Low-Cost Book Promotion: How I Engage People at Book Events
by Kathleen Watson
When my Grammar for People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips from the Ruthless Editor came out in August 2016, I was not exactly a marketing novice; I had been in business for 27 years.
But as a writer/editor, I had worked primarily behind the scenes. In fact, I’d often say, “I work behind the scenes to make other people look good.” I built my client base on referrals.
When I published my book, I had to put myself “out there”; I had to create a physical presence to add to my digital presence. I needed to extend my reach beyond simply having a website and a blog.
Marketing my book has been a LOT of work — more than I anticipated — but meeting so many interesting and kind people in the process has been a joy. Here’s a strategy I developed for in-store book events.
Walk in the door with your book in your hand.
I secured my first Barnes & Noble author signing at the 13719 W. Bell Road location, about 25 minutes from my home in the West Valley. I walked in and asked who planned promotions. I was directed to the store manager. I told him that I was a local author who had published a book about grammar (which I had in my hand), that National Grammar Day was coming up on March 4, and that I’d love to have an opportunity to promote it in his store.
He went to his computer to see if my book was available through the chain’s primary supplier. (I had my own ISBN so I could list my title with IngramSpark as well as CreateSpace.) It popped up on the screen, and we set the date and time.
I was thrilled — and surprised how easy it was! I later found a detailed online application for getting Barnes & Noble to carry your book. Ignorance was bliss!
I did a lot of research about the many ways to promote a book and I had walked by authors sitting at tables with a supply of books spread out in front of them. I knew I didn’t want to sit at a table and hope someone might give me a glance. Here’s what I did to make myself visible and create an opportunity to engage with people.
- Poster to Attract Attention
A friend helped me create a 16”x 20” poster that highlighted my book cover, my headshot, and the phrase:
Let’s Eat Grandma!
Let’s Eat, Grandma!
Grammar Saves Lives!
I had it printed on poster board at Sam’s Club for about $12 and set it on a tabletop easel I brought from home. The poster is generic and sturdy, so I’ve been able to use it for every event since.
I also created a smaller sign I printed on standard office paper for that first event with “Happy Grammar Day!” and a hand-drawn red balloon. Again, I used something I had at home — a small photo stand — to display it.
- Quiz to Draw People In
I developed a six-question grammar quiz to give me a reason to engage with people: three examples for circling the right word and three examples for circling the right punctuation. I included the page number from the book that corresponded with each example. My name, book title, and website appear at the bottom of the quiz.
I designed the quiz, three to a page, on standard office paper and printed them in quantity on my home-office printer. When cut for use, they’re the size of a bookmark.
- Greeting to Set the Tone
I’ve learned to request a table just inside of and on the customer’s right of the entrance door, as I’ve observed that’s where most people walk in — probably because most are right-handed. I never use a chair; I stand so I can move around and am at a good level for eye contact. (A bar-height stool would be an option for anyone who needs to perch somewhere now and then.)
As people entered, I greeted them with, “Happy Grammar Day! How about a short grammar quiz to start your day?” or “Happy Grammar Day! Are you up for a quick grammar quiz?” or “Happy Grammar Day! Can I tempt you with short grammar quiz to go with your morning coffee?”
I have an assortment of pencils to loan, and I often position myself at the end of the table so there is no sense of a barrier between the customer and me. Although I have a supply of quizzes on the table, I can easily step out to offer new customer a quiz.
For non-holidays, I simply say, “Good morning,” or “Hello,” and invite folks to try the quiz.
Some people say, “I’m terrible at grammar!” or “I’ll probably get them all wrong.” I respond with a smile and say, in a humorous tone, “Well, maybe you need my book!” Or I say in a reassuring tone, “English is a complicated language,” preparing them to not be too hard on themselves if they don’t do well.
With families, I quickly size up the youngsters. If I think one might be at least middle-school age, which is my book’s beginning reading level, I greet everyone and lean over to establish eye contact with the kids, asking what grade they are in and inviting them to try the quiz if my guess was on target. Most are eager to participate.
I, of course, invite all ages to get involved: students, seniors, parents with small children.
- Converting the Quiz to a Sale
I have an answer key glued to a heavy backing with the correct choices highlighted. Offering to go through the quiz and explain why something is incorrect makes for a teachable moment. I’m able to reinforce my expertise and, I hope, my credibility.
For those who get all of the choices right or miss just one, I say, “Wow, good for you! You might not need my book, but I’ll bet other people’s grammar can drive you crazy. Maybe you have a friend or co-worker who could use a copy.”
If I sense post-quiz interest, I pick up a book and open it to show how each chapter is only two pages long and deals with just one topic. I explain that the first half is about words and the second half is about punctuation, and I flip to the index, noting that it saves time when searching for something specific.
I add that it is available as an ebook, but that most people today work on laptops, and it can be cumbersome to have too many screens open.
Because the first event was such a success — the store manager was delighted with the results — I’ve had two more events at his store in less than a year. I’ve use the poster and quiz at every bookstore event since.
Might a quiz work for you?
I’ve been to book events where authors have full-color sell sheets. They can be lovely and impressive, but I’m sure they’re more expensive to produce than my little grammar quiz, which I encourage participants to take with them.
How do you draw people to your table at book events? How do you get them to engage with you? Might your topic lend itself to a quiz or challenge of some kind?
Kathleen Watson has nearly three decades of experience as an independent business writer, serving clients in both corporate and academic settings. Her weekly blog, Killer Tips from The Ruthless Editor, offers practical word and punctuation tips, as does her recently published book Grammar For People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips From The Ruthless Editor. Contact her at: Kathy@RuthlessEditor.com.