Book signings and long-term relationships
As you can guess from recent blog posts, I’ve been thinking a lot about book signings lately. Maybe it’s because I’m putting together events for the bookstore right now, or maybe because I’m working on my signing schedule for my own books.
In any case, in “14 book signing tips for authors,” tip number 7 was “Don’t undercut or bypass the store.” Let me tell you the story behind that tip:
Back in 2006, we set up a signing with an author I’ll just call “S.” Her book fit very well with our store and our area. It was a holiday weekend, with high traffic in the store, and we promoted the event well. We didn’t pay her way to Red Lodge, but we did advertise the signing on the radio and in the newspaper. We put up posters around town, set up a display, sent out email alerts, and generally did our best to make sure the book would sell.
Generally speaking, book signings are a medium- to long-term investment for the store. In a very few cases, we’ll sell massive stacks of books and show a nice profit. In most cases, we sell some books, raise some awareness, and start a process of selling books over the following weeks or months (or sometimes years). The event with S was no exception.
She rolled into town early (a good thing), checked in with us, and said she wanted to wander around town for a while before the signing. The signing itself went well. She engaged the customers, sold books, and generally made a good impression. Then she turned on the hard sell, trying to get us to buy cases of the books from her before she left town. Knowing my market, I bought a small stack (that was a long time ago, but if I remember right, it was 10 books or so).
S wandered off, and we set up the signing table as a display to further promote her books. Then the red flags began…
I got a call from a store down the street asking how well the signing went. The author was in her store trying to sell her books. A friend with a real estate office popped in to tell me that S had offered to sell him a case of her books at half-price (less than I paid!) to give away to clients. By the end of the day, four other Red Lodge business owners had contacted me to say that S was trying to sell them books, often at lower prices than I had paid.
I think you’ll understand why my wife and I were pissed off. We had spent a bunch of money promoting the book and the event, and the author was cutting off all of our follow-up sales, which is where we stood the best chance of recouping our investment.
We boxed up all of her books, put a stop-payment on our check, and mailed the whole kit and caboodle back to her. Since that day, I’ve told this tale to many booksellers, and encouraged them not to host S for an event unless she pays all promotional costs. Her book is a nice fit in my store, but there are several others that cover the same subject matter. Had she showed us some modicum of respect, we would probably have sold a lot of her books since her signing. As it was, we’ll never sell another copy. Her attempt to stab us in the back has most likely cost her a lot of sales over the years.
I consider her behavior unethical. I’ve talked to others who disagree with that assessment. Everyone I’ve discussed this with, however, agrees that it was disrespectful and rude.
I’m not saying authors should limit themselves to one store per town. In bigger cities, that would be impossible. But, as we say here in Montana, “Dance with the one that brung you.” If a store is spending money to promote your event, never sell directly to their customers and undercut their prices. And don’t create competition for them that didn’t exist before your visit. Red Lodge only has 2,300 people. If someone wants your book, I think they’ll find their way to my store.
Authors, don’t do what S did!