be more welcoming.

What's really discouraging is that it happens most often at the big chains, where you'd think that bookstore managers would know better.

Aimless Writer said...

Thanks for giving us the details of your in store signings. I was waiting to see you in Woodbridge NJ as it was on your list but when I called they said they knew nothing about you coming. Blah! Then i found out you snuck into the Holmdel NJ store (Thats my favorite hang out by the way. I belong to two writers groups there) and I missed you!!! I raced to the store after reading your blog for a signed copy (I knew you would leave some behind) but there weren't any left and i had to settle for an unsigned but excellent book.
I write and will someday be published (power of positive thinking) and the information you give on how to handle signings is invaluble! Thank you J.A. Your trip has not only been an inspiration but a great lesson too.

Aimless Writer said...

Oh, and about book sellers asking for ID. Remember the guy who hung his own painting in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. It was there for a month before they realized it didn't belong...
Could be the same with writers...figure if you aren't published yet you could still do a signing...pick an author you resemble....hmmm......is Barnes and Nobles still open???

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Joe, thanks for the primer in drive-bys. I doubt I'll ever do 500+ stores, but it's nice to see how it's done.

Julia said...

My writers group had an agent speak to us. She told a tale of one of her authors going to sign her books in a store and finding them signed by someone else. So it does happen