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Hey, Kids! A Survey!

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Andrew_fox
Junior Member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 162
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Tuesday, May 19, 2009 - 09:35 am:   

I hope those of you out there in the internet-ether will take a minute or two to respond to a brief survey. This past month, I've been hitting most of my local and regional bookstores, doing signings to support The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501. Some of the customers I interact with are either friends, fans of the Jules Duchon books, or people who are at least somewhat familiar with the new book through reading a review or seeing a notice in the newspaper. The majority of people I talk with (or try to talk with), however, are what we call in the car business, "cold sales" -- they don't know me from Adam; they've never heard of my books, new or old; and they had no idea that when they walked into their local Barnes and Noble they'd be forced to stroll past some dude sitting at a table with a pile of books in front of him, a hopeful (hopeless?), supplicant's grin on his face.

Here's what I want to know: what is the best, most effective way to initially interact with a potential "cold sale"? I've generally found that, if I'm able to strike up a conversation that lasts more than two seconds, I have about a 50%-50% chance of selling a book (assuming this person has any interest whatsoever in what I'm selling. . . if they never pick up a horror novel, or a SF novel, or any novels at all, and if they aren't shopping for, or considering shopping for, a friend/relative/neighbor who likes that kind of stuff, then I could be Lee Iacocca and not sell them anything).

Do a little thought experiment for me. Assume that you've just walked into a Barnes and Noble store to browse, to kill a half-hour, maybe to get a cup of coffee. As you walk through the front doors, you find yourself facing a table with an author plunked down behind it. You have never heard of this person, nor have you heard of his book(s), but let's assume you glance quickly at the poster advertising his signing and see that the book is either of a genre you read or of some marginal interest to you for another reason (attractive cover; title sounds intriguing; etc.). Given this, which of the following approaches taken by the author would be most likely to result in your pausing to talk with him or her or examine the books for sale?

A) The author makes eye contact, greets me with a smile, and says, "How are you doing today?"

B) The author makes eye contact and gives me a really quick pitch for the book, such as, "Would-you-like-to-read-about-how-Elvis-saves-the-world-sixty-four-years-after-h e's-died?"

C) The author makes eye contact, greets me with a smile, but doesn't say anything.

D) The author is busy signing copies of his/her books and doesn't appear to notice me, which gives me the freedom to pick up a copy of the book and read the back cover description without being immediately harrangued; if the author happens to look up after I've read the description and starts talking to me, I'll at least say hello.

E) The author is busy talking with other people, which both reassures me that he/she is not radioactive and gives me the freedom to pick up a copy of the book and read the back cover description without being immediately harrangued; if the author happens to look up after I've read the description and starts talking to me, I'll at least say hello.

F) Nothing the author says or does will convince me to pay him/her any mind; I hate being solicited and having my personal space invaded when all I want to do is spend some quiet time minding my own business in a bookstore. I MIGHT wander over to the display and check out the books, but only after the author has left.

So, post your choice (or a different option, if I failed to list your preferred scenario). If I get enough responses, not only might I improve my "cold sales" technique, but I might even get a Writers Digest article out of it!
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Andrew_fox
Junior Member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 163
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Tuesday, May 19, 2009 - 11:00 am:   

My dear cousin May, who used to cook dinner for my father and me on Sundays in Miami when I was little, emailed me to say she had trouble registering with the Night Shade Books message board system, but I should put her down for D and/or E on the survey (someone who would like to look at the books but doesn't want to be noticed, at least not immediately). First response! Yeay!
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Andrew_fox
Junior Member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 164
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Tuesday, May 19, 2009 - 11:57 am:   

Aaarggh. . . my friend Marian couldn't post, either, which means there must be a tech glitch with this message board. Anyway, here's Marian's answer:

"I am somewhere around (d) and (e) also. I tend to scoot by, spy the book out of the corner of my eye and circle back if it looks interesting. If I am bold that day, I may even ask the author what the book is about. I don't want to be harranged into buying a book.

However, if I am not interested, I may pick up a bookmark or flyer for a friend. If the author sees that I am not interested, s/he might suggested that I take info to others."
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Lori
New member
Username: Lori

Post Number: 33
Registered: 05-2006
Posted on Tuesday, May 19, 2009 - 12:40 pm:   

I'm going to have to go with D or E as well. It puts a lot of pressure on a person to know that the author of a book is sitting there staring at you and waiting for a reaction while you're reading the back cover. No matter how good or bad the thing sounds, if you don't buy a copy it seems to be an insult to the author.

It might be best if you were stationed somewhere near the front of the store, but not too near the door. A table of your books could be near the door with a big sign that said "Book Signing Today -- Meet the Author" and had an arrow pointing off in the direction where you were located. If the sign included a picture of you, so much the better. That way people would have some idea who you were and be prepared to chat with you by the time they were in a position to chat. They'd feel less ambushed.

Ideally, of course, your book signings would be much better advertised so people who are already familiar with your work could come to the book store specifically to get a signed book. They'd find you no matter where you were stationed.

However, option C also has its merits. If you appear to be too busy, people will hesitate to interrupt you. So look up and smile at folks as they pass by (while you're simultaneously signing and/or chatting and ignoring the people actually looking at your books).
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Andrew_fox
Junior Member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 166
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - 07:24 am:   

Unfortunately, folks are having difficulties registering, so I'll be posting replies that I receive through email. Here's an interesting response from my cousin David, who is a Ph.D. in psychology:

"I'm busier than reality can define, and don't want to take the time to log in, etc., But, an instant answer is 'A'. As someone trained in psychology, including certain aspects of nonverbal communication, 'A' is the only way to go."
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Andrew_fox
Junior Member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 167
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - 07:25 am:   

A reply from my wife, Dara:

"If I am not planning on spending money, then nothing the author would do could make me pay a penny; and anything he does to more than vaguely acknowledge me would make me uncomfortable. However, if I am interested and have a little money burning a small hole in my pocket, then any of the approaches would work with me, but I probably would prefer the more subtle methods. For me, A, B, or C would work on the right day but could also make me feel uncomfortable and pushed on a bad day. However, if I accidentally walk right by you, there is no chance that I would buy the book, right? So you would need to be a mind reader to sell me. Still, I would have to say, that if I might be interested then A, B, or C would probably make me buy the book eventually if not immediately. (But we all know that I am not shy.)"
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Andrew_fox
Junior Member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 168
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - 07:30 am:   

Here's one from Jenny, a member of my writing workshop group:

"I think D and E are okay but, let's face it you need to sell your book. Perhaps enlist the help of an Elvis costume or other prop. An Elvis wig, sunglasses, a Graceland snowglobe with a fat Elvis or a skinny one for that matter. Or better yet bring along some velveeta (haha)and offer it as free sample on a nice tray with a clear dome like Rouse's has. It could open dialogue for those passing by, peak interest, and sales. That's my thought.

If it were me, I'd at least have to ask."

Actually, I have been making use of a large Elvis figurine as a sort of signing table mascot. He's a '68 Comeback Special Elvis, not the Late Period '76 Bloated Elvis I would have preferred, but, as Donald Rumsfield says, "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want."
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Andrew_fox
Junior Member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 169
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - 07:33 am:   

This is from Jeff, another member of my writing workshop group:

"This is how I am going to do the book store promo when my book comes out:

The table separates you from people. My take on this is to get out from behind the table and mingle around the book store as if you were a friendly consumer who's just a little special tonight.

Leave a sign on the book table with your name and photo on it, saying 'Autographed books make greater gifts to book lovers. Author is mingling around the store and would love visiting with you. Just come up and say hello. Also let the author know if you want an autographed book further personalized.'

Especially go introduce yourself in the sci-fi, horror and romance sections, because we sci-fi, horror and romance people are as hip as can be. Come up and tell us your name and that you are here tonight saying 'hello,' and personally available for a while if any questions about getting a book written and published.

That way you aren't pushy to anyone and are gracious and classy. You can make pits stops at the table every now and then."
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Fritz
New member
Username: Fritz

Post Number: 1
Registered: 05-2009
Posted on Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - 01:50 pm:   

Answering Andy's survey . . . I choose "A," from the point of view of a customer to the bookshop and from the point of view of the author. It uses nonthreatening but friendly approach language that's the cultural standard, and therefore will fit any type of personality other than the most dangerous type who takes offense at everything. This does, however, beg the question of what to say next. How about an open-ended follow-up query designed to elicit something interesting or useful about the customer, such as, "Do you come here a lot?" or "What kind of books do you like to read?" or "What's your sign?" The latter probably works only if you're signing in a singles bar during happy hour on '70's night.
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Andrew_fox
Junior Member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 172
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Thursday, May 21, 2009 - 03:25 pm:   

Here's a response from my pal Charlie:

"As for the survey I am going with A and D. On a good day A scenario peaks my interest enough because I am not Busy. D if I am trying to Fly under the radar."
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Andrew_fox
Junior Member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 173
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Thursday, May 21, 2009 - 03:28 pm:   

This is from Ryan, a comic book artist:

"To answer your survey, I'd definitely go with (a) as my decision. I'd prefer for the author to be personable and enthusiastic, and make an attempt to engage the customer. I'm more likely to buy something from someone who is attentive and interesting as opposed to someone who is otherwise engaged or unavailable.

In the few attempts to sell what I have written/drawn, it's been my personality and willingness to engage and entertain the customer that has gotten me the sale and the possible fan. The fact that I'm willing to talk to folks like an average person seems to go a lot further than if I've stood back and let people come to me. With so many options as to what one can read out there, what they can spend their money on, I find every little advantage to get me separated from the pack helps. People have a face to go with the name, and I've noticed that once that happens, they're more inclined to buy my stuff."
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Andrew_fox
Junior Member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 174
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Thursday, May 21, 2009 - 03:34 pm:   

Here's a very detailed response from my old friend Maury:

"Hi Andy,
So much seems to depend on what mood I'm in that day. By and large, I tend to agree with/feel like Marian's post. Still, option A, a hello, is certainly something you should do if someone moseys over, as obviously they've already expressed even a hint of interest. If it's possible to be posted somewhere near the SF/Fantasy section, all the better, as you'll be physically close to the readers you're targeting, and of the SF people I've known, many are pleasantly loquacious when it comes to chatting about their favorite works, many of which you'll be a fan of, too. I think Fritz had a good point in using an open-ended question that leaves the ball in their court, but one that pertains to them, as people (usually) feel comfortable talking about themselves. One last thought -- many people will be positively thrilled to meet the author of a book, as this, for them, is not an every day event. The thing, though, is that they might be too shy to initiate that first Hello. Okay -- one MORE thing -- I was at a reading several months ago given by the wonderful author Hannah Tinti -- she'd brought along a sort of show and tell of these little stones that are featured in her novel, told the audience about them before the reading, and then said that since most people are hesitant during the Q&A, whoever asks the first question after the reading gets to take home the stone. (Brother, you know my hand went up FAST!) So, something like this, some little give away that pertains to the book, might be fun and helpful tool in getting people to come to the reading and sticking around after."
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Andrew_fox
Junior Member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 175
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Friday, May 22, 2009 - 04:11 pm:   

Here's a post from Eleanor, who should know something about book signings, given as she's a manager at the Metairie, Louisiana Barnes and Noble store:

"Your survey was emailed to me by a friend because she knows I am a manager at the Barnes & Noble in Metairie, La. People shopping in our store generally respond well to someone who greets them with a big smile and lots of eye contact as they approach the table. If the person stops to say hello than that's a clear sign to throw them your sales pitch. Also, don't spend all of your time sitting behind the table. It becomes a psychological barrier. Get up and move around your little table, talk to the bookseller involved with your signing. Be warm and friendly and you will draw people towards you. Sometimes it helps to bring some kind of "prop" that has dome relevance to your book. Put the prop on the table as an ice-breaker and conversation piece. Crazy, but it works. Generally avoid any behaviors that close you off from the customers. I've seen authors who never greet customers as they walk by or never look up from the table. They never sell a book either.
Just be warm and friendly and people will stop to talk. And hopefully buy. Good luck!"
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Lucius
Moderator
Username: Lucius

Post Number: 7918
Registered: 12-2004
Posted on Wednesday, May 27, 2009 - 06:22 am:   

Andy,

Do i have your permission to post this on my blog? Mght get some answers there?

Me, I'm a D and E guy;...
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Andrew_fox
Junior Member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 176
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Wednesday, May 27, 2009 - 10:01 am:   

Dear Lucius,

Post away! (Actually, I already did that last week, but it must've gone unnoticed, since I didn't pick up any traffic.) How've you been doing? Still shuttling back and forth between the U.S. and Europe?

Best wishes (and thanks for the support),
Andy Fox
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Andrew_fox
Junior Member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 177
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Wednesday, May 27, 2009 - 10:07 am:   

From Laura Joh Rowland, award-winning mystery writer (and one of the founding members of George Alec Effinger's writing workshop group):

"Hi, Andy,

I didn't get around to posting, but here's my advice. I've learned that if I can engage with a person and get my book into their hands, I can dramatically improve my chances of making a sale. I've also learned that there's no one-size-fits-all strategy. You need to chat people up and make them feel that you're interested in them for themselves and not just as prospective buyers, but the timing depends on the individual. Some people will pick up the book on their own and want a little time to look at it before being drawn into a conversation. Some like to have your attention and start interacting with you right away. You have to use your instincts. I think people like an approach that's tailored to them, and they don't like a pitch that feels "canned." It also helps to have somebody (a spouse, friend, or bookseller) stationed by the door to steer people to you. Marty has done that for me at Jazz Fest, and I owe a lot of sales to him.

Good luck in Baton Rouge!"
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Andrew_fox
Junior Member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 178
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Wednesday, May 27, 2009 - 10:09 am:   

Here's a contrarian response (I love those) from my friend Mark, another founding member of George's writing workshop:

"You asked! If I didn't know the author from some other context, and it wasn't the book I came for, I wouldn't buy from him, and would avoid the table like the plague. OK, I'm a little more social than I once was-- like the flu. I would not want the auther to approach me while I'm in the aisles! I'd be very displeased and would avoid that bookstore in the future if it happened more than once. A bookstore is a place of internal, conflicted thoughts for me. I arrive on my guard and determined only to buy what I came for, and feel it a failure if I leave with anything else. Perhaps I'm not your typical bookstore patron.

On the other hand-- if I receive a flyer or an invitation to the bookstore for a signing, and I go, I'm almost sure to buy the book that drew me to the store.

I have not responded on the site, as I avoid most sites that require me to sign up, however valid the reason.

Gook luck-- I don't envy any author having to do what must be done to sell books these days."
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Lucius
Moderator
Username: Lucius

Post Number: 7919
Registered: 12-2004
Posted on Wednesday, May 27, 2009 - 04:22 pm:   

Doing good, Still. Next to Finland and Australia....I'll let you know how it turns out, or you can check for yourself....

Bests,

Lucius
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Lucius
Moderator
Username: Lucius

Post Number: 7921
Registered: 12-2004
Posted on Thursday, May 28, 2009 - 02:17 am:   

Here's a about a dozen responses so far....

http://community.livejournal.com/theinferior4/487386.html?view=4983514#t4983514
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Lucius
Moderator
Username: Lucius

Post Number: 7923
Registered: 12-2004
Posted on Thursday, May 28, 2009 - 07:27 am:   

Andy email me at lucius4@earthlink.net--I've got a private response.
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Andrew_fox
Junior Member
Username: Andrew_fox

Post Number: 179
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Thursday, May 28, 2009 - 09:39 am:   

Hey, Lucius, thanks so much for posting my survey at your blog site! The comments are terrific and very helpful. You've got a busy, busy site there, and your commentors bring a really wide range of opinions.

One of the most helpful (yet also most difficult) pieces of advice I've received thus far is that a writer-at-a-signing needs to tailor his approach to each individual who walks past the table. This entails, of course, being able to "size up" potential readers/customers in a matter of a second or two, based upon an instantaneous impression of factors including: age, gender, in-a-group or with-family or alone, style of dress, posture, facial expressions, swiftness of stride, and overall body language. The only way to begin to get good at all at doing this is to do it a lot.

I have a little background in this from my few months selling Saturn cars, but the ranges of intentions of people walking onto a Saturn lot and of people walking into a Barnes and Noble store are widely divergent. At least with someone walking onto a Saturn lot, their very presence tells a sales person that (a) they have some level of interest in the specific vehicles for sale, or at least want to learn more about a specific model; and (b) if they are willing to be approached by you, this means they have some intention at some point of purchasing a vehicle, whether from you or a sales person at another dealership, because generally, recreational "browsers" won't allow themselves to be engaged by a sales person. However, it's impossible to make those same assumptions about someone walking into a Barnes and Noble store. A good percentage of people who go there do so to kill time and browse; they use the store as a library. A good percentage of the people who intend to buy something have something specific in mind which is not your book. Plus, a very high percentage of people who intend to buy something but don't have a specific book in mind are people who have no interest in reading the type of book you are selling. On the other hand, a $14.95 trade paperback is much more of an impulse buy than a $24,995 Saturn Vue sport utility vehicle. So, even if the person you manage to engage in conversation never reads science fiction, or only reads non-fiction, he or she may have a friend/relative/neighbor who likes "that kind of stuff" and for whom they'd like to buy a gift.

Also, it's very possible that one's assumptions about what a stranger's age/gender/mode of dress/etc. indicates about their reading habits may be totally off-base. I have hand-sold a surprising number of my three books to white-haired little old ladies whom I'd never imagine would take any interest at all in obese vampires or vigilante ex-liposuctionists. The lesson I've learned is to never write off any potential reader, unless that person indicates by their body language and/or expression that they really, really don't want to engage with you.

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