By Madeleine Dodge
At one of his first book signings, a store manager told Pete Ritzer (pen name: P.A. Ritzer) that the bookstore’s main business on a Saturday night was movie rentals. He would be lucky to sell three books, the manager said. Yet by the end of the night, Ritzer had sold 31 copies, defying the manager’s estimate tenfold.
His success has only improved since then. In the 11 years since he appeared at that book signing, Ritzer has sold an average of 40 books a signing and has held 271 signings that sold 11,000 books at Barnes & Noble alone. The author of “Seven Ox Seven Part One, Escondido Bound,” a historical book about life on the West Texas frontier and a sequel, “Seven Ox Seven Part Two, Escondido Loosed,” he has sold tens of thousands of books total—in part thanks to his expertise at book signings. In fact, he has written a book called “Love and the Art of Bookstore Book Signing,” which details his methods.
The most important key to success, says Ritzer, is to love the people who buy your book and believe that your book will benefit their lives. He offers more tips for making the most of book signings below:
Have close relationships with the bookstores you work with. Ritzer has worked many bookstores multiple times and says his high admiration of the staff and friendships with them, in addition to the number of books he sells, contribute to their asking him back. Ritzer recommends sending thank-you notes after a signing and always being courteous during interactions with staff to ensure a good relationship with the store.
Have a fairly simple set-up. When it comes to set-up, Ritzer was inspired by another author known for successful book signings, Troy Cook (47 Rules of Highly Effective Bank Robbers and The One Minute Assassin). Cook found the minimal approach best and merely brought a tabletop poster of his book to his signings. While Ritzer admits his display has become more embellished than Cook’s, he still keeps his table fairly simple. He covers the table in a Western-themed tablecloth and puts awards he’s won on the table. He also brings an easel with a poster about 16 inches high with a picture of himself and the cover of the book. And, of course, he brings Sharpies to sign the books. He doesn’t bring food because he’s found it doesn’t help sales.
Bring extra books to each signing. The stores Ritzer works with order the books themselves, but he always brings extras to replenish or replace lost orders. Many times, he says, this has saved him from missing out on big sales. Leave the extra books in the car and you can always grab them if you need more.
Get a spot by the door. Most store managers will put you by the door where there’s the most foot traffic, but if not, Ritzer recommends respectfully requesting a better spot. Generally this means next to the front door, but if there are multiple entrances, he chooses the area that people seem to frequent the most.
Sell to foot traffic, not invites. Ritzer credits this tip to Cook, who once said that he doesn’t publicize his book signing to get people to come; he sells to the people who are already in the store. Ritzer has adopted this same strategy and says that he doesn’t try to get people into the stores with Facebook posts or tweets. He focuses his energy on the people who show up in the store, whether they know about him or not.
Engage the customer. In his book, Ritzer writes that he stands near his table and holds his book at chest level so the cover is clearly visible. He then greets people who walk by and introduces the book. He emphasizes that it’s important to let people walk on if they don’t want to buy your book. But if someone is interested, bring them to your table and tell them more.
Have intentional, quality conversations to connect with passersby. Ritzer is genuinely interested in every person he meets, and clearly, this is beneficial at book signings. When selling a book, he says, you’re also selling yourself. Even if the person he talks to doesn’t buy the book, they may remember the conversation and pick up a copy afterwards. While sometimes you have to limit a conversation if the person is clearly killing time, he says, having genuine conversations means that more people are likely to connect with your book.
Don’t let your genre constrain you. Seven Ox Seven is categorized as a Western at Barnes & Noble, but Ritzer says he markets it more as historical fiction. By expanding his genre, he can reach beyond the small niche of people who read Westerns. He advises telling readers what your book is about and giving specifics instead of letting a categorization limit you.
If you’re not naturally outgoing, go outside your comfort zone. Ritzer is an inherently talkative person who has an easy time connecting with others. If this isn’t your nature, you’ll have to push yourself to be engaging at your signings. Ritzer admits that book signings aren’t for everyone, and if holding one seems like the worst possible option for you, he advises looking at other marketing avenues. But if you do hold a signing, he stresses that you can’t sit at your table and wait for people to come to you. You have to put yourself out there.
Bookmarks can make a lasting impression. Ritzer’s bookmarks include a picture of his book cover, a list of the awards he’s won, and promotional blurbs the book has received. He puts them in every book he sells and hands them to people who show any interest in his table. He also leaves them with the store so they can place them at the checkout counter for people who would like a bookmark. He says that having bookmarks takes promotion beyond the book signing and allows readers to remember your title after the event is over.
Stay all day. Ritzer holds most of his book signings on Saturdays, which he considers the best day for sales. To make the most of his event, he gets to the store around 10 a.m. and stays until the closing, if he’s allowed. It can be hard to gauge when a book will sell the most during the day, he says, so if you stay the whole day, you’re guaranteed to catch the waves of people who come in unexpectedly.
For Ritzer’s full story and more in-depth advice about holding a book signing, read his book Love and the Art of Bookstore Signing on Amazon. You can also find him at sevenoxpress.com
Madeleine Dodge, a BlueInk Review Summer 2018 intern, is a Rhetoric and Media Studies Major at Lewis & Clark College and author of the children’s book, “Does A Giraffe Ever Feel Small?”
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