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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Travels with Joe: What It's Like to Follow J.A. Konrath Around for a Day Visiting Booksellers

Despite the fact he was recovering from the stomach flu, Joe (aka JA) Konrath made it clear we’d hit the ground here in St. Louis with my SUV tires spinning. We managed to visit 11 bookstores and one library in six hours. (I think…I have to admit my head was spinning almost as much as my tires.)

We did not call in advance, so these were all stock-signing opportunities, or as Joe said, “We’re here to be ambassadors.” He waved a yellow paper in front of my eyes. It was the “books” listing from a phone directory. Need I add it had been ripped out?

Starting with a Barnes and Noble, Joe kicked it into high gear. He race-walked to the mystery shelves and gathered up copies of his books. Then he looked for help. “There’s got to be a customer service desk here somewhere,” he muttered as his head swiveled. Once he saw an in store computer and a worker-bee, he introduced himself. “Hi, this is me,” and he pointed to his name on his books. “Mind if I sign some books?”

The employee called the acting store manager over. Joe introduced himself and gave his 30-second pitch while we all trotted through the store to see if we’d missed any books. (We had. A few were face out on the New Release shelves.) As he signed books, Joe launched into a short but pithy “elevator speech,” starting with “I write a series about a female cop named Jack Daniels.”

The pitch included:

* a funny quip about who Jack is (a 40-something detective, real name of "Jacqueline Daniels")
* that her personal life is a “trainwreck” (this always caused a smile)
* where the book is set (Chicago)
* that along the way she runs into some really scary bad guys (a rather enticing tidbit)
* and loosely what the genre is (crime fiction, a little suspense, cops, and mystery)

Next Joe compared his series to no less than five other best-selling authors.
The response was fascinating. In a few words, he’d made it easy for the bookseller to hand-sell his work. He’d given the clerk the information necessary to suggest his series to any book buyer who showed the slightest interest in five OTHER bestselling authors!

Finally, with a laugh, he would add, “Of course with a name like Jack Daniels, all the books are named after drinks. In fact, I’ve got a few coasters here.” From his pockets, he pulled a couple and signed them, offering them to the bookseller and anyone else who worked in the store. (“Here are a few extras. You might want to share a few of these with some of your friends.”)

What happened next might be the most interesting part: Joe would nicely ask 1.) to see his sales records and 2.) who in the store was the most avid reader of mysteries.

Each time a clerk or manager pulled up the sales record, they ordered more books. After all, Joe was standing there, and clearly his books had sold so they needed more. This also provided a chance for them to check any stock in the back or remainders.
Joe said, “I love remainders.”

I asked why.

He feels that remainders give him a chance to pick up new readers because they can scoop up his books at a bargain price.

Given an opportunity to check their stock, booksellers always placed orders as Joe stood there on the spot. Additionally, it pointed out to the bookseller that Joe’s work was, indeed, popular.

When Joe met the store’s mystery aficionado, he quickly made a new fan. In fact, one bookseller went so far as to say, “Now that I’ve met you, I’ll sell your books. It’s always fun to meet authors…” and his voice trailed off. The unspoken phrase was “when they are nice to us.”
Joe always made sure to ask, “Who are your favorite mystery authors?” Since he’s met so many, this gave him the chance to share an anecdote or two about the other authors with the bookseller. This established Joe as a guy with good connections and a good storyteller.
This whole time Joe collected business cards. (He handed them to me so he had both hands free to sign and move books.)

As he stood there with signed copies of his books in hand, Joe would ask, “Do you have any of those cool ‘signed by author’ stickers?” This encouraged the bookseller to tag the books as signed and subtly reminded them to display the signed books prominently.

Finally, he thanked the bookseller for his/her time. Once in a while, he’d give the bookseller a signed ARC (Advanced Reading Copy), but Joe was very careful not to pass these out willy-nilly.
At some point along the way, he’d introduce me as a local author and tell them they should watch for my series starting with Paper, Scissors, Death. He’d add that my book is set in St. Louis. This pleased the salespeople because they told us they are often asked for books featuring our area. His introduction and commercial were a nice gestures of camaraderie, very kind of him, and his generosity wasn’t lost on me or the booksellers.

I also picked up a couple more tips. As I was scouting for a parking space, Joe pointed to spots by Sears. “The Waldenbooks which are now Borders are all located next to Sears in malls.” (I gritted my teeth and resisted but he was right. Sigh.) He also noted that bookstores in the malls do a lot of impulse business, which makes them prime locations for hand-selling books.

We managed to slip in a visit to the Middendorf-Kredell Library in O’Fallon, MO. Robin Leach works there, and she’d interviewed Joe back in 2006 for the local daily, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The librarians had created a display of Joe’s books. They were eager to have their photos taken with him.

By 4:30 p.m., I was whipped, and Joe’s stomach was reminding him he was still in the recovery phase. Joe’s plan was to rest up. He had an early flight the next day to give a presentation to a group of librarians in Wichita.

I bet he planned to visit a few more bookstores while he was there in Kansas.

# # #

This article first appeared in the March 2009 issue of RWR (Romance Writer's Report), the publication for members of Romance Writers of America.


Theresa de Valence said...


What an incredible story! Joe Konrath must be a man to see! (I'll have to try to find a way to see him in action!).

I enjoyed your article very much.

Theresa de Valence
Authors need Better Software To Write

Pat Batta said...

Wow! If I can put half of that type of action into a visit to bookstores in Seattle in conjunction with the launch of my second book, I'll feel like I've accomplished something.

Good post!

Kenna Coltman said...

Impressive! What great tips on book promotion. Joe obviously knows how to connect with the sellers and the readers.

Thanks for sharing!

Helen Ginger said...

The man knows how to schmooze. What a great thing for you, too, to get to follow him around and observe.

Diana Black said...

This post was recommended by Helen Ginger, and I'm thrilled she passed along the info...and that I took the time to check it out.

Your account is so well written (I felt the energy!) and it gives yet another insight into what it takes to be successful. And that even with success, we can be kind & humorous along the way!

Diana Black

Mary Cunningham said...

what an incredible experience! I got so much out of reading your account of Joe's "book tour," but I can just imagine the thrill of being there watching him in action.

This should be required reading for all authors!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Please spread the word. I learned so much from watching Joe that I went home immediately and wrote this up for my edification, then spun it into an article.

Mary Cunningham said...

I just posted a Tweet with the link, Joanna.


Mary Cunningham said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
thelittlefluffycat said...

WOW. Thank you so much for this --those of us who "follow Joe around" online rarely get a chance to watch from this vantage point, and it's great information. :) Best of luck with your work!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Thanks, Mary. I appreciate the help. I tweeted about it, too at The more the merrier!

Mary Duncan said...

What a thrill it must have been to see Joe in action. I've learned I have much to do in the area of self-promotion and these tips are invaluable!


Mary Duncan

Swanny said...

Great post Joanna! As a bookseller, I know what it's like to have authors come to a store for an autographing or stock signing. There are some who are good with customers but forget to chat with the booksellers, and there are some who aren't very good with either. Joe, on the other hand, is the best.

Everything that you described happens in my store every time Joe is there. Of course, by now, he doesn't have to work to convert the booksellers since we all read him anyway.

The fact that Joe makes time to meet the store's employees sets him apart from other authors, in my opinion. As he's said, when you can't be in all the stores to sell your own books, you have to rely on booksellers to get the word out. When authors put forth the effort, so do we.

Aim said...

What a whirlwind. I bet he's hard to keep up with.

JA Konrath said...

Thanks for writing this very complimentary account of our mini-tour, Joanna, and for schlepping me around St. Louie.

You downplayed how good you are at talking to booksellers. Every store we left had your books on order after only talking to you for a few seconds. You're a complete pro, and your website reflects that, which is one of the better author websites I've encountered.

Also, your books are terrific. Congrats on the Agatha nomination! :)

Anonymous said...

Great job! I love the article and the tips.

Congratulations on your Agatha nomination!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Joe Konrath is indeed the king of the book tour. I read a lot of his posts about his 600-book tour and was both inspired and demoralized. The tip I took to heart that I'm the most grateful for (and got a chance to thank him for at Bouchercon last year) was not to leave home without a GPS. He was so right! As for drop-in stock signings, the only catch is that if your books are not yet as popular as Joe's, the stores may or may not have copies at all. In Seattle, I had a friend drive me around to six or seven bookstores (in addition to the Mystery Bookstore where I had an event), and only two or three had my book. Those that did were happy to have me sign them and gave them better placement on the shelves because of my visit.

Mary said...

Awesome! What a unique way to sell books. Thanks for sharing.

JA Konrath said...


Good seeing you at B'Con!

When a bookstore doesn't carry you, that's a good opportunity to chat your book up to whomever the story buyer is. Joanna's book wasn't out yet when she went with me, but she got the stores to order hers.

Have some promo material with you, with the ISBN numbers on it (both the 9 and the 13).

Vickie said...

What a great post! If this is how Joe moves when he is recovering....wish that energy could be bottled. AND he should teach a class.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Taking a tip from Joe, when I went to NYC over the Christmas holidays, I stopped into a Barnes & Noble and introduced myself. I had bookmarks, and I asked to see the biggest mystery lover of all the booksellers. I met him, and then we walked over to the order station where he ordered 12 copies of Paper, Scissors, Death. At another store near Kansas City, the bookseller told me, "When I meet an author and she's nice, it makes all the difference." She ordered six copies. I never push, I never complain if they don't have the book, and if they aren't interested (which has happened just once), I smile and thank them for their time. Joe showed me how, but as we all know, knowledge without application is worthless.

Mary Cunningham said...

Good lessons and inspiration by both you and Joe, Joanna!

Btw, I'm following you on Twitter!

Beth Groundwater said...

Very interesting post, Joanna. Now, I'm pondering how to put some of Joe's techniques and energy into action when you're NOT as popular an author.

Chester Campbell said...

Joe is a whirlwind to watch. I've seen hiim in action at conferences and in one impromptu talk. He breezed into our Sisters in Crime meeting in Nashville while visiting the bookstore where we meet. The president invited him to speak for a few minutes before the regular program began. Joe gave a rapid-fire talk on how he got started in writing and the obstacles he faced. It was as breathtaking performance.

Hope Clark said...

Amazing energy, and it's channeled so well. I'm saving this blog in my promo file for sure.

Hope Clark

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Beth, I think Joe's strategy would work for anyone. If they don't have stock, you leave them bookmarks, excerpt booklet, ARC, even a copy of your book, right? But you put it in the hands of the resident mystery lover--and you remember--I repeat, REMEMBER--that folks who work in bookstores do it because they love books, right? So, you look at each bookstore visit as a chance to be an ambassador. For many of the clerks/booksellers, you ARE apecial. Many of the booksellers I've met want to be published. Others just love books. And if you are gracious and authentic, you will make them interested in your work.

Mary Kay Ashe, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, once said you need to pretend that everyone you meet has a sign on their foreheads that says, "Make me feel important." That's a lot easier to do if you are living the dream, which we are because we're the lucky, fortunate few who are published.

Carol Burge said...

Wow, I'm IMPRESSED! As a soon-to-be published Author, I'm in awe. Wow.

Joanne, you must have been just speechless. LOL Wow.

Thanks for sharing!


Joanna Campbell Slan said...

I was speechless, stunned, and my mind was going a mile a minute. One reason I wrote this was so I could get it all down. My next post will be how I've used this sterling example of working with booksellers.

Kat Crawford said...

My husband and I are planning a promo tour with drive-by-booksignings. I'm glad I read your tips, I'll use them all.

Kat in Omaha

Angela Breidenbach said...

I really liked reading about your experience. I would totally do something like that and have a ball in the meantime!

June Shaw said...

Great information! Thanks so much for sharing with us. I tried just a pinch of what Joe does yesterday at a signing in New Orleans and did well.