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