By Laura Drake
I’ll say it right up front – I’m a promo-ho. Hey, successful authorship nowadays all about discoverability and I’m not afraid to fall on my face to get my name out there.
I wrote and sold a contemporary romance series, Sweet on a Cowboy, set in the world of Professional Bull riding to Grand Central (Hachette). It was a serendipitous match, since GC is very marketing oriented.
I’ve been a huge fan of the sport for years, and connected with a large network of PBR fans even before I wrote the books. They were my ‘peeps’, and I knew I could sell books if could reach them. But Twitter and Facebook will only take you so far.
The long season of Bull Riding culminates in week-long finals in Las Vegas every year. and in conjunction, there is a “PBR Fan Zone” and Marketplace, set up in the parking lot of the Mandalay Bay Resort. Fans flock there to pick up all things PBR.
I thought, why not sell books and sign there? So, with the support of Grand Central and Barnes and Noble , that’s what I did.
Now, I know that unless you’re JK Rowling, or Stephen King, book signings are dead. In fact, I spoke with a B&N employee who told me they had John Freaking GRISHAM come sign in their store, and you know how many people showed up?
But I’d hoped this would be different. After all, I wasn’t asking people to come to me – fans would be walking by me all day!
I’ll share with you the good, the bad, and what I learned from this experience.
- I chose another contemporary western author to share a table with me – the amazing Melissa Cutler. This was good on many levels:
- Melissa’s books are steamy; mine tend to be sweeter – there was something for everyone!
- Melissa is an extrovert, and possibly a bigger promo ho than I – we worked the crowd!
- I had someone to share the expense of the booth.
- We discussed writing, the market, and even brainstormed in the few lulls we had.
- I made a great new friend
- I sold a lot more books than at a traditional book signing, though less than I’d hoped. I was surprised to find that fully half the readers I talked to only read books on an e-reader!
- Great Swag pays off. I had refrigerator magnets that any female bull riding fan would love, with my website on it. Those who read only eBooks had a reminder to download my book when they got home, and hopefully it’ll serve as advertisement to their friends in their home!
- I met a ton of people, shook hands, told them who I am, and what I write. Even if they didn’t buy my book right then, they may recognize my name later.
- People were excited to meet the actual author of the books on sale, and to have their books autographed.
- I attended the most amazing finals ever – and I got to write off the tickets!
- Being ‘on’ all day is hard. Even when I got over the nerves, I fell into bed every night, exhausted.
- I was stuck at the booth all day – no lunch breaks, no chance to visit the rest of the Fan Zone and catch the fun stuff. I was WORKING!
- I’m still recovering from the last foot surgery, and standing most of the day was a real challenge.
- This was a huge commitment – 5 days, 8 hours a day.
Book signings CAN still work, if you’re creative, and can find the correct venue, and are willing to work hard.
I’m glad I did it. Would I do it again? Ask me after I recover!
Laura’s next book in her Sweet on a Cowboy series, Nothing Sweeter, is due out in January, and available for preorder here.
It was reviewed by Publishers Weekly!
“The second entry in Drake’s Sweet on a Cowboy series (after The Sweet Spot) is another character-driven contemporary western with more heart than heat. Rancher Max Jameson, stunned by the unexpected death of his father, is determined to keep the family spread in Steamboat Springs, Colo., despite pressure to sell to a greedy neighbor. His brother, Wyatt, tries to help out, though the sibling relationship is strained due to Max’s discomfort with the fact that Wyatt is gay.
Bree Tanner is scarred physically and mentally after being wrongfully convicted of and imprisoned for her ex-boss’s shady financial dealings; now exonerated and free, she decides to start over by helping to raise rodeo bulls on the Jameson ranch.
Max’s tough exterior masks relatable fear, his relationship with Wyatt is handled gracefully, and Bree’s genuine shame about her past makes her sympathetic. While Max and Bree’s romantic relationship is secondary to their internal and interpersonal struggles, complex characters and some fun full-riding scenes balance out the seriousness.”
Thanks for sharing your experience, Laura. Wishing you the best with your Sweet on a Cowboy series!
Thanks for reading, Lori – if you get the chance to do something like this – snatch the opportunity – you’re much younger than I!
Thanks Laura. And a super huge congrats on hitting the NATIONAL BESTSELLER LIST.
You’re an inspiration to all of us.
Hey, you guys did it! Thanks to everyone who tweeted, shared and bragged on my Kindle Daily Deal yesterday – I’m so incredibly grateful!
Didn’t realize I was logged into musings – oops. All my best – Vicky
Thanks, Vicky! Finish that synopsis and get that book out into the world!
I love book signings. Some of those on our sailing trip north and back again were hugely successful, and some gave me the chance to spend quality time with the bookstore owner or manager. None was a waste of time, in my opinion, because I’m the sort who prefers having a meaningful conversation with one person at a cocktail party than forty how’re-you-doing moments.
I think you’ve hit on the key here, Laura. You found an audience that would be primed for your book, and you worked that. I haven’t been tempted to go to the big bookstores after helping a group of friends set up a signing in one of the chains–and watching how most shoppers just walked on by. Because most of my stories are about women in the context of sailing, I’ve been most successful with book signings on board our boat. Frankly, I think they just want to come on board and party, but, hey, that’s okay, too. And involving indie bookstores wherever I can becomes a win-win for all of us. (As did donating all proceeds to a local charity in one town–it got advance publicity in the paper and a spot for the organizer on the radio, and folk flocked to the boat.)
(I’m not so sure about five days on my feet working a conference, though. I think my back would have me flat on the bed for the next week.)
Thanks so much for sharing your experience.
Super idea, Normandie, and tying it to a benefit is brilliant!
We’re lucky, because we’ve written about subjects many people are passionate about. Debbie Macomber did it with knitting.
If you’re starting a WIP, and can’t decide the setting – think about that!
I love combining readings and signings at bookstores and I sell quite a few books when I do it. They say there’s nothing like the one-to-one connection when it comes to building a fan base. You may not see an immediate uptick in sales, but if you can find 6 more ways to get your name in front of the PBR world it will pay off.
That’s what I figure, Elfa. I’ve never done a reading, but am signed up for one at Lady Jane’s Salon in San Diego, in February.
For some reason that freaks me out more – not sure why!
I’ve been teaching a class on reading aloud. According to psychological studies, what we’re most afraid of is boring our audience or turning them off. If you use expression in your voice, you won’t be boring, but your body language has to be in synch with the words your reading. People distrust someone who appears to be saying one thing vocally while their body is conveying something different, example, politicians.
If you’d like the handout from the class I’d be happy to send it to you. It provides ways to add expression to your excerpt as well as excercises to do prior to the reading and advice on what passage will work in front of an audience. Anyone else who wants the handout is welcome to it as well.
I’m Elf Ahearn, and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I want that handout too! So, can Laura forward it to me when she gets it??!
Hey jenny, I just sent the handout on public readings to a gal who wrote me direct. Here’s my email address, email@example.com
I’ll be sure to respond. BTW, I was a professional actress for about 20 years, so I know these methods work.
“Regency romance with a Gothic twist.”
Hi Laura! I’m glad the PBR event was such a success for you and Melissa. I can’t imagine 5 days of tending the booth, though. Wow! I have done 1-day book fairs and festivals, and a group reading/signing event at the B&N in Mississippi that went fairly well. We had 8 authors gather and talk about our books, then signed them. The store asked me to sign all the remaining copies of mine, which was nice of them! I’m learning more and more about promo, so that hopefully it gets easier with each book. Thanks for sharing!
Glad it worked out well for you, Betty. Safety in numbers! I like it!
Congratulations on the bestseller list! I am so proud and happy for you, Laura. I knew it was just a matter of time!
I’ve had success with two local library events – hey, it’s friends and family but also some, hopefully, new readers who also attended will buy future books. I do think venue is important. I’m doing my first “big box bookstore” event this weekend. I’ll be sure to bring pen and paper and write to fill in time while everyone passes me by. 🙂
The best part of your story was making a new friend. What would we do without our writer friends?
Enjoy and bask in your bestseller success – you self-proclaimed “promo-ho.” So inspiring to know someone who has arrived!
Oh Debbie, thanks – but I haven’t ‘arrived.’ Now, if most of the people who bought my book yesterday actually LIKES it – that will have helped me ‘arrive!’
Let me know how the big box signing goes – I hadn’t heard of doing that before!
Hey ya’ll, Debbie has written a wonderful mermaid romance (yeah, you read right-and it’s amazing!) Siren’s Secret. Check it out!
Laura, thanks for sharing. Congrats on the bestseller list!!! Can’t wait for Nothing Sweeter. I’ve recommended The Sweet Spot to everyone I know who reads and some who don’t. I gotta say you’re an inspiration to all of us still chasing the dream of publication!
Thank you, Carol! I’m proof that 15 years of hard work and 413 rejections CAN amount to something! If you don’t give up, you HAVE to get there eventually!
Hey Laura, I’ve only done the booksigning at the NJ RWA conference. I had a great time chatting with my tables mates and the gal behind us. Yes, that means I didn’t sell much. Even a Big Name didn’t sell many. So I’ll forgo large scale signings in the future. I have plans for connecting with readers who live in the small town that I used as a base for my fictional town. Fingers crossed. Thanks for an honest discussion and congrats on hitting the list. 🙂
Thanks Joan. I think the key is tying it to something relevant in the book – your small town thought should be a good one!
I’ll let you know if anything comes of it. Now my toes are crossed as well. 😉
You inspire and motivate me on a daily basis and I’m crazy excited for your success!!!
Now, sit your behind down and finish that next book. There’s so much more celebrating in your future. 😉
You know me too well, Orly. I didn’t get ONE WORD on the page yesterday – and fell into bed exhausted. I’m turning off the internet for a while today – gotta write! Oh, and I can’t wait until you get ‘the call.’ It’s coming!
Laura, congratulations on all of the great stuff happening with your books. Love the Cowboy series and can’t wait to read the second. As an old pro of street fairs, craft fairs and flea markets, I don’t have to imagine how you felt … I know. BUT … what works, works and name recognition is to important in our new age of books. You know from your own reading that once you like one of someone and then see their name, you are most likely to but them again. As a reader it works for me. Keep at it girl, you are the one 🙂
Florence, you’re right. The important part isn’t the sales – especially with your first book. It’s about getting people to read it. And, of course, they have to like it. Then, as you said, they’ll pick up any book with your name on it. I know I have ‘must buy’ authors. Just wish they wrote faster!
Hi Laura. Whenever I did book signings I found signing with one or two other authors does help and you certainly had a great venue that fit your book. another plus. Book signings in general can be boring but it only takes a few readers to make you feel like a genuine celebrity. And I think even that has value. If nothing else, it’s inspiring and and takes only a couple smiling faces to remind us “why” we work so hard to write our books.
Oh, one more thing that I think a lot of authors forget to do at book signings — a guest book. Not everyone will give out their addresses today but they will list “where,” that is what city and state they are from. They might also share their e-mail so that they might receive your newsletters. Knowing the cities where readers come from gives you an idea of where book signings might prove worth while and the email addies are a good way to stay in contact with readers when your next book comes out. The e-mails alone are invaluable.
You’re right, Sharla – thanks for bringing that up – I had a bag of Westerns from Grand Central that I gave away – I got all those email addresses for my mailing list – don’t forget to do something like that!
That’s a great strategy! Love it. And I loved the bull riding pics you posted on FB.
Carol – I was a bull riding fanatic first, before I wrote the books! I know, I’m odd. I’m okay with that!
Congratulations on making the bestseller list! I too, am a promo ho and love book signings no matter where they are held. Last year, I revisited my original home town (left there in 1968) and had a wonderful turnout at the local bookstore. Numerous high school friends who I hadn’t seen in years showed up for the event thanks to the bookstore running an ad in the local paper. I try to look for the unusual places to sell my books and it seems to be working for me… I “personally” sold over 400 copies of book one in my series in the first few weeks it was out by setting up booths at the most unusual places.
Great post and I hope you inspire other authors to get out there and promote their books in “other places.”
Nice, Virginia! Great idea, spreading the word in your old home town! We have to go where our ‘peeps’ are!
Hi, Laura! “On” is so hard, but I know you can do it, especially easier with someone by your side. Congratulations on your new book too!
Thanks, Vicky – I didn’t know how important it was, having someone else with me – and the fact that Melissa was so wonderful, was another unexpected bonus! Thank you for stopping by!
Thank you so much for sharing your book signing experience, Laura. I can’t imagine being “on” for five days, 8 hours a day! Good Gravytrain! That would tire out anyone. I’m sure after your recovery you’ll decide it was most definitely worth it. I dreamed of doing such a thing but with an e-book only publisher, I found it hard to pull off. Congratulations on your book and future books, since we all know that will definitely happen.
Hi Patty! It helps to be a bubbly, Labrador, extrovert – but I’m convinced that anyone can do it – sure helps to have a buddy with you! Good luck on your sales!
Congratulations on hitting the bestseller’s list!! That’s wonderful!
We have only a part-time book store here in St. Thomas, but the owner has offered to sponsor me for a book signing. Since it’s at one of the huge cruise ship docks, we’re planning it for a big ship day.
Oh my gosh, Ella, you’re in St. Thomas?! Why did I never know that? That’s one of my favorite places on the planet! I killed a lot of brain cells on an amazing rum drink at the bar, For The Birds, on that Island.
I’d think you’d do really well in that venue – cruisers are looking for things to read on deck! And people love meeting the authors… Let us know how it goes!
Congratulations on your books and on committing to such a targeted (though exhausting) show to reach your audience. Do you have a QR Code your e-reader audience can scan on the spot? It might encourage more of them to buy your book because they met the author and it wouldn’t require that they remember when they get home. Just a thought. Love the magnet!
Carol, you’re brilliant! I’m going to put one on my next piece of swag. Thank you!
And don’t forget the Square – https://squareup.com/ – it’s free and will zip a credit card through your smartphone. Amazing.
FREE? I’ve seen them, of course, but thought they cost around $100! I was lucky enough that B&N agreed to come and sell for me this time, Nance, but I’m going to check that out! Thanks for the tip.
I can’t believe after all our talk of QR codes, you don’t have one on any of your swag! What about your cards? You could have it on the back. 🙂
Thanks for your terrific tips, Laura. I just discovered this site recently and am taking time, each morning, for the daily blast and at least one previous discussion. My first book signing was a laugh a minute, but not for any reason you might think – it was held in the upstairs meeting room at a local library. My illustrator is my youngest daughter, and we had a roaring good time entertaining each other and the three people who trudged up the stairs to check us out – two of them good friends who already had the book & wanted signatures. The nuttiness is well-chronicled on my website, so I won’t go into it here – but, in a nutshell, it was probably not bright to feature a Holiday fantasy adventure during April. Of course, the other big Oops! was booking three months in advance and not making certain the date didn’t conflict with the massive, two-day Los Angeles Times Book Fair. We live and learn.
So glad you found us, Nance! You experience sounds like something I’d do – I just jump in with both feet and learn as I go along – just like you! It’s actually not a bad way to go – providing you survive the experience!
Fellow Promo Ho reporting!
Laura, you summed up my experience with our week in Vegas so perfectly. I agree with you on every point, including the disappointment with the in-store Barnes & Noble signing and how wonderful, in so many ways, it was to have you as my cohort at the PBR Fan Zone. It was exhausting and I can’t decide if it was worth doing again strictly from a financial standpoint of money invested vs. money earned, but it was exhilarating to meet and talk to so many romance readers. I felt like we were romance genre ambassadors, proudly declaring over and over to the passing crowds that we were romance authors and loud and proud of that fact!
If we did this again, I’d consider having laptop out and available for people to log in to their Amazon/B&N accounts and buy the e-version of my books right there on the spot. I did see a bump in digital sales that week and I’m choosing to attribute it to some of the people who stopped by the booth and picked up our swag, swearing that they were going to go home and buy our ebooks actually doing so.
Thank you for a wonderful, memorable week that I’ll never, ever forget!
…and for your friendship, something that I’ll always treasure. 🙂
hugs and cheer,
AND Melissa, we have the PBR event in Anaheim in January to look forward to! Can’t wait! Thanks so much for exhibiting with me – you made it so fun!
Melissa’s coming here in January?! I missed her when she was at OCC from that stupid migraine. I’ll stop by!
I was so sad you were home feeling terrible with that migraine instead of hanging out with us! Laura and I have tickets to a PBR event in January, but I’m certain that I’ll be coming to at least one OCC-RWA meeting this coming year. Can’t wait to meet you!
Laura, sounds like you had an awesome time. I use postcards with a QR code on them for the ereader crowd.
I’m trying that next time, Jill. I don’t even watch TV, so this technology stuff sometimes escapes me!
I’m so naïve! I didn’t know book signings were dead. Not that I go to them but if an author I loved was doing one I’d be there in a heart beat. *sigh* I must be getting old. 😉
I’m with you! If John Freaking Grisham came to a bookstore within a hundred miles of me, I’d be one of the five! Alas, things change.
In South Africa we still have book signings at the bigger book stores, but although I was going to suggest that you come here, I’m not sure if many locals would go for a cowboy story. Best wishes for your next book signing and I hope your foot is soon good enough to stand on all day.
E-readers are also popular here these days, but the readership for books written in English is small, so small that I’m thinking of having my books translated into Afrikaans. Also, Black readers are only interested in stories about them and their so called ‘struggle’. They have not yet moved on to the bigger picture where they can embrace the reading of books just for pleasure.
As you can see its difficult to sell books locally, – so thank goodness for Kindle and Kobo
Joy, I’m glad to hear that you can get ebooks there. I don’t get why it’s so tough – I’ve heard Australia is one country where it’s tough to get ebooks. Which makes me think that it’s political – surely the technology can’t be the problem!
Laura, I was worried for a while about your repeated references to Pabst Blue Ribbon. It’s not bad, but it’s not great, either.
Then, something about professional bull riding made me think you weren’t talking about beer at all . . .
I’m gonna do book signings here in our tiny town for each of my books from now on. I owe it to myself to become known as the local author celebrity.
Just not for 5 8-hour days.
Yeah, Joel, you’re smarter than I…it was just such a great venue, I couldn’t pass it up!
Hey, Laura. Congrats on a successful book signing. You came up with a creative idea that fit your book. My first book is still in e-format, but expect to try a book signing this spring. Once I have print book, the town newspaper will do review it and do an article, so I’ll try to tie it to that. Happy for your success. Love the blurb on this second book. Continued success!
Pingback: » The OutRamp Guide to Book Promotion: Episode #6 - The OutRamp