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.