What Seventeen Years of Book Signings Have Taught Me
I’ve been doing book signings for about seventeen years, starting shortly after my first thriller, Category 5, was published. That was back when we had two dominant bookstores: Borders, and Barnes and Noble. Borders provided me dozens of signing opportunities. After Borders withdrew from the scene, Barnes and Noble picked up the slack; they have been as good to me as Borders ever was.
My book signing skills have improved over the years, and I have learned important lessons. I would like to share with you what I have learned.
Number 1: To sell a lot of books, you need to meet a lot of people.
The beauty of Barnes and Noble stores is that a lot of folks come in. This is important. Why? From my experience, I’d say that, roughly, only 5-10% of shoppers entering the store are a) interested in buying my particular genres of book, and b) in a mood to buy. In my case, I am hawking two separate genres: I have a trilogy of thrillers (Category 5, Prophecy, and White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy) and a sequel (Retribution Times Two). I also have one historical novel, How Much Do You Love Me? Unless you’re a famous author, you can’t have a two-hour signing and expect to sell many books. So what do I do? I cheat. I stay all day.
Now, here is an important point that didn’t take me long to learn. Do not presuppose that someone approaching your table fits a particular stereotype who you’ve concluded will have no interest in (or money to buy) your book. A relevant story makes my point. Early in my book-signing career, I had a nighttime signing on a cold, rainy winter night. How cold and rainy was it?..I digress. Through the front door came a lady, dischevled, dripping with water and, as best I can recall, wearing either no shoes or bad shoes. I’m ashamed to admit that I thought she was homeless. Still, trying to being respectful, I addressed her, and we talked. Well, guess what? She ended buying something like five or six books–a record for me at the time. Of the lessons I’ve learned in my lifetime, that one resides in the top ten.
Number 2: Ask the store to announce your book signing as often as possible over the intercom.
Some customers don’t see me when they come in and need to be reminded that I’m there. To make it easy for the store, I provide a written example of what the announcer might say. Here’s one: “We have with us today author Paul Mark Tag, who is signing copies of his historical novel, How Much Do You Love Me?, a mystery and love story that revolves around the forced internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Paul is also signing copies of his brand new thriller, Retribution Times Two. Please drop by the front of the store and say hello to Paul.”
Number 3: Bring your own advertising.
Often, the store will put up signs anticipating your signing. In case they don’t, bring in a large poster board that advertises your presence. On that board is a picture and description of the primary book I’m selling. I’m usually allowed to put it somewhere by the entry door. Bring your own easel. I have a neat one that folds up small.
Number 4: Advertise ahead of time.
Unless you’re famous, just go for the simple and obvious. First, I make sure that my Amazon author’s page has a listing of upcoming signings. My website, www.paulmarktag.com, has a similar listing on my Media Room page. And, importantly, a day or so ahead of the signing, I make an official announcement of the upcoming signing on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/paulmarktag. Use whatever social media tools you have available.
Number 5: Be personable and enthusiastic when talking to customers.
Other than Number 1 above, Number 5 is probably the most important of all. Unless you are excited about your book, you can’t expect customers to be. Start out by telling them about yourself and where you’re from. In the case of my thrillers, I then convince them that they’re going to have a doggone good time following the exploits of my hero and heroine.
For my historical fiction novel, I say that my book, in addition to reminding us all about the World War II travesty that was the Japanese internment, is a page-turning mystery and a touching love story. As your customer turns to leave, thank him or her sincerely for buying your book. It is the rare exception when buyers of my books don’t walk away reciprocating in kind, thanking me for our discussion and for signing their personal copy.
Number 6: Odds and ends, in no particular order:
6a: Have a pair of reading glasses handy for the customer who wants to read the back of your book but has forgotten theirs.
6b: Take your own pillow or seat cushion; often, you end up with a hard bottom chair.
6c: Have reviews of your books handy in case someone needs additional persuasion.
6d: Unless you’re on the witness protection list, if asked, always agree to have a photo taken, but preferably alongside the customer. Immediately, ask him or her to e-mail you the picture right then, ask for permission to share the photo on Facebook or other social media, and then do it. The photo you see at the top of this blog was taken at the Almaden Plaza Barnes and Noble in San Jose.
6e: In conjunction with Number 5 above, ask customers if they will share their name and e-mail address (I keep a clipboard on the table just for that purpose). I’d say that somewhere around 95% agree. Next to their name annotate which book they bought. Then, after you get home, send them a personalized e-mail thanking them for buying your book; I ask them, if they like my book, to please consider writing a short review on either the Barnes and Noble or Amazon websites. Before they leave the store, also ask them if you have permission to use their e-mail address for your occasional newsletter; annotate the list accordingly. This catalogue of happy (hopefully) buyers will prove invaluable when you go to advertise your next book.
6f: Get to know store employees, by name if possible; they are your allies and will drive customers your way.
6g: If your book has received any kind of award, don’t fail to mention it. If you have related stickers, have at least one on display.
6h: If you have to leave your station, leave a preprinted sign that says when you will be back. I have two: one saying 5 minutes and one 20 minutes. You don’t want to lose a customer because they think you’ve gone home.
6i Thank the staff before you leave the store. And the next day, always send a thank-you e-mail to the store manager. Although he or she already knows the book tallies, I include an itemization of books signed.
6j: And last but not least, have something on your signing table that might attract customers. For example, I have recently added a bowl of good chocolates.
That’s pretty much it. The tips that I’ve learned over the years have helped me be a better representative for my books and for the store. Please write if you have questions, and feel free to share this blog.
Ode to the Coronavirus, Part 2
Into year two, the coronavirus continues its uninvited debut.
We’d thought this ballyhoo would long since be through.
Glasses held high, we’d toast good riddance to this bugaboo.
A vaccine would be our savior; we’d celebrate our derring-do.
But as summer rolled into fall of ‘21—my how the time flew!—
adolescent deaths began to accrue; there’d been a switcheroo!
But wait! Why is this so? Did we misconstrue what we knew?
Did Dr. Fauci not argue that the COVID flu would soon shoo?
Here is what happened, from my personal point of view, for you.
Reasons were two: one from science grew, another just shy of voodoo.
So true: A genetic variation of COVID had been playing peekaboo.
More virulent than its nephew, and on cue, this new flu wanted its due.
Soon, variant “D” began its coup, society askew, hospitals in need of rescue.
Dr. Fauci preached calm: D would meet its Waterloo and rue its debut.
Three vaccines arrived thereto, their makers touting their breakthrough:
Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J too, had a rendezvous; variant D they’d subdue.
The devil’s in the brew, and so it’s true; a rogue view came into the slew.
It’s true—I kid not you—some came to eschew the miracle creation so new.
They’d refuse their injections long overdue, no matter the positive review.
“Why do you argue, why do you pooh pooh?” asked journalists anew.
Reasons—often absurd and nearly all untrue—filled their misguided spew.
The unvaccinated naysayers held to their view, no matter their miscue.
“If I want to risk my life, what’s it to you? Isn’t that my choice? Screw You!”
Recognizing the deja vu of a contagious, deadly flu, to them seemed taboo.
So what do we do? Does the greater good not outweigh our personal view?
A solution is beyond this purview, but perhaps religion can offer a preview.
Might those in charge of the hereafter offer a clue to those in the queue?
“What do you think Jesus, Mohammed, or the Buddha would do?” Et tu?
Memories of—and Lessons Learned from—my Mother, Ottilie Tag
My mother, Ottilie Tag, known to her friends as Tillie, died of natural causes not related to COVID this past Monday, the 28th of December 2020. She had turned 97 the previous day.
I’d like to tell you first about the family Mom came from. By knowing her upbringing, you’ll know more about Tillie, the person.
My mother came from a generation that grew up during the 1930’s and 1940’s. She was one of six children. In 1913, Grandma and Grandpa Kern (her parents) had immigrated to Pennsylvania from what was then Russia—although they considered themselves German. They had three boys and three girls: my Uncles August, Gus, and Julius, and Aunts Susie and Hilda. Mom was the last to go—Aunt Hilda died just a few weeks earlier, on December 7th. Uncle Gus had been killed fighting in North Africa during World War II.
Mom and her family grew up on a farm during the Depression, leading up to World War II. Tom Brokaw referred to that generation in the title of his book, The Greatest Generation. By today’s standards, and perhaps even then, Mom’s family was poor. The advantage of living on a farm was that they always had something to eat. Working on the farm was demanding, daily work. And, as Mom told it, once the boys left for World War II, she and her mother inherited all of their farm responsibilities. At Mom’s seventieth birthday, my brother Keven said that what he admired most was her strong work ethic. I have no doubt that came from her years on the farm.
So, what, specifically, did I learn from Mom? Many things, of course, but I’d like to tell you about three that have indeed shaped my life to this day.
The first thing I learned—I was probably four or five years old—was that I must always make my bed in the morning. I was a little kid and didn’t know much, but I got the impression from my mother that if I learned nothing else in this lifetime, I would always know to make my bed. And so I do. Becky can attest to the fact that I occasionally do this even in hotels.
A few years later, the second thing I learned was that you had to eat everything on your plate, that it was a sin to leave anything behind. As if I didn’t have enough to worry about, making my bed every morning, I now had to worry about leaving a clean plate. I was a serious kid anyway, but now I was becoming a nervous wreck.
What bothered me most was the sin part. And I knew about sin. Why? Because I attended our Lutheran church every Sunday and knew to avoid sinning at all costs. Previously, I had had no idea what sin was, but then I knew: leaving as much as a kernel of corn on your plate at supper time.
I was a few years older—maybe seven or eight—when Mom taught me my third lesson. I remember the situation to this day. Mom and Grandma were downstairs making pancakes for breakfast, and the pancakes smelled good. Somehow I had come across a bad word, a swear word, and I came up with the brilliant idea of incorporating this word into my exclamation about how good the pancakes smelled. I’ve since forgotten what that bad word was. So, I did. I made my statement.
Have you ever seen a movie where the video transitions to slow motion? In the seconds that followed, that’s what I experienced. Grandma and Mom turned slowly in my direction, alarm evident in their eyes. I’m thinking that maybe the house had caught fire. In that slow motion experience, I half expected them to say, “Paul, run for your life. Save yourself.” Instead, the two of them came down on me like a ton of bricks. In no uncertain terms, they said that I was never to say a bad word like that again.
Over the years that followed, I learned more lessons from Mom. Lest you think that all of her advice was sound, I can tell you that it was not always. It was about 1952 or 1953 when Mom bought a brand new Chevy, and it was black. I asked Mom why she had picked black. She told me that she had picked black because it would not show dirt. Mom was a quick study, though; when she bought her next car, a ’55 Chevy, this one was yellow and white, two-toned.
Until I left home to go to college, I have to say that the most important lesson I learned from Mom and her siblings was that of thrift—not to waste anything. I’m sure that precept originated from their experiences during the Depression. But, to this day, I appreciate the three simple lessons I learned from Mom early in my life: 1) to make my bed in the morning, 2) to eat everything on my plate, and 3) not to use bad words.
In summary, I will miss Mom. But although I could choose to be sad now, instead I’m taking a different point of view.
Imagine this: A woman born on a farm that had no telephone, no indoor toilet or other modern conveniences, and used horses to plow—and who died in the age of the iPhone, the Internet, space travel, and cars that drive themselves. Mom witnessed it all! And all the while, experiencing life’s joys and happenings that make us what we are as human beings.
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Ode to the Coronavirus, Part 1
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