TAoD tour day 9

So, what sells books? I love libraries, as anyone who reads this blog or noticed the dedication to The Game will know, but it’e2’80’99s always tough to get a publisher to subsidize events at libraries. A touring author is, after all, supposed to be on the road encouraging people to buy her books, and love books though library patrons might, they are often hesitant to plunk down the price of a new hardback.

Library events are for the long term. If fifty people show up for an event, maybe a dozen will buy one of the paperbacks the sponsoring store has laboriously dragged in, three will go for the new hardback, and the rest will put in their name for one of your titles at the check-out desk. However, with luck, both patrons and paperback buyers will be so caught up first by your scintillating personality, then your brilliant writing that, next time around, they’e2’80’99ll venture the full cost of the new book.

Ideally, then, library events supplement real (ie, selling) events. On Thursday night, the event I did with Les Klinger attracted sixty or seventy customers to the Poisoned Pen, of whom maybe half bought my book, the others bringing in old books for signing or risking seven dollars for one of the paperbacks, so as to get a taste of LRK. But because we sold these books, and because the Poisoned Pen sells a ton of my hardbacks by mail order, Bantam was happy to send me to three library events during my Phoenix stay.

And in the end, the library patrons of the Phoenix area proved very generous. At one of them we sold twenty hardbacks, with a fair number at the other venues as well. If I could guarantee these numbers with every library event, I’e2’80’99d probably be able to do an all-library tour. But even as a supplement to the main event, I’e2’80’99d say these were successful. Thank you, Phoenicians!

In addition to store events and the odd library talk, my main activity on these tours is flitting from one side of the cities I’e2’80’99m in to the other and signing stock at other stores. In fact, however, I’e2’80’99ve found that just the signing of books is not the most important part of these drop-ins. Yes, stores like to be able to put an ‘e2’80’9cautographed’e2’80’9d sticker on the cover, because those books sell better than unsigned ones. But it’e2’80’99s also good to talk with the salesmen and especially the managers. In a chain, it is an unfortunate truth that sales clerks are apt to be underpaid, ill trained, and young. In other words, these are temporary booksellers with whom there is little commercial point to talk, because they won’e2’80’99t be working in that store or even in retail bookselling in a year’e2’80’99s time.

Now, the manager is a different story. The manager in a chain has usually been working for the company for several years. And I venture to say that no bookseller sticks with the job just because it’e2’80’99s a job. That might be their initial entrance into the store, but they stay because they love books. And considering the bad press that the chains have gotten over the years, being depicted as bullies who take pleasure in driving beloved local Mom-and-Pop independents out of business, the manager is often pathetically grateful when an established writer comes in and actually wants to talk books and say thanks. So I have made a point of asking to speak to the manger or events person in each store, chain or not. Each time, I thank him or her for selling my books, and give the manager a small packet with two or three clever items and a thank-you letter to back it up. While I’e2’80’99m signing stock, we chat about books and business, then I shake all the hands in sight and we go to the next store.

Now, from a marketing or promotional point of view, I don’e2’80’99t know if this does a thing. The packet costs me (yes, me) a couple of dollars, and I’e2’80’99ve given away 250 of them in the past month, by mail and in person. Still, even if it doesn’e2’80’99t sell a single book more than I would have sold anyway, it makes me feel as if I’e2’80’99d done something nice for my partners in crime.

And if you’e2’80’99re a bookseller and I haven’e2’80’99t said so to you directly, please consider yourself thanked here, and in the future.

However, as I write this, Friday evening, I’e2’80’99m in the Phoenix airport waiting to catch a plane home. I intend to see some pointless movie during my Saturday off, and sleep in maybe until six o’e2’80’99clock, and not say a single word about books for two days.

See you in Seattle.

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  1. Anonymous on June 11, 2006 at 1:49 pm

    I’ve just started The Art of Detection and loving it as I have everything else you’ve written. I did notice one small thing about National parks in cities. I work in the New Bedford Whaling National Park for a historic preservation organization. It’s 13 blocks right in the middle of New Bedford, Massachusetts. We have Park Rangers, a historical architect no park police, however. The park is about to celebrate it’s tenth birthday this fall. Come visit us sometime.

    Peggi M.

  2. Chris on June 11, 2006 at 5:43 pm

    I have just finished TAOD – it is becoming harder to come up with new superlatives to denote excellence, so I will just confine myself to telling you it is my best read of the year to date – thank you! I loved the intertwining of Holmes with KM, it really worked for me.

    I just hope all of us ‘fans’ out here have the patience to wait for Touchstone!

    Best wishes

  3. WDI on June 12, 2006 at 12:36 pm

    When I had a lot less money to spend on books than I do now, libraries played a key role in my book-buying. Not wanting to risk the little I had on a book I wouldn’t like, I used local libraries wherever I lived to check out new authors. Once I found someone I really liked and whose work would stand re-reading, I happily plunked down the price of paperbacks (and now, for the chosen few, hardbacks).

    Come to think of it, I still use this strategy. In any event, thanks for supporting libraries wherever and whenever you can. And any time you want to visit a chain, there’s a B&N right down the street from my house 🙂 Why, oh why, do author tours seldom reach southeastern Virginia?

  4. 2maple on June 12, 2006 at 1:49 pm

    Well, if your publishers need convincing about the value of libraries in a promotional campaign ‘e2’80’93 This is exactly how I came across your books. I was looking for something to read on vacation and asked a friend, our local librarian what was good; your books were one of her recommendations…and now I own most of them.

    Those darn intangible referrals, so difficult to measure, yet intuitively you know they are dropping a lot to the sales bottom line – so should you pay a lot of attention (read spend marketing & sales $’s) or not. It’s a never ending debate where I work…we have a lot of work coming in through referral from certain client types, and it is a very hard thing to quantify and we have had endless debates on how to measure it.

  5. doretta on June 25, 2006 at 6:48 am

    Me too, me too! I was panning for new (to me) authors in the library several years back and found three books on the shelf by Laurie R. King. I hopefully checked out the lot of them. Sometimes when I do that I fall asleep three pages in and take them all back but that time I felt like a ’49er who had just come up with a pan full of nuggets. I now own all your books, most of them hardbacks

    As much as I enjoyed lurking at Seattle Mystery as well as listening to your talk at the UW bookstore, I’d still buy all your books even if you didn’t do tours. But without the library…

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