The first thing I did when I learned that I would be doing book signings for my medieval novel, Illuminations of the Heart, at Costco stores in Arizona was hop on the internet to see if I could find any tips for “how to do a Costco book signing”. While I found several articles and tips for book signings in general, to my dismay, I only came across one Costco-specific blog about doing book signings there. While I appreciated reading about this author’s experience, I wanted more! What should I expect when I got to the store? How do you approach people? WHAT DO I DO???
I understand that book signings are a common occurrence in Utah Costco’s, so maybe Utah authors talk between themselves to get tips. Such signings are NOT common in Arizona, so I had no one to ask. Yes, my publisher gave me some suggestions, but until you experience it yourself, it’s hard to really comprehend what to expect. So I decided to blog about my first week’s experience, so that when some other hapless author Googles “book signings at Costco”, maybe he or she will be able to find two blogs to give them some clues, instead of just one!
Thursday, October 22, 2009:
I arrive at the Gilbert Costco on Arizona Avenue at approximately 12:45 PM. I go first to the service/membership desk intending to ask for the manager, but the line is so long there, I realize my book signing could be over by the time I get any help. So I go back to the front of the store and tell the Costco person in the doorway that I’m here for a book signing and I was told to speak to X-manager. He calls said manager on a walkie-talkie, tells her that I’m here, and points me in the right direction to meet her. She is kind and welcoming and seems excited to have me in the store. She finds an assistant and they set me up with a table next to the book aisle. By then, my editor, who has flown down from Salt Lake City to offer me moral support my first week, has arrived bearing a poster to be set up at the entrance of the store announcing my book signing to everyone who enters. We take half the copies of my book from its “regular spot” on the book shelves, and arrange them attractively on the table facing the traffic in the store. And then… Ah, that was the question that faced me. And then…what do I do next?
First I stand awkwardly beside the table, wondering what I should do with my hands as people troop past with their giant Costco baskets, basically ignoring me. That’s when it hits me. My hands. I need something in them. Fortunately, I have brought a stack of bookmarks along, so I scoop some up and begin asking everyone that passes me if they’d like a free bookmark. Well, okay, not everyone. If they were talking on a cell phone, I didn’t offer them a bookmark. If they looked pointedly away from me as they walked past, I didn’t offer them a bookmark. If they were chatting animatedly with a companion as they walked past me, I generally didn’t offer them a bookmark. (I’ve used the “chatting animatedly” with a friend technique to avoid many an unwanted conversation in a mall or store myself.) However, many people did take bookmarks. When they did, I smiled and thanked them. If they said, “No, thank you” and kept walking, I kept smiling. After all, at least they added “thank you” after the “No,” and I figured the least I could do was appreciate them being polite when they turned me down. If the person hesitated, or wandered closer to the table, that’s when I launched my “pitch”, giving them a general description of my book and encouraging them to browse through a copy if they’d like. The price was stamped right on the front of the book, but if a person happened not to notice and asked me how much it cost, I took the opportunity to flip it over and show them the retail price, then flipped back to the price on the front, pointing out what a bargain they were getting by buying their copy at Costco rather than in another bookstore or on the internet. That pushed more than one person over the edge into buying a copy then and there.
In a four hour period, I signed 23 copies, and sold two more off the shelf that weren’t signed. I don’t know if that was a good number, but I was thrilled to sell any books at all!
Note: My table was set up right next to Glenn Beck’s latest bestseller, and NONE of his books sold in that 4 hour period, so I can honestly say that at least for four hours on October 22 at the Gilbert Costco, I outsold bestselling author Glenn Beck!
Friday, October 23, 2009:
Today, I pick up my editor so that we arrive together at the Costco in Tempe. Unlike my fumbling around the day before, my editor knows exactly where to go to locate the manager. Unfortunately, the manager we were told to talk to isn’t in that day. The manager covering for her says no one told him about the book signing, but he adds that we’re welcome to do a signing there anyway. He goes back into the office for a few minutes, then comes back out admitting that there is indeed an email about our book signing, but that no one had read it. He sets us up with a table twice the size as the one we had in Gilbert, brings two vases of flowers (real, not fake!) to decorate our table with, brings us each a bottle of water and cup of ice, and an “executive chair” for us to take turns sitting in. My editor gets the poster set up at the front of the store while I begin my bookmark-handing-out routine.
I quickly make a few discoveries: the traffic in the Tempe store is much lighter for the same time period (1-5 PM) than the Gilbert store the day before; and people in general are more standoffish. Fewer people were willing to even accept a bookmark at this store, though they were again polite and at least said, “No, thank you”, when they turned me down. My editor, during a lull, wandered off through the store for awhile and came back wide eyed with wonder, exclaiming, “There is a HUGE liquor section over there!” Yep, I told her, “You’re not in Utah anymore.” LOL!
I only signed and sold 15 books at this location. I might have sold 16, but one woman wanted it in Spanish and cast longing, regretful looks at my table as she walked away. Ah, well. Let’s not judge a store by one day alone. I will be back at this location on a different day of the week next week. I’ll keep the jury out until I have a few more days to compare last week to.
Saturday, October 24, 2009:
The “feel” at the Chandler Costco was more similar to the store in Gilbert than the one in Tempe. People seemed friendlier, more willing to accept bookmarks and occasionally pause to chat. The traffic seemed good when I first got there, and I almost immediately signed and sold 3 copies of my book. The sales slowed down and spaced out after that, and gradually the traffic began to die down during the mid-point of the day, to pick up again during the last hour or so. I sold 23 books, and possibly one off the shelf at this location.
Was my first week a success? Since I really have nothing to judge it by, I can’t really say. At least I’ll now have a benchmark for sales comparisons when I resume my signings later this week. So just let me end with two notes from observation or experience:
Observation: Handing out bookmarks is a good way to break the ice, even with people who turn you down. But when you make bookmarks, ALWAYS be sure to print something on the back, as well as the front. While the front of my bookmarks have a picture of my book and a positive quote from a reviewer, the back of my bookmarks have a summary of my book’s plot. I watched the people who accepted my bookmarks as they walked away, and almost without exception, every one of them slowed down their walking pace and flipped over my bookmark to read what was written on the back. One or two of those people (who didn’t pause to listen to me “pitch” my book) came back later and bought a book. Hopefully, others will return another day to buy a copy or order one from the internet. Or pass the bookmark onto a friend who might do so!
Experience: Unless you’re a well known author, be prepared for people who wander over to your table to look you square in the face and say, “I’ve never heard of you.” The first time this happened to me, it quite took me aback and I wasn’t sure how to respond. What came out of my mouth was, “That’s because I’m a new author. This is only my second book.” To my surprise (and relief), as soon as I said that, the invisible chip I’d envisioned on their shoulder came right off and they turned just as friendly as can be, willing to listen to me pitch, and yes, even buy a copy of my book.
I wish I could tell you what store I'm going to be at next, but I haven't received my schedule for this week. I'll keep my schedule updated as I receive it. Just click on the hand with the pen in my left hand sidebar to check out my dates as I learn and post them!
Me and my editor!