Exciting events? How does an
author manage that? Shawn and Suzanne
Kuhn of P and K Bookstores tell us how. Their passion for author/reader
relationships, Christian fiction, and encouraging Christian authors
brings us a special interview. With ACFW’s conference in Indianapolis (http://www.acfw.com/conference)
this month, there’s no better time to learn how to have an excellent
difference between the old model of a book signing and an author event?
book signing is readers meeting an author. The
author usually sits behind a table, signs a book, and the line moves
on. End of interaction. An event is fun and exciting. Fans look forward
to a gathering that creates excitement and buzz.
There’s no difference unless the author initiates and
desires a difference. Most bookstore owners are no more clued in than
the authors. We’ve experienced exciting nontraditional events, so we
desire something more for our authors and customers. But if I don’t
give the author a vision for more, and brainstorm prior, we’ll be stuck
with a card table, an aloof event. A card table and chairs for an
author event has no place in a bookstore any more than a stool for the
employees to sit on behind the counter. Both are contrary to the
purposes and mission of bookselling, which in my opinion is a passion
for the product, presentation, and people.
What are other
ideas besides a standard book signing?
A lunch, a tea, a train ride—anything that goes along with the theme of
the promoted story line. For example, Camy Tang could meet at a
Japanese Sushi bar with her fans. Limited availability, seating, also
creates a sense of urgency. Mary Ellis could meet at a one-room Amish
schoolhouse in Lancaster County, PA.
an event at a Starbucks, make it known on Facebook
and Twitter when you’re visiting an area for pleasure or business.
Create your own event. I want a successful event in my store in order
to sell books—both the signing author’s and our other books in general.
Authors want to sell books and create passionate fans. I’ve had famous
authors shop in my shopping center and not come in my store and say
hello to the staff or offer to sign every book on the shelf. I would
never miss an opportunity if I were an author. Suzanne and I were in a
Borders checking out the competition and we saw customers shopping for
Christian fiction. She couldn’t help herself, because she’s passionate
about Christian fiction and bookselling, so Suzanne told the Borders
customer about her favorite authors. Then she put two books in the
customer’s hands. (Suzanne notes: The Borders customer purchased them
both.) You don’t need to be asked to create an event. You are an event,
if you so choose.
What are the
top tools an author brings to a bookstore event?
Autograph items like bookmarks, refrigerator
magnets, pens, and booklists themed to emphasize branding. Other
important tools are accessibility and interaction.
top tools to bring are a love for prospective
fans and an excitement about their craft and books. If they’re not
excited, sold-out, and their own biggest cheerleaders, the booksellers
and the fans will not carry the torch after the event ends. When I
connect with an author, I sell more of their books. On the other hand,
if an author treats the event like they’re drinking castor oil, the
infected fans and booksellers will spread a negative report about
him/her and his/her books.
What have you
noticed are the most successful elements?
Interaction, interaction, interaction. Wear comfy
shoes and stand up. Hug, pray with, and encourage your fans. When a fan
is taking the time to come meet an author, often standing in line
waiting, it’s important for them to feel a connection. Share a quick
story about a personal experience or a “secret” glimpse into an
upcoming book. Engaging people is key. Take pictures with fans. Hear
their personal stories and care about what they share. If the situation
warrants, cry, laugh, and rejoice with them. Fans are an author’s best
friends when it comes to selling books.
Authors have been given a gift, a platform for
communicating the character and truths of God through the medium of
story. It’s a form of communication as old as the Bible itself. The
public has this mystique about an author. It’s your job to meet that
expectation, or at least understand it. Then bring human touch to their
experience. While signing, are you totally focused on the person
present or are you looking through her to the end of the line, or the
lack of one? You are an author. It’s all about you and all about them
and ultimately all about divine appointments.
What should an
author never do?
Never look bored, seem uninterested, or lag in
conversation. Never allow people to feel as if they are an
inconvenience or rushed.
Never complain about the lack of people, or their
lack of excitement. At this point, it’s all your responsibility. As
retailers, we can’t do anything about the books or customers we don’t
have in the store, we can’t or shouldn’t complain, rather we need to
Sell What’s Available Today (SWAT). I’ve had store managers tell me
that the mall needs to do more to bring in traffic, while they and
their employees ignore those already in the store. SWAT for the author
is Signing What’s Available Today. The author should be the thermostat
for the atmosphere at the event.
elements should always be present?
An author’s support team should be fun and energetic. They can create
excitement and anticipation as the fans are waiting in line. Bring lots
of freebies—creative freebies. Everybody loves free things. But they
love unique free things even more.
a signature characteristic. Always sign with a
Bible verse and use a Sharpie, or special color ink. My mom always
wrote cards and notes in green ink. We expected it. What if you signed
in a special color and the next time you signed for the same customer
you were consistent? They will remember it. You need to brand yourself.
How does an
author bring personality and individuality to an event?
event should always reflect the individual
author. It wouldn’t work for Camy to try pulling off the Amish theme or
Mary to pull of the Asian theme. People sense whether a situation is
forced or natural. Always go with what’s most natural to you and your
Is there a
mind-set that an author should have toward an event? A bookstore?
YES! An author must understand their success is
directly tied to selling books and creating fans. The more books sold,
the more successful you are. The more fans an author has, the more
books he/she sells. You want me to love you, to think you are
wonderful. If I connect with you, I will tell all my customers and sell
more of your books.
the decision is made to do an event, show up in
spades. Millions of authors have written millions of books. Most end up
as remainders (which I also sell); it’s your job to sell you. If you
don’t, how can you expect me to sell you? By the way on
remainders—embrace them. Many customers may not be willing to try you
for $14.99 without knowing you. You shouldn’t care how that book got
under your pen, rather be glad that the book and the fan are there. Get
them hooked at any price, and when your new release comes out, they’ll
want it at full price. Here’s a thought: Buy remainders and use them as
giveaways or premiums. Find away to get them into the hands of new
What advice do
you want to share?
Regardless of the situation, make it fun for the fans.
I have been told 95 percent of the authors struggle to make a living at
writing. The other 5 percent of the authors are “lucky.” Surprisingly,
they make their own luck with hard work, great attitudes, and a lot of
perseverance. All authors are forged in the same crucible and have many
tests in bookstore events. The “lucky” ones are the ones who live in
their calling and see with eyes of faith what God has placed in them.
Shawn and Suzanne Kuhn have been married for
twenty-two years. They have done many author events in and out of their
bookstores. Shawn and his business partner, Tom Pilsch, own seven
stores in the mid-Atlantic states, including the Bible Outlet in
Lancaster, PA. Website: http://Bookcellarsales.com.