I felt a little like Cinderella this last weekend. The one who is scrubbing bedpans while her stepsisters are at the ball—not the one who meets the prince and dances the night away. Friday through Sunday all of my fellow Shadow Mountain fantasy authors were at BEA (Book Expo America) in Los Angeles, doing book signings, meeting cool authors, attending dinners etc. Unfortunately, since I didn’t have my first book out yet, I was left home.
The analogy even goes a little farther, because my fairy godmother even made me a beautiful new gown for the ball. It’s the cool book cover over on the right of this blog. And it is as beautiful as any gown I could wish for. The kind of sucky thing is that in this version of Cinderella, the gown went to the ball without her and was snatched up by other dancers. (Okay this whole analogy is starting to sound a little creepy even to me. But you get the point.)
I guess the good news is that Shadow Mountain took 250 ARCs to the show, and they were gone before the end of the first day. With all the free books available, that really says something about the cover. So yay!
Meanwhile, back in Utah, I figured I might as well get out and do some work. So Jen (my wife) and I took ARCs, mouse pads, posters, and bookmarks out to twelve stores. It was actually kind of fun seeing how different the responses of store employees were. Some were thrilled to death and others looked like we were the postman dropping off a batch of junk mail. We even came up with a little grading system.
F—The only F I am going to give is there store where we walked in at a few minutes after seven and no one was there. The entire store was empty. Finally we checked the back office and realized the store had closed at six and some guys were cleaning the carpets. Um, you might want to lock the front door maybe?
D—Manager or CRM not at store. No clue who I am, who the publisher is, or what an ARC is. Repeats this phrase over and over as I hand him all the goodies. “Okay, I’ll give it to the manager.” Fortunately I only had one of these. I really tried everything I could to get him excited, but he looked like he hated anything to do with books. Which begs the question, “Dude, why are you even working here?”
C — These employees at least seemed to look interested. They politely took the book and glanced at the cover. I couldn’t get any conversation going about school visits, book signings, or the like. When I mentioned Shadow Mountain there was no recognition. Mention of Fablehaven got a small spark. They seemed to understand generally what an ARC was.
B — There was actual interest here and recognition of some sort. They definitely knew what an ARC was and were interested in reading it. They recognized either me or the publisher. They liked the goodies and promised to put them out. They thought there were several people in the store who might want to read the book. There was interest in having me do events with them.
A — These were the best ones. And fortunately there were more of these than any other. These people knew exactly what an ARC was and practically snatched it out of my hands. When I mentioned Fablehaven their eyes lit up. The loved the poster and promised to get the mouse pad on the office computer where everyone could see it. Several of them knew exactly who I was from my other books and couldn’t wait to start on this one. (This won’t be the case at most stores outside of Utah, but it was still fun.) They were excited to talk about school visits and book signings. They told me what had worked well in the store previously and gave me suggestions for working with them. I came back from these almost forgetting I wasn’t at BEA.
So what did I learn? Several things actually. (If you aren’t into book marketing jargon, stop reading now. This is the kind of stuff that bores most non-authors to tears.)
First, I am going to make up some new business cards with information about school visits, books signings, best ways to reach me etc. They best store managers asked for that right away. I may even make up a little flyer talking about my school presentations. Many of the stores got excited as I outlined what I present to schools.
Second, a few stores know who Shadow Mountain is. But nearly everyone recognizes Fablehaven and The Wednesday Letters. I could tell that several store employees were wary when I first showed up. Typically ARCs come in the mail. But once they realized I was with a publisher they knew and saw my book, they opened right up. I found that phrases like, “My publisher would normally send this out, but I like to meet you person,” helped a lot.
Third, know the name of the person you are coming to meet and try to make sure they are there when you come. There is a huge difference between meeting a manager or community relations manager and just dropping by on a bunch of employees. While we did meet several employees who were excited to see us and promised to get our materials to the right person, the managers were always excited and involved. I will make appointments from now on instead of just dropping by.
Fourth, explain what an ARC is. Not everyone understands that this is an advance copy of a book coming out. I actually had one nice salesperson try to ring it up while I was talking. I need to make sure they understand that the final product will be a hardback with illustrations and that an ARC is not proofed.
Last. I need to get a clean clear pitch that I can give in less than a minute. It explains who I am, who I am with, why I am there in person, and what I can do for the store. Starting with the right pitch makes all the difference in the world. It was clear the assumption was that I was some schmoe out peddling a book he printed up in his garage. I don’t think they get a lot of drop ins from authors, so letting them know I am coming in advance and why I am there would probably go a long way.
Well that’s it. I guess I’ll get back to work. I still have to finish sweeping out the chimneys and washing the dishes before those ugly step sisters get back. But I hear a rumor that if I clean the drapes really well, I might actually get to see some inside illustrations today. Now where are those helpful little mice?