Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Day #4

Long day.

Got up at 6AM and mapped out the drive-bys.

Speaking of drive-bys, here's the Definitive Guide for Doing Drive-By Signings.

1. Find the stores. Go to,,,,, and search for stores by city and zip code. Or go to the public library and look through the phones books. Try to list all the stores within 20 miles of the city you're visiting.

2. Call the stores you intend to drop in on and ask someone if they carry your books. DO NOT tell them you're the author. Why? All that does is complicate things. Trust me on this. They'll tell you you have to speak to a manager, or an events coordinator, or they'll tell you you aren't allowed to come in unless it has been cleared by your publisher, or they'll tell you that they don't do signings, or they'll set the books aside and then no one will be able to find them when you come in, or you'll set everything up and when you get there no one will know who the hell you are, or... you get the point.

The truth is, bookstores and publishers have a set of rules about author signings.

You want to ignore those rules. So call and and see if they have copies, and ask how many. I wouldn't drive 20 miles to sign three paperbacks, but for three hardcovers I would.

Call a day or two before you plan on dropping by---calling ten days before may result in your books being gone by then.

3. Map out your route.,, Plot a course going point to point. A GPS navigation unit saves a lot of time and effort.

I've noticed that Barnes & Noble and Borders stores often have locations just a few miles from one another. If there's one, there may be another.

Independant booksellers are genrally happier to see you, and more eager to sell your stuff. Fit as many of these into the drop-in tour as possible.

4. When you get to a store, find your books. Booksellers are busy, and you want to be low maintenance and take up very little of their time.

On this tour, my books are eaither on the new release table, the 20% off table, or in the mystery section. Sometimes there will be extra copies on the floor, or stacked behind other books on the shelf. Look around.

5. Take your books to the Information Desk, or to a counter, and say your spiel to an employee. Mine is:

"Hi! This is me. (Smiling, pointing to my name on cover.) I'm an author. Great to meet you. (Shake hand.) Thanks for carrying my books! Do you mind if I sign them?"

Start signing when you get the 'yes.'

Then ask them if they like your genre, and tell them about your books. For the pitch I use, check out my website at --- it's the same pitch I use to sell to customers.

While talking to the employee, give them something---a card, a bookmark, or in my case, a drink coaster with my book cover on it, and SIGN THE ITEM. Signing it will hopefully prevent them from throwing the item away, on the off chance that one day you'll be famous and they can sell it on eBay.

Also, ask them if they can check to see if there are any more in the store that you couldn't find. Be patient---if the store is busy, let them take care of customers before you. That gives you a chance to pitch to customers as well.

When the books are signed, ask if they have stickers that say "Autographed Copy". If they do, help them sticker the books. If they don't, use your own stickers, that you took from the last store you signed at.

Barnes & Noble have square green stickers. Borders and Wladenbooks have red triangles. Sometimes Waldenbooks has blue rectangles, and Borders has brown rectangles. Don't get confused.

After the books are signed and stickered, ask the employees to sell them.

"Please get rid of these for me... my kids need to eat."

Often they'll make a display for you. Don't suggest a display yourself--let them suggest it. This appeal for help is important--it shows you're not a snooty author, but a regular person who needs help.

I also tell employess that whoever sells 20 copies or more will be mentioned in the acknowledgements for my next book.

6. Meet as many employees in the store that you can, passing out signed cards. Thank them profusely for selling your book, and for the great job they're doing. Take their business cards, and add them to your email newsletter list.

7. If you're at an independant bookstore, never leave without buying something. If you want them to support you, you should support them.

8. Keep a log of where you visited and how many copies you signed. Share this info with your agent and publisher. You don't have to give them the full list, but an email saying, "I was just in Arizona for the weekend and signed stock at 21 bookstores" will impress them.

So now you know as much as I know. And how was my day? I'm glad you asked.

After planning my route, I hit the road.

Waldenbooks in Mesa, signed 5 hardcovers, 5 paperbacks.

Borders in Mesa, signed 3 hardcovers, 6 paperbacks.

Borders in Tempe, signed 3 hardcovers, 5 paperbacks.

Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, signed 7 hardcovers, 1 paperback.

Borders in Chandler, signed 2 hardcovers, 4 paperbacks.

Barnes & Noble in Chandler, signed 3 hardcovers, 2 paperbacks.

Barnes & Noble in Phoenix, signed 3 hardvoers, 6 paperbacks, sold 2.

Waldenbooks on Southern, signed 8 hardcovers.

Borders on 74th, signed 6 hardcovers, 6 paperbacks.

Barnes & Noble in Gilbert, signed 2 hardcovers, 2 paperbacks.

SCARY STUFF--The computer at B&N in Gilbert said there were 4 copies of Whiskey Sour in the store. We could only find two. Turns out they stripped and returned the other two that morning.

Whiskey Sour came out in paper on June 24. So in less than a month, they were destroyed. Ouch!

I did a talk and a signing with the talented and charming Louise Ure (Forcing Amaryllis---which everyone should read) at The Poisoned Pen. We had a nice crowd, and Louise is 100% pro, even though her book has been out for less than a month. It was a pleasure sharing the spotlight with her.

Some friends came to the event, including fellow scribe Stacey Cochran and some folks I knew back when I was a waiter. Naturally, we went out afterwards for beer. Beer became tequila prarie fire shots, but I had to wuss out early (2AM) because I have to catch a plane in a few hours.

Tomorrow (er... later today) I'll be in San Diego, and I'll also blog about some fellow authors who are kicking major tail on the self-promotion front. You think I'm the only one pushing myself to the limit? Think again...


Anonymous said...

Prairie fire shots: tequila and tabasco. Hemingway would be proud!

Anonymous said...

Joe, you know I love ya, man, but I really don't agree about ignoring publisher's and bookseller's rules. Being a squeaky wheel isn't always the best approach, I think, when taking the long view. Sorry, just my opinion, I know, but I've been talking a lot about signings and appearances lately. And I'm learning a ton about the publisher's and bookseller's views, and I'm learning to respect them. I really don't think the author can just barge in and make up her own rules and not expect that approach to come back to haunt her. You want to be assertive, true. But also work with the professionals, not totally ignore them.

But I admire your cojones, as usual. And I know for sure you don't agree with me - maybe we can have a beer and talk about all this later. This is just another example of where "one size does not fit all" when it comes to authors and promotion.

David J. Montgomery said...

There are certainly rules that you wouldn't want to break, but I don't think what Joe's doing is an example of that.

Now, I'm not sure that what he's doing is the most efficient way of promoting... but if he doesn't mind spending the time, I don't think anyone's going to complain.

Publishers get upset about author's doing things that make them look bad, embarass them, hurt sales, crap like that.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, well, I'll just hold on to my opinion, David, based on some recent conversations with publishers and booksellers. But definitely, every person has to do what feels best for him or herself. I admire the heck out of Joe, don't get me wrong. I think he's doing a terrific job.

JA Konrath said...

Hi Mel--

Signings and drop-ins are two different things. You don't need your publisher's permission, or the bookstore's permission, to do a drop in. You're dealing with troops, not Generals.

Hyperion has been watching what I'm doing, and they're impressed.

If you call the bookstore and let them know you're coming, it's a signing, not a drop-in. That's where you can get in trouble.

But popping in and saying hello to employees? That's recruiting a sales team, and a savvy way to sell books.


Anonymous said...

I know the difference, Joe! I still don't quite agree with your advice (no matter the situation) about ignoring publisher and bookseller's rules, that's all. But different strokes for different folks, you know.

(And I have to say your advice about drop ins is exactly opposite of what my independent publicist - not my publisher's publicist - advised me. Sigh. What's a girl author to do?)

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

Anybody that tells you it is a bad idea to drop in at a bookstore and offer to sign your books is wrong. It is a great idea because you meet the staff. Joe is right. his is your sales staff.

How could anyone on connected with an author think that is a bad thing? It helps sell books, and that's what it's all about.If your independent publicist tells you different, they are wrong and you might reconsider where you spend your money for marketing.

Anonymous said...

I interviewed your buddy Libby Fischer Hellmann this week, Joe, and we discussed your tour and marketing in general (were your ears buzzing?), and Libby commented that to her mind, anyway, drop-in signings were a very effective and efficient way to market, especially versus the time and energy involved in signings and book talks to libraries and organizations, etc. I've done both and I have no idea if either is effective, but there's definitely a lot of time and energy expended on book talks.
Mark Terry

JA Konrath said...

For those who recall, for my first novel my publisher told me NOT to visit any bookstores. I was sepcifically warned against bothering booksellers.

Which made no sense at all.

I didn't listen to that particular suggestion (it's always better to try it then apologize later than to not try it at all), and visited about 150 bookstores last year.

I had some success, and my success resulted in my publisher footing the bill for this tour.

Publishers are pretty conservative with new authors. They don't want them to make waves, or embarrass themselves, or waste their time and become discouraged.

They also don't want to pay $50 co-op when a new author only sells three books at a signing.

But in my opinion, the best bang for your promotional buck is meeting the people who are selling your books.

I have NEVER visited a bookstore and been told "No, you can't sign anything." 99% of the time I'm met with enthusiasm. 1% of the time I'm met with apathy, or confusion. But I'm never met with annoyance, reluctance, or anger.

David and Mark questioned whether or not drive-bys are worth it.

Waldenbooks has BLOODY MARY at 20% off, because I've sold a ton through their chain. How?

Drive-bys. I met the staff, and got them to hand-sell my books.

Now I'm on the 20% rack at the front of 700 stores.

Wouldn't have happened if I didn't disobey my publisher.

Why would your independant publicist advise against drop-ins? I don't understand that at all.

1 motivated bookseller can be much more effective than any ad, any radio interview, any cable TV spot.

How many times have you bought a book because you heard an author on the radio? Compare that to an impassioned bookseller at your favorite store who says, "Buy this. Trust me, you'll love it."

What's your publicist's reason for saying that, Mel?

Anonymous said...

Sigh. I never said she advised against it! I just said her advice about how to go about doing it differed from Joe's. That's all. Please, people, don't get your panties in a bunch.