I've managed to turn bookstore appearances into something of an art, averaging 20 sales per store, often topping 30 sales and twice hitting 49 books sold in two hours.
Of course this does not count extra books left signed at the stores, people who don't want to buy that day but will ``keep you in mind'' and those who will pass on your name to their relative/friend who loves fantasy.
Plus there is the store feel-good factor, where store owners and staff are impressed by your efforts on their behalf and will not only have you back for your next book, but will also recommend your books to customers over the coming weeks and months.
It's a strategy I used to hand-sell 1032 books in a month and certainly helped my third book, The Radiant Child, spend the entire month on the Dymocks fantasy/sci-fi Bestseller list, with two weeks at number four, where it was the top-selling title by an Australian author.
I can't promise you will get those results but, if you are willing to put in the work, you will do well. And here's how:
STAGE ONE: PREPARATION
You can't just walk out there and expect to do well. You have to be ready. The hard work begins long before you walk into a bookstore.
First step is the mental preparation. You will get ignored, brushed off and sneered at. It will happen. Be prepared to take it and move on. In two hours I will expect to ask more than 100 people to speak to me. About 30-40 will listen and 15-20 will then buy. That's a good day. If you can't handle rejection, then you shouldn't be a writer. If you can't handle being rejected 50-60 times in a couple of hours, then don't try these store appearances.
I did some acting when I was younger and try a couple of techniques. Firstly I see myself as Duncan Lay The Author for these appearances, which puts some space between the rejection and myself.
Secondly, experience tells me if I ask enough people, I will find buyers. I just have to shrug off the sneers and meet them with an ever wider smile. If you put out positive energy, eventually it comes back to you.
Next you need to know what to say. You have to sound confident. Work at what you will say until you are ready. You can offer people the back of the book to read but I have worked out a little spiel of my own. I also have variations to appeal to families with teenagers, to women and to men.
Obviously you are going to get the odd question that comes from left field - once I was asked how long was the longest battle scene and had to hurriedly flick through Risen Queen to find the answer.
But you can anticipate most of the questions - How long have you been writing, what was your inspiration, how long did it take to write this book, do you have any advice for budding writers, is this your full-time job (oh, if only they knew!) etc, etc.
Have a little think about these common questions, so you sound like you're on top of your game when they do get asked.
Arrive with a bottle of water and a pen, so you look prepared. Make sure the store has posters etc at least a week or so before you arrive.
Lunchtime is the best time for these appearances, so make sure you had a good breakfast.
If you have bookmarks or business cards, take enough so you can hand them out to as many people as possible.
Next, and this is VITAL. Insist you get a table out the front of the store (NOT inside) and NO CHAIR.
Sitting down breaks the eye contact with people. Sitting behind a desk creates a barrier between you and potential buyers. Going inside a store means you don't get to talk to passers-by.
Any of these things will destroy your chances at a successful store appearance.
Above all, prepare yourself so that the number of sales is not the be-all and end-all. You have two hours to promote yourself as best you can. Do that and sales will follow. Obsess about numbers and you will struggle.
So now you're ready to go ... next time I'll discuss how to talk to people, then go into some finer points of selling.
And, if I get enough forwards and re-tweets, I will put up a short video, to show you how I put it all together!