Outdoor Bookstore - Madrid

Outside Bookstore in Madrid, Spain

So this happened. After being without a bookstore in my local area as a handful of businesses closed down over recent years, I was so excited when a national chain bookstore opened nearby. As an enthusiastic newly published author, I visited the store soon after it opened and asked the assistant manager on duty if they would be interested in hosting a book signing event. I was instructed to call back and talk to the manager but, after several attempts to reach her without success, I was provided the customer relations email address. After several ignored emails, I contacted another of the national chain’s stores in a city I planned to visit that was 250 miles away. I held a successful signing event and was invited back to do another event in the future.

Thinking my success at a sister store might help me to secure a signing at the local store, I emailed them again. I was instructed to come by and pick up their several-page book signing event rules, which I did. I emailed them again to advise I had read the rules and eventually received a response agreeing to schedule a signing event. The event manager asked if I had any dates in mind, so I provided two dates in November, then scampered off to Spain for a long-planned vacation. Upon my return from Spain I contacted the event manager again to inquire if she had selected one of my proposed dates, or had another date in mind. Crickets.

Finally I received word they had selected November 2nd (which was two weeks away). I was told the store would promote the event and order the books from the printer. I thanked her and advised that I would also do promotion on my end, including submitting the event to the local newspaper and my professional writing club website, and promoting it on my website, in my social media groups and to my mailing list. I did all of that.

A few days before the scheduled event, I checked the store’s event calendar and discovered my event was not posted. I called the store to see if they still had the signing on their list of planned events, but no one could tell me if it was. I had to talk to the event manager, who was not in. I was assured she would call me the next day. She did not.

When I called again, the event manager was not available and no one could tell me if they were planning to hold my event. I would have to wait for her to call me. She finally called me that afternoon (the day before the event), and told me the books she had ordered had not arrived, and she had not created the poster that was usually printed for signing events, nor had she advertised or promoted the event in any way. No apology.

She suggested we reschedule the event but I told her the event had already appeared in the newspaper that day and I had promoted it to more than 800 people. I suggested that I bring the books, and she agreed that the store would sell them on consignment. I asked what the store’s consignment percentage of the sales was and she replied that she didn’t know but would find out.

When I arrived for the book signing and introduced myself to the bookseller at the counter, she relayed my arrival to someone through her headset. No one appeared to greet me, but eventually a table was brought and set up. After I had displayed my books, chocolates and other signing goodies on the table an assistant manager appeared, so I introduced myself. She came back a few minutes later and said, “We found the books we ordered.” Six books.

I was informed we would sell the six books first and then any others could be sold for a 60/40 revenue split. Except instead of the usual 60% to the author and 40% to the store, they were going to keep 60%. I explained that the other bookstores I worked with kept 40%, and one store only kept 30%. I was told I had to talk to the event manager about it, whom I had yet to meet. Eventually, the event manager made an appearance and introduced herself, and I got the long-awaited apology. But she wouldn’t budge on the revenue split, saying it was corporate policy.

Inwardly, I was pretty miffed. I had done all of the promotion for the event, and I knew that if I received 40% of the sales, I would only make $0.45 per book, and there aren’t a huge number of sales at these events. I don’t even make that much at 60% after deducting my printing and shipping costs. If they had been nicer to me I may not have minded as much, but I felt they had treated me pretty rudely.

I bit my tongue as people started coming to the table to check out my book and talk about my five-year traveling adventure. There was a pretty steady stream of people, and some said they came especially to see me after reading the notice in the newspaper. Others had attended my book launch party six months earlier in another bookstore and wanted to hear me talk again. Even some friends came by and one not only bought my book, but a bunch of others as well. I had a fun time talking with everyone and signing books, as I always do.

At the end of the event both the event manager and assistant manager told me how pleased they were with the book sales and how engaged I was with the customers. They wanted to buy some more copies of my book on consignment to have in the store for future sales. I politely declined to sell them any more books on their 60/40 revenue split, telling them that I wouldn’t make any money on that arrangement. The event manager quickly told me that she had talked to her manager and they would give me the 60% and take 40% for the store. I agreed, we finalized the paperwork and they paid me my 60% commissions. As they were doing so, they again told me how pleased they were with how it went and invited me back to do another signing event in the future. I smiled and thanked them, thinking to myself, “I’ll have to think about that.”

So why did the store treat me so poorly until they saw that I was selling books and engaging with customers? Were they just extremely disorganized because they had only been in business for six months? Or was it because I was a self-published author and they didn’t think I would be professional and sell books? Did they have bad experiences with other self-published authors?

They did tell me that had some authors who just sat at the table and didn’t engage with customers at all, probably resulting in poor sales. They also said that I was very proactive.

What did I learn from this experience? It was clear to me how important it is for authors–especially self-published ones–to be proactive, prepared and professional, and not rely on the bookstore to do the promotion for book signings. And even though most writers are introverts, it’s really essential to engage with the store customers. Smile, make eye contact, and say hello to people. A little chocolate or other giveaway can’t hurt, either. All of this might help to avert a book signing disaster.

18 thoughts on “Book Signing Disaster Averted

  1. Well Heidi, once again you turned things around and made a positive experience of what could have been a really miserable afternoon. I am amazed at the staffs’ incompetence, or was it indifference? They may be biased against self-publishing authors, but what a mistake that is! I’m sure other authors will benefit from your experience and advice. Way to go!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great story Heidi! You hit all my emotions: excitement, anticipation, confusion, frustration, anger, and finally relief. Glad you were able to turn things around. I admire your patience, persistence and professionalism. It really paid off. Congrats!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am curious which store this was, with the job titles I thought it was Barnes & Noble, but I know for a fact they do not keep 60% as I was the crm for 5 years at one, and I know it’s against company policy (which is most likely changing real soon) to keep consigned books in store. I would say these people had no idea what was going on.

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    1. Thanks for the comment and following my blog! I think these were unusual circumstances: the store (and probably staff) were new, the usual procedures weren’t followed and additional books were needed. Luckily, it all turned out well in the end!

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      1. I’m sorry you had this experience. I am also a writer and unfortunately in setting up book signings I am finding many are not following procedures much less even answering emails, and I am traditionally published.

        My store recently closed due to a lost lease, but company policy – until the new CEO changes it is that independent writers can ONLY do signings on New Writer Nights. They are not allowed shelf space and any consignment items are supposed to leave the store when they do.

        A BIG issue is MANY of the books people self publish through Amazon are no longer allowed to be purchased by B&N UNLESS it is a ship to home. So if I wanted to buy a book by an independent author and I walk into B&N, they look the book up in the system, see it’s from create space or another Amazon division and the only option is for the customer to purchase it and have it shipped. It can not even come into the store.

        I highly recommend Indie authors contact their local stores (the email address will always begin with CRM) and ask if they host New Writer Nights. Currently each store is only allowed 2 per year.

        To find the FULL email address of the crm at any store:
        Go to the B&N website.
        Go to the B&N Store and Event Locator
        Enter the zip and then click on the store name you want.
        If you look at your address bar, you will see the store number in the web address:
        https://stores.barnesandnoble.com/store/2798?view=
        In this example, the store number is 2798.
        The complete email address then is CRM2798@bn.com.

        Always include the ISBN # in your email. And ALWAYS email. In retail, getting messages to people is just awful.

        Store managers are seldom the ones who set up events. Depending on the store volume will dictate what employees they have available but in most circumstances the person who plans the events is a bookseller and not a manager at all. They also do not make their own signs. Signs have to be ordered from the company they use for promotional materials and they often take a week or two to come in. Guidelines recommend setting up signings at least 8 weeks in advance though 4-6 is possible if the person knows what they are doing. 2 weeks is just plain wrong.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Kerri thanks for this info and perspective. I did not publish through KDP/Create Space because I knew about the limitations of doing so. They are just one of the retailers of my book. I have also been able to schedule signing/speaking events at multiple independent bookstores because I didn’t publish through KDP.

        All of the email communications with both of the stores mentioned in this post were done with the CRM email addresses you mention, but I didn’t realize how to find them. Thanks for that info! However, both stores did schedule signing events for my indie published book, although the first store ordered plenty of the books through Ingram Spark. Perhaps the rule about only setting up signings on new author nights is not a hard and fast rule for all stores?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s a rule — but it is one that not all the stores follow. With the new CEO Daunt in place, working with Indie authors will most likely be much more encouraged in the future as the stores gain more autonomy. I feel bad for a lot of the Indie authors because they don’t know about the Amazon limitations. We had a local self published teen that one of the store managers did have come in for a signing. The reason he made the decision to go against corporate policy and do it anyway was because of how many sales she was bringing to the table (this was before we couldn’t get create space titles anymore). We took preorders for her signing, and her school made a lot of the classes read it as required reading. Since she brought so many sales to the table my manager made an exception.

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  5. A lot of what they allow comes down to the district manager — they often have different ways of doing things themselves, some are VERY by the book, others can see the forest for the trees. Pretty sure they will all be a thing of the past come January as more autonomy rolls out and their job is obsolete.

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  6. Hi Heidi, Having been at your book launching and again visiting with you and Dan at the book signing in Orinda, I can vouch for not only your very interesting book but for your very friendly and wonderful talks about your book. We met when we shared a table at the authors’ event in Pleasant Hill earlier this year. I (and Michael Fryer) look forward to seeing and hearing you as one of the featured speakers at the next authors’ event.

    Linda Robbins – one of your biggest fans

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love the picture from Madrid and I think chocolate was a great idea Heidi! I hope your future experiences are much better. Glad you shared your story with us😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment, Brenda! It was a rough start but it all turned out fine in the end. The best part was the enthusiasm and friendliness of the people that stopped by to talk with me.

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