I will be signing copies of the Yellowstone edition of Who Pooped in the Park at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone Park on Friday, August 5 and Saturday, August 6. If you’re going to be in or near the Park, stop by and see me! I will be in the lobby, right outside the gift shop, 11:00 to 6:00 Friday and 11:00 to 4:00 Saturday.
The Old Faithful Inn is one of my favorite places to sign books. Since there’s no wi-fi there—and no cell service to speak of—everybody is focused on the world around them instead of their phones. That, of course, includes me. Sometimes, when there’s nobody looking at my books, I’ll just jot down random thoughts. A lot of the ideas for my new book (Gary’s Guide to Successful Book Signings) came from the Old Faithful Inn. I’ve made plenty of book signing observations from Yellowstone Park, so I’ll skip those this time, and just ruminate on the differences in recent book signings.
The Who Pooped signings in the big national parks generally draw nature lovers, and most of the people that stop by the table are in no hurry to be anywhere. The idea of a book about poop throws a few people, but most are intrigued by it. The crowds at the NYC bookstores that hosted my Who Pooped signings (Book Culture and Bank Street Bookstore) were definitely different. By the time I was done reading, they were ready to buy a book (hopefully) and hit the road. Very few people wanted to just hang around and chat. Quite a few people—including bookstore owners—found the subject matter offputting. My publicist was told by two different stores that animal poop isn’t an appropriate subject for their stores. Luckily, the stores that hosted me were open-minded and fun, and the people at the Central Park Conservancy thought the book was a cool idea.
The Myths & Legends signing in NYC was a whole different world. It was about storytelling and drinking tea. The people who came hung out to chat and ask questions. The store owners prepared different tea samples for different stories from the book. It wasn’t like a national park book signing where I wait for people to stop at the table. I just stood and told stories. If you’ve never visited the Monkey Cup in New York City, stop and see them. It’s worth the visit!
The American Booksellers Association Winter Institute last month in Seattle was all about sharing and education. Sometimes sharing ideas is enough to create new ideas along the way, and that’s just what happened to me. I attended some wonderful sessions about merchandizing and decorating, and when I was telling someone about it later, I wished I had copies of all of the slides I had seen.
Creating Compelling In-Store Displays was a panel featuring Arielle Eckstut and Joann Eckstut, authors of The Secret Language of Color; and Jonah Zimiles of [words] Bookstore in Maplewood, NJ. In this fascinating discussion of color and theme, they showed a variety of displays, store windows, tables, and fixtures, including some amazingly inexpensive and quick ideas that were still professional and eye-catching.
Gifts 101 wasn’t really about merchandizing, but panelists Linda Marie Barrett (Malaprop’s Bookstore & Café), Monica Holmes (Hicklebee’s Children’s Bookstore), and Jan Hall (Partners Village Store) showed a lot of pictures, including tables and racks that meshed books and gift items.
Identify and Cultivate Your Store Brand was all about making the look and feel — the “experience” — of your store together. Like the gifts session, its focus wasn’t merchandizing, but there were some amazing ideas. The panelists represented a diverse collection of bookstores. Nicole Sullivan (BookBar Denver) showed an amazing bar made out of books, Bradley Graham (Politics & Prose) has displays bigger than some of the sections in my store, and James Adams (5ive Creative) talked about case studies where he’d helped bookstores with their branding.
At the cocktail reception the last night of Winter Institute, I ran into Sydney Jarrard from the American Booksellers Association. Always eager to create more work for other people, I suggested to her that the ABA should create a Pinterest board where bookstores could share ideas for displays and window decorating. She enthusiastically agreed, talked to the boss, and dropped it back in my lap last week. I really have to work on saying “no” more often.
I have now created not one, but two Pinterest group boards, one for in-store displays and one for windows. I started them with a few humble (very humble) pictures from my own store, and this blog post is the beginning of an effort to reach out to booksellers across the country (heck, around the world: I met book people from six countries at Winter Institute) and get everyone else sharing.
To join in the process, visit the board(s) you are interested in and follow them. Then leave a comment here on this blog post using the same name you used on Pinterest. I’ll authorize you to pin, and you can start adding pictures from your own store.
You do not have to be a member of the ABA to participate, but why on Earth would you have an indie bookstore and not want to join? They provide an awful lot of benefits for a very reasonable level of annual dues.
It’s a two way street! There are a lot of good ideas out there, and we want to get as many people participating as we possibly can. Here are the pictures I started things out with:
Effective Bookstore Displays
You can find this board at www.pinterest.com/garyrobson/effective-bookstore-displays/
Who could possibly sell cat books better than a cat? I put copies of various cat-related books next to our bookstore cat Benjamin’s bed, so he’d attract attention and people would pick up the books when they stopped to pet him.
Red Lodge is right up against the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness near the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park. We are surrounded by millions of acres (literally) of wilderness areas and outdoor activities. We decided to set up this display to keep the hiking guides, maps, atlases, and outdoor activity books all together. People coming in for a copy of Day Hikes in the Beartooth Mountains just might want to pick up a hiking map to go with it!
Creative Bookstore Windows
You can find this board at www.pinterest.com/garyrobson/creative-bookstore-windows/
When we first started selling computer books, we tried to come up with a good way to show them off. Being quite a packrat, I have saved up computers since I got my first one in the 1970s, and I built a mini-museum in the front window. People stopped to look at the old acoustic coupler modem and Apple ][, and ended up coming in to pick up a Mac or Windows book.
Last Halloween, we decided to take the store right out onto the sidewalk. As you can see in the picture, the local high school had decorated the windows for the big game, and we put this inflatable black cat in front of the door, moving his head back and forth to watch people go by. You can’t always see into the store well due to glare on the windows, but you could sure see this fellow!
Okay, your turn!
There are a few of my pictures to get the ball rolling. Let’s see how many more we can get on here in the next month. Challenge issued. Challenge accepted?
Last week I made my annual pilgrimage to Yellowstone Park to sign Who Pooped in the Park? books. There are two concessionaires in the Park: Delaware North, which operates the gift shops, and Xanterra, which operates the hotels. Some years I go to the Xanterra sites and some years I go to the Delaware North sites. Some years I hit both. This year, I was invited well in advance by Xanterra and offered one of the choice sites in the Park: the lobby at the Old Faithful Inn. Since it’s a busy time of year, I decided instead of my usual routine (a few hours a day for a week in various locations around Yellowstone), I’d just do two long days in the same place.
Signings at places like this are very different from bookstore events. For one thing, no bookstore is going to ask you to spend eight hours behind a signing table. For another, the foot traffic is simply amazing. For a second-tier author like me, selling 30 books at a signing is pretty good. I did that in the first hour in the Old Faithful Inn. Also, the questions you answer are quite different (I’ve talked about this here before).
This year’s top questions
- When is the next eruption of Old Faithful? See that thing on the wall behind me in the picture above? It’s a clock showing the estimated time of the next eruption of Old Faithful. This question was #2 last year and jumped to the top this year for some reason.
- Where’s the bathroom? Usually question #1. Maybe folks weren’t drinking as much water this year.
- I took a picture of some scat. Can you identify it? Maybe. Unless it’s a blurry picture with no context and nothing to give it a sense of scale. But what the heck? I’ll give it a try!
- Is that POOP? See below.
- Where are the animals hanging out? I try to answer this one. Really I do. But Yellowstone is over 2.2 million acres of wilderness and I just got here yesterday. This is what the interpretive staff is for.
- Are these free? Really, people? You think I drove down here to give away free copies of my books?
Yep, that’s poop
Props are a highly effective way to start a conversation, and starting conversations sells books. Lest that sound entirely mercenary, I’m a social animal and I do love having conversations. But back to the main point…
In this picture, you can see a row of round things on the table in front of me. You can also see rows of books. Sometimes I do rows, sometimes big spiral stacks, sometimes pyramids. The round things on the table are samples of animal scat (a.k.a. “poop”) that I have cast in resin. The big one in the middle is bear scat — always a crowd pleaser. That thing in the lower left is not poop. It’s my lunch.
As a complete non-sequitor, I inscribed books to hundreds of people this week. The vast majority were children. The most common names were Emma and Wyatt. Do what you will with that information.
Something new and different
I have done a lot of book signings in my time, but every year brings something new. This year it was an evacuation.
It was about 6:15 p.m., and I had been sitting at that table since 11:00 (minus a few bathroom breaks). I was chatting with a family when an alarm sounded. I made some quip about someone opening a door they shouldn’t have opened, and then a recorded voice came on asking everyone to evacuate the hotel. The restaurant was full, with a line halfway through the lobby. The bar was full. The gift shop was packed. There were lines at registration. People were unpacking their bags in their rooms. Everyone began streaming out.
I had my handy-dandy leather satchel with me, so I swiftly stuffed my important possessions in it (signing pen, poop samples, phone) and headed outside. The books and the sign were left to fend for themselves.
Cell service at the Old Faithful Inn is spotty. Did I say “spotty”? I really meant “lousy.” In the interests of keeping Yellowstone as pristine as possible, there is one cell tower in the area, and it is utterly incapable of handling the data traffic that people attempt to use it for. When I went outside, I found myself surrounded by hundreds of people all trying — with varying degrees of success — to tweet about the experience. I managed to get a tweet to go through myself, shot a text message to my wife so she could find me, and then settled in to chat with people.
“We had just gotten our dinner,” one woman lamented. “I had only had one bite of my steak!”
“There’s the difference between men and women,” I told her. “I would have brought the steak with me.”
In general, people handled the situation with grace and humor. Someone commented that a vendor with a beer cart would be making a mint. Someone else said if there was a fire in the kitchen, at least the food wouldn’t get cold.
The signing was scheduled to end at 7:00, and that’s about what time we were allowed back in. It wasn’t until the next morning that I found out what had actually happened: low water pressure in the fire sprinkler system had triggered the alarm.
I believe in using whatever tools lay themselves at my feet when it comes to marketing. When we checked in and went to our room, we found that there was no WiFi available in the hotel except for “Dave’s iPhone.” I don’t know who Dave is, but he had a password on his WiFi, so it didn’t do us any good.
Luckily, however, I have my iPhone set up to become a mobile WiFi hotspot, too. Using it for that does suck the juice out of the battery, so I don’t use it that often, but this situation gave me an idea. There was only one visible WiFi network in the hotel, and it would probably be going away soon. So I changed the name of my iPhone and activated the mobile hotspot app when my signing began the next morning. What did people see when they searched for a WiFi hotspot that day?
I’m a celebrity, by golly!
Every writer should have the experience of being recognized. It’s an amazing feeling. When I was having breakfast with my wife the following morning, someone came up with a book she’d purchased in the gift shop right before the evacuation and hadn’t gotten signed. She recognized me, of course, by my ruggedly handsome face and thoughtful, intelligent demeanor. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the Who Pooped in the Park t-shirt, the black cowboy hat, or the fact that I’m 6’5″ tall.
Yep, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.