By Kathleen Jones, The Quirky Novelist. Please sign up for free updates at http://eepurl.com/ceSobT
If you’re an indie novelist—a self-published novelist or a novelist published by a small press—you’ve probably had a hard time selling your book. Indie novels are usually ignored by reviewers at mainstream newspapers and magazines, and they’re rarely carried in bookstores because small presses and self-publishers don’t have deals with book distributors.
But indie novelists can sell their books in bookstores. How? By doing book signings.
Do this before you approach bookstores
First, create two documents to publicize your book: (1) a tip sheet and (2) a press release. You can find templates for both types of documents online.
What is a tip sheet? A tip sheet is a summary of your book; it includes an image of your book’s cover, the ISBN number, price, format (print and ebook), publication date, publisher’s name and logo, number of pages, and a couple of brief endorsements from reviewers.
What is a press release? A press release announces the publication of your book. It includes the publisher’s name and logo, a brief synopsis of your book, the author’s contact information (phone number, email address, and mailing address), endorsements from reviewers, and a link to your book’s media room (if any) on your author website.
Once you’ve created your tip sheet and press release, copy them to a USB, take the USB to a print shop, then make 25 colour copies of each document.
Which bookstores should you approach?
Strange as it might seem, chain bookstores are usually more welcoming to indie novelists than indie bookstores. Indie (non-chain) bookstores rarely carry indie books—they’re either too specialized and/or they’re biased against books that weren’t published by big houses.
Get your novel into the bookstore’s online catalogue
Once your publicity materials are in order, try to get your book listed in the online catalogue of a bookstore chain. Your book won’t be available in the chain’s bricks and mortar stores, but customers will be able to order it online.
Find the website for the bookstore chain you want to approach and search for instructions for new authors. For example, Indigo Books and Music, Canada’s largest bookstore chain, has a special webpage titled “FAQ for Authors” (https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/authors-faq/). Authors who want their books added to Indigo’s catalogue must send an email that includes the title and ISBN of their book to firstname.lastname@example.org.
After you send your email, you might be contacted by a manager requesting additional information on your book (such as the list price). She or he should be able to help you get your book listed on the store’s online catalogue.
After your novel is listed on the bookstore’s online catalogue
The next step? Try to arrange a book signing at one of the bookstore chain’s locations.
First, order 10 to 20 printed copies of your book. Then order a box of padded envelopes from a company such as Uline (https://www.uline.ca); you’ll need them to protect your books from wear and tear when you take them to the bookstore.
Next, check the bookstore’s website for locations near you; be sure to jot down the address and the manager’s name. Visit individual locations and bring a printed copy of your book and your publicity materials with you. Once you get to the store, try to speak to the manager, show her or him your book, and leave copies of your publicity materials. Ask the manager if you can do a book signing at the store and try to get his or her email address and phone number. When you get home, send an email to the manager, thanking him or her for their time, and attach electronic copies of your publicity materials. Then follow up with the manager by email or phone in a couple of months.
Your book signing
Once you’ve scheduled a book signing, send an email to the manager, confirming the time, date, and the number of copies you’ll be bringing. You can also attach a PDF of the book’s cover to your email and ask the manager to incorporate it on a sign announcing your book signing. The manager might also send you a consignment contract if she or he wants to carry additional copies of your book at the store.
Write a brief pitch for your book—a spiel that will make your book irresistible to customers—and try to memorize it.
Bring 10 to 20 copies of your book (in the padded envelopes) and 25 copies each of your tip sheet and press release to the bookstore. You can also bring a copy of your pitch, just in case you haven’t memorized it.
Get to the store at least one hour before your book signing and leave your books and publicity materials with the staff.
The bookstore will usually provide a desk to display your books and publicity materials, along with a small desktop sign announcing your book signing (which might include an image of your book’s cover) and a chair. But don’t just sit behind that desk; pick up a copy of your book, walk through the store, and approach customers. Ask them if they enjoy reading novels in your genre. If they do, show them your book and deliver your pitch; if they don’t, thank them for their time and leave them alone. Be sure to tell customers who have shown some interest in your book that you would be happy to sign their copy, but don’t sign the book until the customer has paid for it.
Always thank customers who purchase your book. And since book signings usually run for 3-4 hours, sit down and relax for a few minutes at least once an hour.
At the end of your book signing
At the end of your book signing, let the store’s staff (including the manager) know that you’re leaving, thank them for their help, and ask them how many copies of your novel were sold that day. If you have a consignment contract with the store, find out how many copies of your novel are being kept in the store’s inventory.
When you get home, note the number of copies you sold, along with the date and location of the store and the number of copies in that store’s inventory (if applicable). If you don’t receive a cheque for the books you sold within three months, follow up with the manager of the store by email or phone.
So, why should I bother to do a book signing at all?
Book signings can be difficult and stressful; bookselling is tough, especially for novelists, who tend to be introverted and uncomfortable with crowds. But the rewards are often worth the effort, especially for indie novelists, who can get some insights into readers’ tastes and find a new audience for their books.
Visit Kathleen Jones, The Quirky Novelist, online at https://kathleenjones.org/ or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/joneslepidas and sign up for free updates at http://eepurl.com/ceSobT Kathleen’s first novel, Love Is the Punch Line, a midlife romance set in the world of stand-up comedy, is available NOW, in trade paperback and ebook from Amazon.com (https://www.amazon.com/Love-Punch-Line-Kathleen-Jones-ebook/dp/B07BYNX7BM/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1525812415&sr=1-1&keywords=love+is+the+punch+line) and Indigo Books and Music (https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/love-is-the-punch-line/9781945181337-item.html?ikwid=love+is+the+punch+line&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0) Visit the Love Is the Punch Line Media Room at https://kathleenjones.org/media-room/