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Our guest blogger today is John Daly, author of From a Dead Sleep.

Being that I’ve only had one book published so far (I’m currently writing my second one), I don’t exactly consider myself a seasoned author.

In fact, it was just six months ago that I was preparing for my very first book tour, scheduling book signings and festival events over the phone. I understood that such appearances were an important promotional tool — especially for a first time author  no one had ever heard of. Yet, I dreaded the idea of actually putting myself out in front of people and trying to sell them on my book.

As someone whose background is in systems development, I had no experience in marketing and sales. I was the guy who sat behind a desk in a small office, far away from the public, writing code and glaring endlessly into a computer monitor. The idea of laying out a 30 second spiel to total strangers, in hopes of nudging them into purchasing a copy of my book, seemed like a completely unnatural process.

That’s why I was so surprised, after my second or third signing, when bookstore managers began to tell me that I had set an in-store record for the number of books sold at such events.

“Really?” I remember thinking to myself.

I quickly learned that selling between 20 and 30 copies of a book in a single appearance is actually quite rare. I was told by several employees and store owners that most authors sell fewer than five books at book signings.

“Why do you think that is?” I asked a store owner early on.

She told me that most authors just sit behind their book table and expect customers to walk over and ask them about their book. “Customers rarely do that,” she said.

I had apparently stumbled upon a winning book-signing formula right out of the gate, and didn’t even realize it. I’ve continued using that formula, fine-tuning it a bit, and it has led to sell-outs of my book at just about every event I’ve appeared at. One particular Barnes & Noble store, in fact, just recently asked me back for my fourth signing based on how well the sales have gone there.

What’s nice is that it is actually a pretty simple formula. You just have to understand the psychology of potential readers of your book, and put forth a little effort to get those people interested in what you’ve written.

While I’m sure there are other winning strategies in making a book signing successful, here’s the one that I use:

First of all, I never sit down behind the table where my books are. Unless I’m actually signing a copy of my book for someone, I’m always on my feet. I’m convinced that something as seemingly mundane as a table can act as a barrier between you and potential readers of your book. Maybe my mindset will change if I ever become popular enough that people are standing in line to meet me, but until that happens, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have barriers in the way.

Secondly, I bring four things with me to every event I attend: A promotional poster, an easel, promotional bookmarks, and signing pens.

The quality promotional poster that my publisher helped design features a picture of me, the cover of my book, and information on the book including a glowing review. The poster is about 2×3 feet in size, it’s made of foam board so it doesn’t bend, and it sits on the easel which I place behind the table where my books are.

Having this promotional tool helps catch people’s attention when they’re walking around the store. I’m also convinced that it lends me a sense of legitimacy by building the impression that me being there in the store is a pretty big deal.

As nice as it is to have a poster, however, a far more valuable promotional tool is having bookmarks to hand out to people. Bookmarks are great because they’re essentially miniature billboards for my book that are easy to carry around with me. They include a picture of the cover of my book, a brief synopsis, and ordering information. I always have a few bookmarks on me, but author events are where they really come in handy.

I’ve found that the best way to engage a bookstore customer is to just walk up to them and offer them a bookmark. I don’t just do this at the front of the store, next to my table. I also wander throughout the store and do it (as long as it’s okay with the store manager). I’m not very selective in who I approach either. I’ve stopped trying to predict, by looking at someone, if they’re the type of person who might enjoy my book. I tried this very early on, and found that it’s a pointless exercise. Unless there’s an issue with age-appropriateness, I don’t discriminate.

“Would you like a bookmark to take with you today?” is what I usually ask people.

About 90% of the time, they’ll say yes. Once I hand them the bookmark, I then explain to them that I’m a local author doing a book signing at the front of the store. I invite them to stop by my table before they leave, if the synopsis on the bookmark sounds intriguing to them.

Sometimes, they’ll act intrigued right away. This opens the door for me to better introduce myself, find out what kind of books they like, and give them a brief rundown of what my book is about.

Other times, they’ll just nod their heads and go on about their business. I don’t take this as a rejection. Lots of times, such people will give the content on my bookmark a closer look, once they’ve found what it is they initially came to the store to buy. It’s not uncommon for them to later walk up to me once they’ve had a chance to learn a little about my book, and want to find out more.

I was told early on by my publisher that it was important to have an answer to that all-important question that I would surely be asked more than any other: “What is your book about?”

Thus, I came up with a 30-second verbal teaser that I find myself enthusiastically reciting over and over again at each event as if I’m saying it for the very first time. I’m convinced that enthusiasm is important, because if I’m not excited about my book, how can I expect a potential reader to get excited about it?

Because my pitch seems to be an affective one, I’m happy to share it:

“From a Dead Sleep is the story of a man named Sean Coleman who lives in a small, rural, mountain town in Colorado. He’s a security guard there, and he’s also kind of the local screw-up (this often draws a chuckle from the person I’m talking to). He’s a bit of a jerk, a bit of a drunk, and not everybody likes him. While he’s out in the forest one day, Sean witnesses the suicide of a stranger. Because the man’s body falls into a river and is swept away downstream, there’s no evidence left behind of what happened. So, no one believes Sean’s story, including the local law enforcement who he’s had a bit of history with. So, Sean decides to take it upon himself to investigate who the man was, and why he did what he did. And in the process, he hopes to restore some credibility to himself in the eyes of the town. In doing so however, Sean begins to uncover secrets that people don’t want out there, which leads to several very dangerous situations.”

Lastly, I do my best to remain positive throughout the duration of the event. If someone doesn’t want my bookmark and is kind of rude about it, I smile and thank them anyway. If someone picks up a copy of my book, browses it for a minute, and says, “I don’t think so,” I thank them and wish them a good day. If a distracted child collides with my display and sends it crashing to the floor (which has actually happened a number of times), I laugh it off, pretend not to notice the damage it caused, set it back up, and get back to greeting people.

Again, I’m sure there are other ways to conduct a successful book signing, but this formula has certainly worked for me, and I hope it’s of some help to other authors who are getting ready to start their own book tours.