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Boosting Sales at Bookstore Events: The Tattered Cover’ss Recipe for Success

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More than 500 author-centered events take place every year at Denver’s famous Tattered Cover bookstores. I asked Margaret Maupin, the buyer in charge, how to make author appearances work best.

Think about the process in two parts–before and during, she said, pointing out that success depends largely on advance preparation. Then she went on to offer specific suggestions.

The groundwork

The goal, Maupin explains, is “total understanding among [the] bookstore, author, and publisher.”

Toward that end, you should:

Contact the store at least two months ahead of the date you’d like for your event. Because publishers are now booking tours farther and farther out, the Tattered Cover’s schedule fills up quickly.

Find out what kinds of events a particular store likes to do.“It’s always all right to call and ask, ‘Do you do well with child-care books? With literary books? With how-to?’” Interestingly, Maupin has found that people who come to hear cookbook authors generally eat the food and leave without making a purchase.

Pick a date when you’re most likely to have some buzz going, which may be weeks after your pub date rather than on it or close to it.

When your event is on the schedule, be sure the bookstore gets your press materials by the 15th of the preceding month.

Ask the marketing or events person what press materials this store finds most useful. The Tattered Cover, which considers the press package very important, wants a synopsis of the book, clips of any coverage that has appeared, and an author bio that tells more than the bio on the book. “We like to give good introductions,” Maupin explains, and that means telling the audience something they don’t already know. They also want one, and only one, 8″ x 10″ glossy. Other stores may use more, Maupin says, but “sending more to us is just a waste of money.”

Tell the store about any equipment requests and any ground rules early so they can set up and publicize the event appropriately. Does an author need a stool to sit on? A sound system? A screen for projecting images? Will an author inscribe books personally? Take questions about anything? Offer individual advice?

Report on current and upcoming publicity to give the store a chance to consider ordering more books.“Coverage could mean the difference between selling 50 books or 100,” Maupin says.

Work doubly hard on publicity for an unknown author and ask the bookstore for help. They may be able to suggest feature story writers or other local media people to call, or they may know of a local company with good media ties that you might hire. “We honestly love to introduce first-time authors to customers,” says Maupin, reporting ruefully that events can be painful when too few people show up.

Send first editions, when possible. Lots of collectors come to signings and they won’t buy anything else.

Call and check about a week before the appearance to make sure that books have arrived. Publicists routinely do this and some stores, including the Tattered Cover, send confirmations out; it’s wise to double-check.

The presentation

Schedule arrival at the store 15 minutes before the program is to begin.

Design the program to “make the audience want to read the book themselves.” This generally means doing something, as opposed to just sitting and signing, Maupin explains.

Think about offering a reading as opposed to a talk only when the reader is excellent.“You’ll never read another word by that author without hearing the author’s voice–if they’re good,” Maupin notes. But she also finds that “many books of fiction don’t lend themselves to readings, especially many mysteries,” and that talks work best for nonfiction authors.

Think hard about a talk topic. At the Tattered Cover, Maupin finds that audiences are interested in hearing about writing–How was this book written? Why was it written? “People sort of relax when an author says, ‘I’m not going to read to you because you can read this yourself. What I’m going to do is tell you about…’”

Make sure the talk or reading takes no more than 20 to 30 minutes, with a Q&A to follow.

Provide a little patter to fill the awkward pause that usually comes at the start of a Q&A session. Sometimes, Maupin observes, it’s helpful for an author to feed ideas to the audience by saying, “I’m happy to take questions about my writing schedule, or how I got my contract, or…”

Arrange for the event to end before people get tired. At the Tattered Cover, 15 minutes is usually plenty of time for questions and Maupin suggests deciding beforehand whether you or she will be responsible for saying, “One more question and then we’ll do our signing” at the appropriate moment.

Like many other bookstores, the Tattered Cover aims to order enough copies so that some will be left over. Those should be signed too. Maupin reports that after an event, people often call to ask whether autographed copies are available, especially copies of mystery novels. This can create a ripple effect that keeps spurring sales in the days to come.

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