Autographing Books Isn’t About Your Signature: Book Marketing in the Trenches

My recent writing focuses on loss, grief and recovery. Last weekend I autographed books at a national bereavement conference in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The traffic in the bookstore was constant, at times, packed. Presenters’ books, including several of mine, were displayed on a special table.

Some authors ponder about what kind of pen to use, where to sign, and what to write. Not me. Flattering as it is to be invited to an autograph session, I don’t think that is what the sessions are about. These sessions are an opportunity to meet readers, cultivate readers, and gather information for future books.

What did I learn at the conference?

1. Thick books may scare the bereaved. “I can’t concentrate,” one attendee admitted, “so I couldn’t read thick books like those.” She gestured to another table and added, “Your books are the right length.” Another attendee said my books were the perfect size to stick in a purse or backpack. This was encouraging because my forthcoming book is about 112 pages, the same length as my other grief resources.

2. The cover can make or break a sale. All of my grief resources have photos on the covers. I find these photos on a royalty-free website and send the numbers to the graphic designer. “I love that shot!” a woman exclaimed. This led to a conversation about symbolism and my reasons for choosing the photo.

3. A casual approach works best. Most attendees were glad to meet an author, but some were leery and thought I would use a “hard sell” approach. I’m not a hard sell person, I’m a funny sell person. Laughter is good medicine and I tried to joke with people. Once a conversation was started, many attendees stayed to chat.

4. Life experience counts. One attendee walked up to me and declared, “You shouldn’t be writing books about loss unless you’ve lost a child.” She was surprised when I said my daughter died in 2007 and I was a bereaved parent. Clearly, the people who came to this conference wanted to talk with authors who had been in the grief trenches.

5. Conferences are networking opportunities. I received an invitation to speak and another invitation to be on a radio program. Networking with other authors, all kind and caring people, was another conference benefit. Though I may never see these authors again, I enjoyed talking with them and sharing experiences.

6. Autographing is really about listening. Every person who came to the conference had a story to tell and I listened to many stories. Some stories were so heartbreaking I couldn’t come up with comforting words, other than “I’m so sorry.” Still, I encouraged people to tell their stories and that is important. I also autographed books in memory of their deceased children.

About 1,500 people attended the conference. Though I met only a fraction of them, I learned from the ones who visited the bookstore. Autographing books also gave me the opportunity to interact with my publisher and the bookstore team. I’m glad I went to the conference and was blessed to meet other bereaved parents.

Copyright 2011 by Harriet Hodgson