…without breaking the bank. Here’s my blow by blow account with HOT TIPS on how to organise booksigning at WHSmith, sell to total strangers and get paid.
1/ Decide why you want to do the booksigning.
My objectives were fourfold: 1/ to test the market – what kind of total strangers are interested in my books, 2/ to learn a new skill (retail), 3/ to fine tune the 7 second sales pitch and 4/ to do more exercise. If you do not want to do a booksigning as it is physically and mentally quite demanding, you don’t have to. You can push digital sales and marketing. That is entirely your decision.
2/ Contact WHSmith Events team
first by email, if they don’t reply, contact your local WHSmith and talk to the manager. Don’t email. HOT TIP: Call and if no one speaks to you or it just rings and rings, go in person. You’re going to get a lot of steps in your day. I did all of the above.
3/ Get a rapport going with him or her
Once you know the name of the manager. Discuss the dates and times you’d like to do the booksigning. On the day I got a nice guy, he was helpful all the way and even helped me set up the table as they had never used it before. Time it right. Not school holiday or long weekend.
4/ Make and print a poster
and take it in 2 weeks before the event and make sure they will put it up in a prominent position.
5/ Use social media
Use Eventbrite, FaceBook events, Twitter, Instagram, your own mailing list (though that is less useful because they already bought your books!), online and real noticeboards local to you such as Next Door, special interest groups you are a part of, anywhere and everywhere you can attract strangers and readers.
6/ On the day
Call them. This is just in case they all forgot. If all on, and OK, pack the kit required for the gig. Make them all fit into a wheeled suitcase for ease of transportation.
*Books (I brought 10 of each book) if you have only 1 book it makes for a thin display, so consider the size of the table and other props or goodies to fill out the table and take 20 of that book instead of 10. You are in charge of bringing the books as they do not order them in.
*Crystal bowl or some other decorative large salad bowl, must be see-through so you can entice customers.
*Lindor balls (Celebrations will do because they ran out of Lindor balls at the local Tesco due to the accursed Ballantyne’s Day on 14 February) HOT TIP: The purpose of this is to lure them closer and when they or their kids take the candy, you can chat to them about your books during the munching
*Book stand to make a display book vertically (I made it myself from a wire coat hanger, see photos, it’s DIY so it’s free and I made this in 2016 for launch of Hungry in Ipoh and I am still using it now). I feel that I’ve matured since then, that launch I did was very amateurish but the DIY wire stand has stood still in time.
*Large piece of fabric that won’t clash with the book covers (I used a gigantic red satin stage curtain). Try not to use very patterned and messy-looking chintz unless your book is plain. Experiment with a few fabrics. HOT TIP: take photos of your mockup at home to make sure the display looks good and “just like a shop”.
*Merchandise (I have 80s memorabilia curated for the Heart of Glass theme, I don’t use the word brand because I am the brand)
*Your special signing pen. Mine is an architect’s rollerball black pen from Muji as I cannot handle felt tip in case it ‘goes through’. Think what pen you’ll be using for signing. You don’t want to do the unprofessional thing of using their pen because you have none, or a blue ballpoint pen that is scratchy and smudgy, or a pen that suddenly runs out of ink, or a pen whose ink takes 40 minutes to dry. All this won’t do. You want it to be quick and neat and the transaction is over.
*A tiny notebook to record sales, people’s phone numbers or email, which you can transfer later on to your computer when you are back at your desk.
At first I approached anybody, old, young, female, male, families, mostly middle-aged white women thinking they must like my books, but they almost bit my head off and I don’t know why. I soon discovered this was pointless. I started to aim for white, middle class professional-looking males, around 35 to 55 years old, clean, presentable appearance (ie. have money). Now. I realise this is a narrow kind of age bracket but I could not help that. I did try. Older or younger than this bracket and they ignored me or even gave me a wide berth. They simply were not interested. HOT TIP: This narrow age bracket must be those who are active consumers. These guys seemed to be the only kind of customers who gave me eye contact, bothered to talk to me and have the “impulse buy” urge. Suddenly, the chilling irony occurred to me that I became my Heart of Glass character, Li-an, whose job in grifting was to identify men with the biggest wallets. I made the mistake of thinking my readers must be middle-aged women like me. They are not. They even told me they don’t read. Don’t forget, it may be that 100% of your buyers that day may not even read your dear book. They didn’t get to browse or choose between a few authors or anything. At the point of sale, they are buying into you, not the future life of the book. They want it in their hand.
8/ Perfect your pitch and your price
Now suddenly I have a white, middle class professional man’s undivided attention. What should I say to him? My tips are: Don’t lunge or plunge into your book schpiel. Don’t say “Hi how are you? Do you have a minute?” Those are the most unimaginative, cliched and detested English words in my mind. That is what those charity muggers (chuggers) say. So instead do some chatting first. I ask him “Would you like a free bookmark? Or do you like chocolates?”. Remember, no “hi”, no “hello”. If he says thank you and takes the bookmark and a sweetie, I tell him straightaway, looking at him and not the book, what my novel is about in one line and give him the ‘hook’. Less than an elevator pitch. It has to be said in 7 seconds, according to my timing. Because customers are very fussy and bored and they are dying to run off to another distraction. Then I tell him not to go to Amazon when I am right here and my book is cheaper than Amazon just on that day. “Why pay more?” This is true of course. Stop them from googling on their phone the price on Amazon. You want them to commit. So price it less than Amazon. eg Heart of Glass is GBP10.99 on Amazon but I sold it at all my events for 10 pounds or the equivalent in foreign currency. During the book tour, I priced them at SGD20 in Singapore, RM50 in Malaysia and AUD20 in Australia. GBP10 is a good, round, acceptable figure for an impulse buy in my mind. Think what would you pay for an impulse walk-in-off-the-street attractive thing? Of course there is less profit per book but you are not doing this writing thing for profit anyway, are you?
9/ The sales: Great! You got sales!
Tell the customer to take the book or books to the till straightaway, i.e. before they change their mind. Tell the manager if he is at the till to let them queue jump if possible as they are VIPs. There will be a special code set up by WHSmith and you don’t have to deal with cash or card readers or any of the payment nonsense. You just have to concentrate on getting the attention of customers and selling them books. The moment those hard-won customers are in the queue with their card out, you carry on hustling while the cashier puts through your sales and take the payment in whatever form they wish to pay in.
10/ When event is over
You take screen shots of the sales receipts at the manager’s till with him or her allowing you to do so. You email these over with an invoice to the head office and they will reimburse you at some point in the future and you will need to chase them on this. You will get all the money as I am told by the manager that WHSmith will not take a cut. Sadly I got the first day of half term. It was a VERY quiet Saturday. Only 50 people came in the shop in 2 hours. I counted. Out of the 50, I managed to stop only 10 to talk to me. Out of those 10, 5 bought. It was a helluva lot more books sold than ANY in the shop in those 2 hours. No one bought a single book in the shop except mine. I knew because my stall was near the till. 5 books out of 50 is 10% conversion! That is not bad for a beginner hustler! That means 1 in 10 people (total strangers, passers by, not browsing, not looking, not even trying to be nice to me) will buy my book! I was a bit disappointed as at my events I usually shift 15 to 20 books. 😐😞
You will barely be able to stand. You will pack up and stagger home with your wheeled suitcase. In fact I was so tired on the bus I missed my stop. I simply zoned out and just totally forgot where or who I was. You will wonder how those retail assistants do this on their feet for 8 hours. Your brain is exploding from wearing 3-inch heels and selling for 2 hours non-stop, not even the shop’s stock, but your OWN product. The thing you brought into this world. Anyway in a day or so you will recover and be ready to do it again because each time it gets easier as with ANY skill and soon you can sell stuff with your eyes closed.
If you enjoyed this post, please share! As usual I would love to hear from you. All comments and feedback are welcome. If I have missed out on anything, please let me know.
Ivy Ngeow was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. She is of Chinese origin and the author of two novels.Cry of the Flying Rhino (Proverse Hong Kong), winner of 2016 International Proverse Prize, and Heart of Glass(Unbound UK). Her retail experience is extensive as she has been shopping for books and shoes since she was 7.
#heartofglass #cryoftheflyingrhino Tweet me: @ivyngeow