I read recently that a bookstore event isn’t about selling books.
It’s about schmoozing with the bookstore employees so that they will sell your books.
But life is all about experiences and sometimes you just have to go through the motions.
One Saturday in early July when the temperatures were a blistering 90 plus degrees in my little western Kentucky country town, I did my first bookstore event. Not the first book event, just the first bookstore event.
Bobbi, the bookstore owner asked, “How’s it going?” in reference to my book sales.
“Writing a book is the easy part,” I heard myself say.
I never thought I’d say that.
But after doing a few book marketing events, that is exactly how I feel about the publishing process.
So what’s it like to do a noon to 2 pm book event with a salmon cookbook in a small western KY mall?
I arrived early to set up my table. Note: my table set up is pretty simple, but I’ve learned to give myself a buffer of extra time. There are always challenges, like parking, transporting, etc. The bookstore had set up a six-foot table and two folding chairs outside one of its two entrances. For each book event, I use two turquoise-colored tablecloths, two poster boards advertising the features of the book and the book cover itself, a raffle bowl with sign up for a free cookbook, a dish of Hershey’s kisses (because who can resist chocolate?), a newsletter signup sheet, bookmarkers, business cards, pens, a tray of Salmon & Tomato Tart samples with ice packs to keep them chilled and of course, several books.
The table was set. I glanced down the mall. Two senior men, both walkers, one on each aisle of the mall zoom past. Totally focused. No other activity. Undaunted, I snapped a photo of the table and headed to Instagram. No wi-fi. I wandered into the air-conditioned bookstore. “Does the mall have wi-fi?”
The clerk gave me the saddest look and shook her head.
Back at my table, I noticed that one, the air condition must be set at 85 degrees in the mall and/or two, I can’t breathe. I attempted to connect to every available wireless service despite the lock symbol next to the service. I’m flummoxed as to why my own service from Verizon isn’t working. Anxiety trickled up my arms and spread across my chest.
How will I sell a cookbook using my Square reader without wi-fi?
Another look around the quiet mall and I realized that book sales weren’t something I should be worrying about.
Instead, I’d need to find people to eat my Salmon & Tomato Tarts.
“Hey, you hungry?”
“Hi want to try some salmon?”
“Like to cook?” “Eat?”
“Want to buy a cookbook?”
I sounded like a carnival barker without a circus.
At best people smiled. But in a way that made me feel ridiculous. At worse people ignored me. Veered away. Or this. “Is that salmon cooked?”
I realized I couldn’t get people to sign up for a chance to win a free cookbook. It was about this time I noticed a woman and her toddler leave the bookstore with a slab of sheet cake and a glass of what appeared to be Hawaiian Punch. Another peek into the bookstore. Sure enough, they offered cake and drink to celebrate the annual Hallmark Ornament Party.
I began to think I should pack it up after an hour of people professing adamantly that they don’t eat salmon, that they already ate, they are on their way to lunch, or this from a young man who rubbed his stomach while he walked away, his jaw a fury of movement between the words and the wad of gum in his mouth: “I gotta work myself up to eat something like that.”
I found a two pieces of paper in my bin and began to write—a pitch to an agent and a to-do list for the CSF.
A mid-day flurry of activity arrived at the mall and I continued to try to talk to people about cooking.
Salmon cakes with club crackers. One woman’s husband didn’t eat any seafood. Ever. Or barbecue. Ever. About their jobs. Construction. A new job in a mall. To George the hippie walker who taught guitar lessons at the library and yelled at me for not practicing. But was okay to hug me at the mall with all his sweatiness and sample my salmon tarts and eat my Hershey kisses.
I glanced at my watch every five minutes. I snapped photos of my display and of my six books in the window display of the bookstore. (I received the check the previous day.) I snapped a selfie and noticed I looked tired and anxious. I shopped the 75 percent table at the bookstore near the other entrance.
I deleted the selfie and rebooted my mindset. I felt gratitude for having the privilege to share my cookbook on a Saturday afternoon in July and spend time thinking about the next book in the series and the next book event in California. I felt honored that Bobbi took a chance on me, bought six copies of Salmon From Market To Plate and offered me a chance to shill my books and meet new people.
I took the remainder of the Salmon & Tomato Tarts into the bookstore and gave them to Ina who loves salmon! I spoke with Anita, (the woman who dished out the cake and punch). She referred me to a small upscale boutique the next town over. I left several Shrimp & Grits recipe cards for Bobbi who said with a smile, “I think Shrimp will do much better with this crowd.”
I purchased my first Hallmark ornament, an Evening Grosbeak, packed up my table, thanked Bobbi and her employees, headed home to type up the pitch to the agent, and made a mental note to send a thank you gift basket with a copy of my cookbook.
Then I remembered the woman who said the bookstore event is about the employees.
Thank you, Kathleen Flinn.