Negotiating with Bookstores
Book signings are a great way to sell and promote your book. However, in setting one up you will find three levels. Easy, tricky or very difficult. All negotiations of this sort have three things in common. Whether or not the store is a suitable venue for the title; whether or not an acceptable financial arrangement can be made; and whether or not the store will actively participate in the marketing.
To begin with, research the location of the bookstore. Make sure the possible customer pool, any specialties, and the location are something that really is a match for the title you are trying to place. Find out what the weather is like there. First, to be prepared, second, current information can start a conversation and indicate real interest in the store itself. Small talk can be your greatest friend, find things to talk about. I have 100% success with the tricky ones when I engage the owner or manager with relevant topics.
Financial arrangements can be confusing and result in disappointment. There are several ways this can be worked out. First, the author can purchase the books at whatever rate his or her publisher charges and then sell the books at listed price. In this case the author is responsible for all cash, taxes and reporting. Fair warning, the profits are slim. List price less the cost of the books and delivery may not be sufficient to pay for the event. However, the point of signings is to get exposure. If the signing is planned well, then there is a possibility of clearing something for the effort. Be sure to be aware of local sales tax requirements. In most cases “occasional sales” are not subjected to taxes or report, as long as a permit is acquired in advance.
If the bookstore is buying the books for the event, then one of two things happen. The bookstore can purchase the books from the author so that the sales are run through its system and all reporting is handled at that level. If the store purchases the books directly from the author then the author needs to negotiate a price that creates a profit or satisfies costs. The author will not be paid additional funds once the event is over and may be required to buy back any unsold books.
It is also possible that the author simply supplies the books and the bookstore then pays an agreed on percentage to the author for units sold. Again, taxes, reporting and such are handled by the bookstore, the author only claims the net received. When this negotiation takes place, the books are sold at list price. Most bookstores want a 60/40 split. That is 60% to the author and 40% to the store. In the case of a signing, the author should not accept anything less than 60% of the list price. Although bookstores can and do purchase with a 55% discount from suppliers such as Ingram, when the author is investing the time and effort to help the bookstore promote its own business he or she should not take less.
If the bookstore buys the books directly from the publisher, they may get a discount of anywhere from 15-50%. When they sell the books they keep everything they make. The author is due the royalties from that purchase from their publisher. Again, it is an issue of weighing the advantages and the exposure against the possible royalties knowing that some of the books may be returned or offered to the author at whatever it cost the bookstore.
Marketing is the third element and it is critical. If this whole exercise is for the purpose of exposure it is a waste of everyone’s time if no one comes to the party. Research what the store has done in the past for visiting authors. If they are new at this game, ask them what they would be willing to do to reach out to their customer base and surrounding community. Authors and publishers are also part of this picture. A well-coordinated campaign has the best chance of putting warm bodies in the store with cash to spend and the hope of meeting a real live author, and maybe the dog.
There is really no way to tell by a phone conversation if the bookstore has had problems in the past with an author event. Was the event well managed and attended? Were things arranged for the greatest exposure? Do they have a reputation for slow paying when funds are due? Even with research there is always that first time. If the shop has a history of signings, it may not hurt checking with prior visitors.
Now to the specifics. I will start with the very difficult ones just because, well I like a challenge. Ninety percent of the time, a book store that is very difficult to get into is and will be a NO GO. One bad sign is if they rely on emails to communicate. If, when contacting a bookstore, you give them your spiel and they tell you to send it all to them in an email, you can cross them off your list. The trick is to keep them talking long enough on the phone to get a date and time set before they ask for the email dump. In my experience I have had an only 10% success rate at setting a date with store I consider, “difficult.”
The tricky level can be a lot of fun. They are what I like to call the undecided or can’t quite commit. You must make them want to commit. When I make that call, the second they say hello, I know exactly what kind of attitude I need to have. A happy attitude, a firm attitude, or a professional attitude.
You can tell what kind of day that person is having just by the way they answer the phone. If you get someone that sounds like they are having a bad day, that person is not going to want to deal with you.
You have to make that person happy. You have to turn their day around. I like to call it my “Fake it ‘Til you make it” calls. There are two words you must never use when negotiating a book signing: “Sir” and “Ma’am.” This gives them control of the conversation; not good when negotiating. If you are shooting for a signing for a children’s author, ask them if they have kids. Chances are if they say no, they will reply with, “I have nieces and nephews.” Talk up the book and its characters, then you can talk up the author (which may, of course, be you). Do whatever you have to do to get a yes. Don’t become a pushy call-center voice, but keep the speaker engaged.
Now the easy ones. There is not much to say about these because they are easy. These are the ones that you call, give them your spiel and they say… OK, when would you like to do this?
Next find out how they do book signings. Believe it or not, there are some stores out there that have never had an author at their store. This is when you have to have the facts of the financial portion under control. If they have no money available to bring in stock, the author can bring the books. Make it clear that if the author bears all the risk, he or she gets all the profit. Make sure any purchase arrangements and the obligations of each party are clear up front. A form where each arrangement is clear and to the point is a really good idea. Let the store know there is no risk to them. Whatever is left over is returnable in some way. The point is promoting their store with the presence of an author, often a relatively local person. Their customers will have the pleasure of meeting an author and it will contribute to the foot traffic in their store.
Now there will be bookstores that are more experienced. These are the ones who will want a percentage of your sales. Don’t under sell the author (or yourself). Remember the ways that signings are financed and make very, very sure you are getting the exposure you need to make the event worthwhile.
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Greta King was raised on a farm in Ohio as the youngest of six. Her favorite pastimes are spending time with family and friends, cooking and especially baking. Well known for her special cakes and pies, she also enjoys summer with its camping and fishing but prefers a colder climate. A cabin in the mountains where it snows all year is her ideal place to be.
She enjoys traveling the world to promote her books and encourage children to read. (Her favorite book is Out of Africa by Karen Blixen. She considers it to be a wonderful love story).
A cancer survivor, she insists on living life to its fullest and treasures even the little things in life for they are most important.
Greta spends a good deal of her time helping authors at PDMI Publishing secure signings, press releases, and interviews in print and on radio.
Check out her newest book, The Adventures of Fred and Ted!