Monday, February 14, 2011
I was down in Richland, WA, house sitting and cat sitting for my daughter while she was away,and using the time to sell a few books to the local libraries and bookstores. I hadn't made major plans in advance, but usually carry a dozen-or-so assorted copies of my books in the car when traveling.
Talking with the book department supervisor in a local franchise of a regional chain, I showed her my latest novel, The Samana Incident, and its companion novel, Flame Tree, and asked if she'd like to carry a few of each in stock.
"Glad to," she replied; "we can arrange a book signing too, if you like." This took me by surprise. Store managers aren't usually that receptive to authors wandering in off the street, even if they can reasonably be featured as a local or regional author. Maybe her budget is better at the beginning of a new year.
"When's your busiest customer load?" I asked.
"Probably Friday, four to seven. People are getting off work then, and it's payday for a lot of them."
"I'll be here. I have a few copies of my other books with me, too. Can I sell them?"
"Sure. But I'll have to make a separate inventory contract for each one. Fill out these forms, and then leave the books here. You get 60%, we get 40."
My publisher takes 50%, but even the remaining 10% of the 60 nets me about a dollar-fifty per copy, and there is always the possibility of more business later on in other branches of the bookstore chain.
Friday, at ten to four, my wife and I checked in. The manager had set up a table facing the entry doors, with all my books arranged. But wait a minute; where were the copies of Flame Tree?
"I'm sorry. Our major wholesaler already has that one available in their list. We would have to order through them." She handed my six copies of Flame Tree back to me..
"Can I give these six to my wife and have her sell them out of my car in the parking lot?" I asked.
"You can do whatever you like as long as it's not inside the store" I didn't know what her boss might think of that idea, but I took her at her word, and stationed my wife in the car and myself at the book table.
Bookstores provide authors with a chair, but I've found it better to spend most of the time standing and making eye contact with approaching people. (Guys, if a man and woman enter together, eye the man. His wife/girlfriend will likely express interest too, if he stops., and you avoid the risk of irritating the man by eying his girl. My greeting is not "Would you like to buy one my books," but "Do you like a good story?"
The potential customer may pick up a book and/or say "About what?" Some, of course, will just pass by, perhaps with a smile of brief greeting, or with eyes averted. That's okay; Some do stop. I try to answer with no more than a sentence or two for each one they seem interested in. I think it helps to have all five displayed - if an author has that many titles to offer, most people assume he can write.
The first to approach me that night was a boy who couldn't have been more than eleven or twelve. After looking over my table, he asked "Did you write these?"
"Yes I did."
"I've written a book too," he said.
"Have you? What's its name?"
"Pulling Weeds to Picking Stocks." he said. Seeing me take out a notepad, he offered "Here, I'll write down my website." Talking about this experience to the store manager later, she told me, "Oh yes, I know him; he did a book signing for us not long ago."
I have learned that I can't tell much about book readers from their appearance. Three grungily dressed teenagers eyed my table from a distance for a short while and then came up and looked at the books. "You a doctor? That's cool." They muttered among themselves for a while, and it turned out that hadn't enough money among them to buy a book. But they reappeared after a few minutes and chose the least expensive Access to Medical Care, for $8.95.
I thanked them, and offered to autograph it. "How shall I sign it"
"We're a musical group. You can sign it to Pigeon Fist."
They spelled it out. So I signed the book "To Pigeon Fist" and my name. Who knows? maybe one or more of them are headed for medical school.
One thirty-something man with a dirty T-shirt over a large abdomen, was apparently just off work. I asked him what kind of story interested him. "Oh, music." What kind? Rock. I didn't have anything to fit that, but he bought a book anyway.
A young couple took a copy of Samana, and after I told them it was a sequel to Flame Tree, wanted that too. I think they were more intrigued by buying a copy out of a car in the parking lot, but my wife said later that yes, they came out and bought one.
Others bought out of interest in the stories or because they worked at the nearby hospital, or just seemed to be looking for something, I - and maybe they - didn't know what.
With a final purchase of two books by a lady at one minute to seven, table was bare, every copy of every book sold (except Flame Tree out in the car.)
The manager wanted five more copies of each, but shipping them would shave away my narrow 10% profit. Never mind, she said, I could send them with my daughter next time she comes home.