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Customizing presentations at book signings

Seven years ago, when my first Who Pooped in the Park? book was hot off the presses, I cut one up, scanned it, and turned it into a PowerPoint presentation.  I have used that slide show many times, and I learn something new every time I give a talk. That, actually, is one of the things I like most about public speaking: if I do it right, I learn as much as my audience does.

Among the things I have learned are:

  • Carry props. It keeps the talk more interesting if you can show people something tangible, not just pictures.
  • Move.  Don’t just park yourself safely behind a lectern. This may be controversial advice, because a lot of speaking coaches will tell you not to wander all over the stage when giving a talk, but my primary audience is children and they bore easily. I move around, point at the slides, hold up props, walk over to audience members and hand them things to pass around. I’ve even been known to demonstrate different gaits.
  • Engage the audience.  Ask them questions. I like to ask where people are from at the beginning and make references to their home states or countries later during the talk. Address people directly.
  • If you expect to sell books after the talk, mention the book. Say something about how and why you wrote it. Put a picture of the cover on one (or more) of your slides. And mention that you’ll be selling and signing books after the talk.
  • Make sure you have contact information on one of your slides in addition to having bookmarks or business cards available. That makes it easier for people to send you pictures they took, or invitations to other events. Instead of an email address, consider using your website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and other social media contact methods. You’ll get less spam that way, and you may pick up followers on those sites.

NOTE: That website isn’t accurate anymore. I’m on!

And, to bring this back to the main subject for the day, customize your slide show. I just gave a talk at the National Bighorn Sheep Center in Dubois, Wyoming a few days ago, and we did a book signing afterward. Here’s what I did to customize the PowerPoint presentation:

First, the opening slide. The top half of the slide has the book banner on it. I went to the Sheep Center’s website and grabbed a picture with their logo, added that to the bottom of the slide, and overlaid the date. I set up the projector in advance and left that slide up on the screen as an introduction until the talk started. That way, attendees wouldn’t just think, “oh, this is some generic presentation,” they’d know it was in some way connected to here.

Next, since the Center is all about bighorns, I figured I should insert a picture of a bighorn sheep. When I am doing slide shows, my first preference is always to use a picture I took myself. If I don’t have an appropriate shot, my next stop is either a stock photo house or Wikipedia, so I know I am using the picture legally.

I have an account with a stock photo company from when I published a newspaper. Generally, I am not going to pay $10 or $20 for a picture I am using one time in a slide show, unless it’s absolutely perfect. This stock photo shop, however (Dreamstime) has a free photo section which sometimes has what I need.

Wikipedia (or, more accurately, Wikimedia Commons) has a wealth of photographs that you can use in slide shows without royalties — just check the license.

Since I didn’t have a good bighorn sheep picture of my own, and there weren’t any cheap (or free) at the stock photo house, I picked one up from Wikipedia, overlaid some scat and track photos, and it made a perfect slide.

The local bookstore in Dubois set up and promoted the talk, so I added a “thank you” slide at the end. It’s typically easy to get logos from a store’s website or Facebook page. After they put a bunch of time and effort promoting the talk, it means a lot when you go to the effort of making a slide to thank them.

I am not a “read from my notes” kind of guy. I think it sounds awkward and stilted, and when you are reading from notes you aren’t looking at your audience. If I know my subject matter — and I had better! — then all I need is an outline, to make sure I don’t forget anything important.

That makes it easy to tailor the talk to the audience, since I am speaking extemporaneously anyway. Spending an hour or so customizing the slides makes it look like you have really put forth an effort, and that’s the kind of little thing that gets you invited back.



book signing book banner

Book signing notes from a bookseller to authors

Mark Liebenow

Author Mark Liebenow talks about his book, Mountains of Light: Seasons of Reflection in Yosemite at my store a few weeks ago.

I’ve written a fair amount about book signings here on this blog, starting with my 14 book signing tips for authors, proceeding through 10 book signing tips for booksellers, and covering subjects like credit cards, ethics, funny questions, and my own stupid book signing mistakes. Today, though, after hosting a series of signings earlier in the month, I’d like to write an open letter to other authors from the perspective of a bookseller.

Sales sometimes stink

First of all, I wish I could predict how many people will be at your signing or talk, but I can’t. I’ve had some amazing authors in the store that only drew one or two people, and some unknown self-published authors that drew big crowds. Sometimes, the weather affects attendance. Sometimes, the promotion just didn’t get that viral “click” where everyone is telling everyone else about it. Sometimes, another business sets up an event at the same time. Some friends of one local author called everyone they knew when her first book came out and showed up with a big cake to celebrate. We sold 50 books at that event, for a self-published first-time author.

Low sales doesn’t mean your book sucks. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. And it doesn’t necessarily mean the store didn’t promote the event. Sometimes, you just don’t catch a break.

Promotion on social media

I want to thank those of you who do your own promotion. It always makes me happy to see your blog or newsletter prominently featuring your visit to my bookstore. That helps both of us. A request, though: If I go to the trouble to set up a Facebook event for your signing and invite you to it, please click “Yes, I’m attending” and share the event on your own Facebook page.

Social media is additive. If my store has a few hundred fans/followers and you have a few hundred more, linking to each other’s updates doubles the exposure for both of us. I may have three times as many fans on Facebook as I do followers on Twitter, but it could be the other way around for you. Even if you are going to unfriend, unfollow, and disconnect after the event, let’s work together as much as we can before the event.

Also, keep in mind that in many cases you are more likely to get a prominent article in the paper than the bookstore is. Editors get tired of interviewing the same booksellers over and over, but when they get a call (or email or press release) from an author saying, “I am going to be in your town doing a signing at XYZ Books and I’m available for interviews,” that’s something different.

Be flexible on talks

Sometimes, an event is all about the talk. When a store books me into an amphitheater, I know I need to be prepared for a formal talk with a slide presentation. When signing in a store, however, realize that sometimes the talk simply won’t happen. If you get a “crowd” of three people, don’t just give up and declare there won’t be a talk. Instead, walk away from the slides and sit down with your fans. They’ll remember that one-on-one (or one-on-several) time with you and it will mean a lot more to them than the slide presentation would have meant anyway.

Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson: He’s a nice guy!

Yes, fans want good books. But you’d be amazed how often I hear, things like “Does Craig Johnson have any new books? He’s such a nice guy!” It matters.

I’ll swap you six books for a cigar and a stuffed bear

Finally, thank you for understanding why I don’t barter. If you spot some books or tea in my store that you like, it makes lots of sense for both of us to just swap some of your stuff for some of my stuff. But that throws off my accounting and recordkeeping. I really do need to write you a check for your books and then run your purchase through my point-of-sale system.

In fact, I’ve mentioned this in other posts, but it bears repeating: If you need to be paid that day for any books that you’ve brought to the signing, tell the store personnel up front. Otherwise you may end up at the end of the event looking for money when the only person who can sign a check has already left for the day.

Book signings are a collaborative effort between booksellers and authors. I’ve often said that indie bookstores have a symbiotic relationship with new and local authors. As an author, I know it’s the indie stores that got my books going; Barnes & Noble and Costco had no interest in an unknown. As the owner of an indie bookstore, I know that if the authors don’t support us, nobody will.


book signing book banner

Poop Talk at the National Bighorn Sheep Center

National Bighorn Sheep Center

The National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center in Dubois, Wyoming.

I will be doing a book signing and “poop talk” at the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center in Dubois, Wyoming on Wednesday, July 18.

I will read from the Grand Teton edition of Who Pooped in the Park? and talk about animal scat and tracks in the theater starting at 5:00. No reservations are required for the talk.

I’m tentatively scheduled for Grand Teton National Park the following day (I’ll post more details when I have them), and I’ll be in Yellowstone Park the three days after that.

I posted my current summer schedule a couple of days ago, and I will do a new update when this part of the trip is finalized.

A bit about the center (from their website):

“The citizens of Dubois have always felt great pride in the proximity, accessibility and successful endurance of “our” herd, the Whiskey Mountain herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. In the late 1980’s, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department was considering building some type of small-scale sheep observatory with interpretive signage at Whiskey Mountain. At about the same time, the Louisiana-Pacific lumber mill, which had been the primary engine driving the Dubois economy for decades, was faltering. The mill was forced to close in 1988, leaving the town to wonder if their economy was facing imminent failure. Dubois needed something to encourage tourists to stop and stay a little longer. The Wyoming Game & Fish Department wanted an avenue for public education. A suggestion was made to put a bighorn sheep-themed visitor center “in town”. In a rather remarkable effort of co-operation, a partnership developed that included a broad spectrum of private- and public-sector groups. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the town of Dubois, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Wild Sheep Foundation (formerly the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep), the Nature Conservancy, the National Wildlife Federation and many other entities and individuals contributed dollars, resources, talents and guidance to construct the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center. The Center was opened to the public on July 3, 1993.”

National Bighorn Sheep Center
907 W. Ramshorn
Dubois, WY 82513

A few misconceptions about credit cards

“All generalizations are false, including this one.”
— Mark Twain

Credit CardsWhen I discuss credit cards at bookselling conventions, or with customers in the bookstore, I hear a lot of absolutes. “We don’t take American Express because it costs so much more” is a common one. Some are rooted in truth. Some are generalizations that just don’t apply any more. I’d like to address a few of them that drive me crazy.

Myth 1: American Express

Let’s start with the example I quoted above. That used to be true. But today, you have to understand how the credit card business works. Credit card companies exist for the same reason as any other company: to make money. They make it from every side. Customers pay interest and a wide variety of fees. Merchants pay monthly fees, a percentage of each transaction, a flat fee per transaction, and a wide variety of fees.

Customers have a choice about which card to carry. Merchants have very little choice about what card to accept: if you take one Mastercard, you take ’em all. So the credit card companies offer special deals to customers and pass the cost on to merchants. Does your VISA card pay you back a 1% bonus? It’s the merchant who accepts your card that’s paying the 1%. With all of the reward cards available today, stores pay pretty much the same to accept VISA as they do to accept American Express.

Myth 2: You need a store to accept cards

When I’m doing book signings, the store typically handles the money. But there are times (especially with my Who Pooped in the Park? books) when I’ll want to set up a table somewhere and peddle books. The system we use at the bookstore was pricey to set up, and requires a computer, Internet connection, receipt printer, and mag card scanner (or we can use the old “knuckle-buster” with carbon-paper forms, but that costs us extra: see below).

GoPayment Scanner

We looked around a bit for options for book sales, and settled on GoPayment. We already use QuickBooks (which comes from the same company), so it was quick and easy. We filled out the forms and they sent us a scanner that plugs into the top of my iPhone. It doesn’t use the bookstore’s merchant card account, and if you spend a few minutes entering each of your books (or candles, or whatever you sell), you just have one button per product.

Myth 3: They can’t DO that!

When we bought our store in 2001, the merchant card agreement was pretty clear: we must check signatures on every card, we can’t charge extra for credit card transactions, we can’t set minimum transactions for credit cards… The list goes on. We assumed these were hard, fast rules. In reality, the bigger companies negotiate their own deals.

We aren’t allowed to charge extra for credit card transactions, but there’s a sign down at the County Assessor’s office that says they do. We have to check signatures, but the grocery store clerks don’t look at the card at all. We don’t set minimums, but the convenience store I stopped in last week had a big sign declaring no credit cards on transactions under $5.00.

Consumers: If you don’t like the rules a store sets for your cards, pick a different store.

Merchants: If you don’t like the rules your credit card merchant account comes with, shop around for a new one.

Myth 4: The costs are a simple formula

We were trying to figure out all of the fees on our statement, and learned quite a bit about how cards work. Credit card companies would like you to believe that it’s very straightforward: on each transaction, the merchant will pay 20 cents plus 2.7% (for example). Perhaps there’s a monthly fee on top of that, but that’s it, right? Nope. That barely gets it started.

  • If it’s a premium card (e.g., a Rewards VISA), the merchant pays extra.
  • If the mag stripe doesn’t read and they have to manually enter the number, the merchant pays extra.
  • If the total number of transactions in a month falls below a specified minimum, the merchant pays extra.
  • If the merchant enters your ZIP code and it doesn’t match your billing address, the merchant pays extra.
  • If the phone line/Internet connection is down and the card is processed manually, the merchant pays extra.

As a merchant, what can you do about this? Not a whole heck of a lot. Ask lots of questions when you set up the account, and budget an extra percent above what you expected to pay. Be courteous to your customers. If you happily accept their tattered old card for a dollar candy bar, they just may remember that and come back later when they have a hundred bucks to spend.

As a consumer, how can you help out? If your mag strip doesn’t work, get a new card. Try to carry a few bucks so you don’t have to use your card on tiny purchases. If your card isn’t billed to your regular home address, memorize that billing ZIP code.

Update November 2012

I’ve posted an update to this article, as our store has changed to the Square credit card processing system.

Summer 2012 “Who Pooped?” Book Signings

I’m starting to put together the summer book signing schedule. We’ve confirmed three signings with Yellowstone National Park:

  • Fri, Jul 20 – Lake Hotel
  • Sat, Jul 21 – Old Faithful Inn
  • Sun, Jul 22 – Old Faithful Inn

If you’re going to be in the park that weekend, please come by and say hi!

I will post more details (and more signing dates) as we get closer to summer.

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