Following on from my previous little self-promotion post, children’s author Robert A. Brown has been in touch with some brilliant advice about how to sell to, liaise with and organise events at book shops. Robert is the author of William, the Hedgehog Boy. Over to Robert:
For the purpose of this blog I am differentiating between the national chain retailers such as Waterstones, W.H. Smith, Foyles, The Works and Blackwells and smaller independent bookshops or the WH Smith/Post Office franchises.
Engaging with the major book retailers.
• Choose a retailer that is appropriate to your book and possible events you can offer. Mine is a children’s book, aimed at fluent readers aged 7-9 years, and featuring a hedgehog as one of the main characters, so I was looking for retailers with a large children’s section and also those that show in an interest in wildlife. I wanted a children’s section that was bright, colourful, welcoming and featuring a wide range of children’s authors not just the most popular ones such as David Walliams, Julia Donaldson, Michael Morpurgo, Jaqueline Wilson etc. I wanted retailers who host children’s events at weekends and during school holidays. As the timeline for my book encompasses both Halloween and Bonfire Night I was particularly keen to secure bookings during October half-term.
• Once you have decided which major retailers to approach, work on building a relationship with the store manager and the events team (readings and signings). This should involve several visits and face to face discussions besides emails. The more they get to know you the more likely they are to be positive about offering you an event slot.
• For the pitch try to highlight the unique selling points (USPs) of your book and introduce these into these discussions.
• Leave the manager with a copy of your book and copies of any publicity and or reviews.
• After the initial meeting pop back into the store every week or so for a brief chat and find out what they thought of the book and the prospects of a reading and or signing event.
• Inform your publisher and get them to send the press release and advance information sheet to the manager. It helps to keep your book at the forefront of the store manager’s mind.
• Assuming you are given a date and time for an event it is very important to establish how the event will be publicised and by whom. The retailer, your publisher or yourself. Hopefully all three. You should try to maximise local media outlets, company website, social media, flyers and posters etc. Hint: Don’t expect too much from the retailer, some are excellent other less so. You will probably need to be very proactive at this stage. The larger stores will source copies of the book for the event from their usual suppliers at the usual rates. You will be paid royalties based upon this order.
• Also confirm how the event is expected to run, structure, timings, breaks, refreshments, permission for taking photographs for future publicity and social media posts.
For independent bookshops and smaller local retailers the principles remain basically as above however:-
• Having established a good relationship and confirmed their interest in stocking a few copies of your book, you may wish to supply them with copies of the book yourself rather than expecting them to go down the usual trade routes. This will enable you to fix a convenient price point for them, on a sale or return basis. I chose £5-00p per copy and the shop could then choose to sell at the cover price of £7-99p. Therefore, you receive more than the usual ‘royalty’ rates, whilst they too make a handsome profit per copy sold. Thus, it is in their interest to promote the book and display it prominently.
• My local Post Office started with 5 copies and I provided them with an invoice on a sale or return basis.
• You will need to provide publicity flyers for window and table top displays.
• Offer to pop in frequently to sign purchased copies with a personalised message, check on how sales are progressing and replenish stock.
• If stock needs replenishing, request payment for copies sold and provide a signed receipt.
The Event- reading and signing
• Arrive early to meet the staff, set out the space and make yourself comfortable.
• Welcome everyone and explain what is going to happen and when.
• Be prepared to ‘ambush’ store browsers and have a chat about the event.
• When you have an audience, and let’s be honest here, you are not John Grisham, they will not be queuing outside the door, so only a very small audience is sufficient to commence your presentation and introduce the reading. Hopefully, others are likely to be curious and join you.
• Offer bystanders a ‘well thumbed’ copy to flick through.
• When somebody wishes to make a purchase, accompany them to the till and offer to sign the purchased copy for them. This is less embarrassing than sitting alone at a table at the end of the event with nobody taking any notice of you.
• TIP at the end of the event offer to sign a few unsold copies for the store. Retailers like to having a few author signed copies available, perhaps at a discounted rate for a later date. The benefit to you as the author is that they are considered sold and will not be returned.
This is really good advice from Robert, an author who is proactive at sourcing sales outlets for his books. I shall be following some of these tips. If anyone else has techniques that work when engaging with book shops, please feel free to share them in the comments. Regular followers of this blog may remember that Robert also dropped by last summer to share some tips on organising a book launch.
And if you know any children who deserve an Easter treat, I’ve heard very good things about William the Hedgehog Boy.