Sunday, November 1, 2015

Retail Book Sales and Signings

Retail Book Sales

C.A. Jamison

I’ve sold everything from ice-cream out of a truck to thousands of dollars’ worth of electronics and home appliances. With over twenty years of success. My family owned business supports thirteen families and contributes each year to nonprofit organizations who help feed my local community. But how can my sales advice help you when the internet is the main playing field for books?

First —I don’t have a claim to internet success. Many people have far more knowledge than I do on that subject. But the internet is not the only place you should familiarize yourself on how to sell your books, and make a name in the writing industry. Book signings and retail may be old school, but there is still an art to making that type of sale. I made over 300.00 at the first two signings and I only have one novel and one short story. No matter what your product, there is a science to vender distribution.

Start with the presentation.

  1. Dress appropriate!  Dress up—never down. You are representing your hard work and your publisher. If you hold out a book with your cleavage hanging out, or a dull shirt with a football team that your customer doesn’t like, you stand little chance at making a good impression with a potential shopper.
  2. Table covers with a banner or sign logo. Print your writing name in bold letters. You’re not just selling a book, you're selling your name as an author.
  3. Picture frame holders that sit on a table can display your books nicely.
  4. Eye catchers if possible. Example, there is a storming Orb in my novel, and if electricity is available at my stand, I plug in my electric globe. Western writers could come up with any number of props or perhaps a giveaway.
  5.  Have bookmarkers or cards with the Amazon or B&N logo printed along with your book title.  --Let’s face it. Not every customer will make it to the cash register, but these will help them to remember your books, if you have done your job and made a friend.

In making a sale there are three words to remember – GreetQualify—and Close.

Greet-- Everyone knows you need a pitch for your book. But before you can deliver, you have to make eye contact. Bring the customer to your product.

Greet don’ts -- Never be the car salesman.

How can I help you today?

Need a book, come here, see what I’ve got!

No one says you have to stand behind your table. Sometimes it better to stand in front of your merchandise, but don’t flag a person and start with a pitch—even if they are looking over your books.

If you start by acting the desperate salesman, people are bound to move away.

Greeting Do’s – Find common ground if possible. Be the person, your customer, wants to talk to.

Start conversations with anything from the weather to their stunning hair style. Always smile. Good cheer spreads like sunshine. Maybe you see a person who is strolling past and only glances your way. They came to the bookstore to buy a Christmas book for Uncle Eddie’s son or depending on where you’re selling, they’re on their way to the booth that sales fudge. Let’s be real—you can’t reach out and grab the person’s arm, but always be cheerful and try to make eye contact. Say something about them that actually stands out. Maybe they’re holding a cute baby.  Or wearing a shirt with a cheeseburger on the front. Ask them about it.

One example, “Those boots are awesome! Where did you buy them?

People like to talk about themselves. Be creative. You’re a writer. You should be one of the most inventive people in town. I know some of you are shy. Just know aggressiveness gets easier as you begin to have fun and enjoy the process.

My little secret. I actually picture the money it takes to buy my book floating above that person's head. Maybe it sounds bold and silly, but I tend to smile at dollar bills flying above the customer’s scalp. My job is to capture the cash, and most of all, have this person remember me as an author.

In my example, the customer has told me about her boots and complains about how they rub her feet. Everyone can relate. Bring your books into the conversation.

“Today I’m wearing comfortable shoes because I knew I would be standing a while. I have a pair shoes that hurt my feet too. Had to buy some band aids.” Laugh with your customer.  Ask their name. Introduce yourself as an author.  “I’m author C.A. Jamison. What’s your name?” Start a friendship and remember to use their name as you speak.

Boom. Ready for the Qualify.  

Now the customer is standing next to your merchandise. Get a good picture of who it is you’re selling to before you pitch your book. You can ask any number of questions. This one gets right to the point. “Do you like to read?”

Hopefully, you will get a yes. “What’s your favorite book?” Maybe you will get the dreaded- No. Never stop smiling and don’t give up. Make it conversational—never pushy. No one likes a pushy salesman. Qualifying is to ask questions. What about them has something to do with the book your selling?

I might say, “I understand. My sister-in -law likes to read, but my brother never has the time to. With Christmas coming up, I have ordered my sister six books already. Do you have a big family?” Never lie or get so excited that you interrupt your potential buyer. RUDNESS makes for short conversation. Listen and learn.

Customer Sally.—“Yes. Two brothers and three sisters. My sister, Becky likes to read.” Now you have gone from a flat –No- I don’t like to read, to a possible, Holiday or Birthday sale.

Writers are creative. Again ask questions. Find common ground, make a friend.  Example--“There are girls in my story who become sisters and are complete opposites. I bet Becky would enjoy my novel, Polarity. A signed copy by a local author makes for a great Christmas gift.” Now is a good time to put the novel in the customer’s hand and give your pitch. Make it exciting!  But not long. If you spend too much time explaining every aspect in your book, a customer may become anxious, not to mention another potential customer may walk by unnoticed.

Always remember to speak above the crowd. If the person you are talking with is listening then the man standing behind her, looking at a bin filled with books, may also be listening. People have a natural curiosity to what your excited tone is all about.
At my last signing, a man stood close enough to hear the little summary I gave to a young lady —Polarity, Children of the Orb. I explained how methane gas lit the air and caused an explosion in a mine shaft. The eavesdropping customer had worked in a coal mine most of his life and approached the table. Sold two books with one pitch. 

Which reminds me. If you’re not excited about your work, why should your customer be? We all know that writing a novel or story is one of the most challenging things you’ve ever done. Have faith in your work.  I’ve seen authors who actually shake their heads while I ask what they have written. They have lost faith in their accomplishment. Never, ever, do that. Always hold your head up and remember, in every book you write, there is something that can be enjoyed by someone else.

The Close. This is the most important part of the sale. Once I was next to a writer, who had three times as many books as me sitting neatly in front of her, yet I sold three times as many books.

She did fairly well with Greet, not bad with Qualify, but failed miserably with the Close. Your book should be in the customer’s hand, if not, put it there.

 My example-“This is the book I am speaking of, Sally” Let them feel the texture, smell the pages, in the qualifying you should have found something about the story you have written that the customer or Sally’s sister could relate to or enjoy.Would you like me to sign that for you?” If you don’t ask for the sale, then why are you there? Another reminder of confidence. Your work needs to be read by the public. That’s why you wrote it. Don’t remove the book from their hand and place it back on the table—unsure of their decision. Remember the fifteen dollars floating above the customers head. ASK FOR THE SALE!  It’s a simple as, “Would you like to purchase a copy?”

Maybe they weren’t prepared to buy a book. There are plenty reasons a customer may not buy your product at that time. Believe me after twenty years of retail, I’ve heard them all. Never let a failed attempt bring you down. You have one last chance to make that sale. The Bookmark.  Put the free advertisement in the customer’s hand. –My Amazon sales after my last signing-- higher than it had been in months. The customer will be reminded of your pitch long after they have left your table or booth.      

Remember these three steps and carry your books and book markers with you as much as possible. You never know when you will meet that potential customer.
Greet—say hello in an uncommon manner.

Qualify—Ask questions. Don’t waste time selling pork to a vegetarian, but find what relates your story to the customer.
Close---Ask for the sale. What have you, the salesmen, got to lose?
The more you practice, the better you’ll become. For book signings available to you--Check your local guild and Barns and Noble. Also, check fundraisers in your community. Share the space and expense with author friends and-- Sell Some Books!

50 Shades of Gray Sales Tax  -  Do I collet?
Well, It depends. Keep in mind I am not an accountant or with a tax agency--this advise is strictly at your own risk.
Any government tax collector will say, of course you collect and pay. But do you charge tax when you have a yard sale? When you set up a vegetable stand in your front yard? No. Have you already paid taxes when purchasing your books or do you use a wholesale number? This is where the grey comes in.

I asked a H&R block business preparer what she thought. Should I charge tax on book sales and pay the state?  Her reply was, If your going to purchase a book or two that's been taxed and resell them to your sister and cousin for near the same price, probably not. But if I market them on a regular basis, then I need to charge sales tax and pay tax.  She advised me to apply for a tax number as a Sole Proprietor.  As you don't need to be a corporation to pay a little Sales Tax to the state.

I asked an accountant in a large firm the same question: Should I pay sales tax on the few books I sell at signings?   He didn't say no--but sort of laughed. My state collects 7% and he said, If you sell a 1000.00 dollars worth of books--- that's S70.00 in tax---and you have already paid a partial tax? I explained how Amazon and most of my book sales were taxed by the companies that sold them. They pay the sales tax.
He advised that if I were to treat my book sales as a retail job --I should collect sales tax, but there was not a floating number out there in the tax world that says, start collecting when you reach this many sales.
He did remind me that on my INCOME TAX  I should keep records of all purchases, expenses and sales of my book. These can be a benefit to your deductions.
Sell a couple books at signings --I think your okay.  Sell a lot of books--you should apply for a tax number. Keep in mind , for most, this simple payment can be made --once at the end of the year.


  1. I've done one book signing - at a library with my local RWA group - and it was a blast. I would like to set up a few at B&N, if they will cooperate. Thanks for the great tips!

  2. Book signings are a blast. Barns& Noble took the books I already had. When I sold to customers they rang them up and benefited from the sale. Then they ordered my book to replaced what sold. I came back later to pick them up. With B&N it's more about recognition. But like you say, it's fun. You could ask if they would do the same for you. Thanks Connie.

  3. Great article. My retail sales experience is limited. I recently put one of my books about quilting in a quilt show booth, but did not actively sell. Once the word got around the book was written by a fellow member of the guild, I made good sales.

    Then there was the sales tax thing. I paid tax to Amazon on their cost of the book. The guild took a 20% commission -- not bad retail mark-up -- part of which they would use to pay sales tax on the book. So, the sales tax was overpaid on those books.

    My friend is selling the books to her friends and members of her organizations to which she belongs for me like crazy. I'm not the people person she is. I'm more an internet sales kind of gal.

    Robyn Echols w/a Zina Abbott

    1. How to books, like your quilting books, I've heard they sell good. And I guess it's better to pay too much tax than not enough. Ha! Since your not an active sales person, it must be nice to have a friend who can sell for you. Could I borrow that person? lol
      Thanks for stopping by, Robyn, and sharing your experiences!

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks Kristy. Be talking with you in December--when your new book comes out.
      Best Wishes.

  5. Wonderful blog and it never hurts to see what others are doing out there. I'm doing a booksigning next weekend with 2 of my local author friends at an out of town pharmacy that has HUGE section where numerous artists and crafters have their works for display and for sale. We always have a blast when doing them. Besides bookmarks and chocolate truffles, I now have a little black vinyl cover covered book with different sized post-its inside. My pen name, embosed within a white heart on cover and logo on top--Step back in time and feel love bloom... I give them out to say thanks if someone buys 2 or more books and to people who host me. The people love them. They're fairly cheap too. Thank you also for sharing your tax info. I've recently decided to get a number--it's a pain for the few dollars sometimes--in NYS we have to file quarterly--but I can breath easier knowing they aren't going to throw me in jail. Great picture and nice table set up. Yep, you're a pro.

    1. Beverly, I wish you the best in your signing next week. Go get em! Sounds like your ready. And freebees like chocolate truffles and post-its, if you weren't so far away, Id be tempted to come.
      You have to file quarterly? Bummer. That means even if you don't sell,in the three month period, you would have to file anyway to claim zero. That's is what we would have to do. But it will be worth it when you sell all those great books. Yeah. I'd hate to have to keep a jar of cash for bail money. LOL
      Have Fun! And thanks for stopping in.

  6. Great info Cindy. About the only thing I enjoy about book signings is meeting folks that buy my books. I had one lady tell me she dreamed about me and just had to come and meet me. I didn't know whether to be scared she was a stalker type person or flattered that she enjoyed my writing so much. It turned out she was a very sweet lady. she said I look just like I write, I'm sure she meant that in a good way..I think.

  7. Oh, Barb. That is so funny. You look like you write. Does that mean she pictures you as the heroine of your stories? Lol She dreamt about you? Sometimes nice people have a hard time expressing themselves. But that one. I don't know. Nothing feels better than to find a fan of your writing. Signings are the perfect place to find them. Thanks for stopping by the blog, and by the way, I'm a fan of your writing too.