How to Hitch a Ride on Someone Else’s Holiday to Sell Books

by | Mar 15, 2017

I don’t gamble.

But if I did, I’d bet you 20 bucks that most authors reading this wouldn’t be willing to do what a gutsy, energetic indie author did this month.

She piggybacked onto another author’s special holiday and promoted it like crazy, as if it were her own.

The result?

She did an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio. She sold $143.20 worth of books at a Barnes & Noble book signing. She met a writer at the event who wants to hire her to edit his book. And she was invited to present a workshop later this month at a convention for business women.

That’s called momentum. It takes time and requires patience. But most of all, it takes courage to step far outside your comfort zone, something most authors who are introverts are loathe to do.

Meet grammar expert Kathleen Watson, who published her first book, Grammar for People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips from The Ruthless Editor in August.

She knew that grammarians have been celebrating National Grammar Day since Martha Brockenbrough, the author of Things that Make Us [Sic] , designated the holiday on March 4, 2008.

Kathleen also understands the value of creating your own national holiday or day, week or month of the year, for promotion. But it’s far easier, she reasoned, to tie into someone else’s holiday, especially since National Grammar Day dovetails with her expertise.

If you dislike the idea of using someone else’s holiday, remember that you’re doing them a favor because you’re spreading the word about the special day they created. You can find these days in the giant Chase’s Calendar of Events, a reference book available at most libraries, or in John Kremer’s book, Celebrate Today at CelebrateToday.com.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Piggybacking onto a Holiday

Promotions like this one require the ability to multi-task. You must pivot smoothly from one task, like working with a bookstore, to another, like media outreach. Kathleen lives half the year near Phoenix, Ariz., and the other half near Madison, Wis. She faced the additional challenge of promoting her book as “a local author and expert” in two states that are separated by more than 1,300 miles.

Here’s how she did it and what she learned along the way.

August 2016

She launches her book by targeting a market that likely needs help with communication skills for getting hired or for improving English skills in general. She starts communicating via email and phone with community-outreach and programs that teach English as a second language.

A Boys & Girls Club orders 50 copies, and two nonprofits are interested.

September 2016

About a month after she launches, Kathleen emails a pitch to Wisconsin Public Radio but hears nothing. She follows up with another pitch and hears nothing. She assumes they aren’t interested.

January 2017

While Kathleen is in Arizona, a friend in Wisconsin walks into the public radio station’s Madison office with a copy of Kathleen’s book, and suggests they interview the grammar expert. In a follow-up phone call, Kathleen gets instructions from the staff member and sends a copy of the book, with a short description, to the person who schedules interviews.

February 13

Kathleen visits the Barnes & Noble in Surprise, Ariz., near her winter home, and asks to speak with the person who schedules author events. She pitches a book signing on National Grammar Day.

“I’m listed with Ingram and already was in the B&N system,” she says.

The store loved the idea and posted this calendar item at its website:

February 15

During the next few weeks, Kathleen prepares for the book signing. She creates a grammar quiz that she’ll offer to everyone who walks into the store.

She also prepares a table-top poster for the event, and plans to give away candy and bookmarks. Kathleen, who’s one of my clients, is so excited about the event that she emails me with details.

“I’ll sit on a snack-bar-height stool for better eye contact as people enter the store,” she writes.

“Do NOT sit on a stool!” I reply. “Stand and greet people as they walk into the store.”

Only hot-shot celebrity authors, I explain, have the luxury of sitting behind a table, signing books.

February 22

Wisconsin Public Radio invites Kathleen to do an on-air interview on March 2, two days before National Grammar Day. But she’s in Arizona. She knows that broadcasters hate it when guests use a mobile phone which sounds awful on the air. She tells the station she can do the interview via a land line and asks for tips on how to prepare for the segment. The producer suggests she discuss a few of the most common grammar mistakes in her book.

March 2

On the radio show, Kathleen discusses her book and two frequent grammar errors: when to use “me” and when to use “I.” She also mentions apostrophe use, especially the difference between “its” an “it’s.”

The publicity results in several new subscribers to her weekly blog. A friend visits a Barnes & Noble in Madison and buys the last of five copies of her book that the store had ordered.

March 4

Back in Arizona, the three-hour book signing on a Saturday starts promptly at 11 a.m.

Every 30 minutes, an employee announces over the loud speaker: “Today is Grammar Day, and we have a local author in the store with her book, Grammar for People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips from the Ruthless Editor. Stop to talk with her…”

Stationed just inside the entrance to the book store, Kathleen greets as many customers as possible with a cheery, “Hello. Happy Grammar Day!” She invites them to take a grammar quiz “just for fun” and hands them a quiz and a pencil.

“Even though no one had heard of Grammar Day, the quiz helped tremendously in enticing people to come to the table and engage,” she said. “I heard a lot of comments like, ‘Oh, I was terrible at grammar in high school,’ to prepare me if they didn’t do well.”

She made self-correcting available with a quiz copy that highlighted the right choices.

“If I was busy with someone, people could check their own answers. Some wanted to check them privately, but most people wanted my input on errors they had made. If people had a wrong choice, I tried to ease their disappointment by saying, ‘Lots of people get that one wrong.’ I praised those who got most or all correct and suggested they might like to buy a book for someone they know.”

Remember that tip: If you meet people who aren’t good candidates for your book, remind them that they might know someone who is.

“I welcomed the chance to put my expertise on display by explaining what the right choice was and why. I had page numbers below each question on the quiz so people would know where to find it in my book. I encouraged people to keep the quiz, erase their pencil marks, and share it with a friend or spouse. My name and website were at the bottom of the quiz.”

Kathleen sells 16 books at $8.95 each in three hours. But the real payday will be the contract she signs to edit the book written by the author she met that day. View your books as calling cards that open doors to bigger and better opportunities.

Promotion Begets Promotion – and More Sales

“The book signing went better than I expected,” Kathleen said. “I had visions of rejection, of course, but it went so well, the store manager asked if I’d come back sometime. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

On March 30, she will present a workshop for Fresh Start Women Foundation, a nonprofit that provides women with education, resources and support. Her program, “First Encounters of the Most Important Kind,” will offer tips on how to make positive written first impressions – on things such as résumés, emails and a LinkedIn profile – as well as tips on positive in-person nonverbal first impressions.

Those topics tie into her book, which she’ll sell from the back of the room.

A library in Arizona and another in Wisconsin already have invited her to present a program, and she’s thinking of discussing how indie authors can publish using their own publishing companies.

“I can feel momentum building and it’s exciting,” she said.

Indeed.
 
Photo: BigStockPhoto. Amazon links contain affiliate code.

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7 Comments

  1. Abigail Neilson

    Very insightful article! Thank you for sharing this story.

    Reply
  2. Deanna Cabinian

    What a great success story! Just reinforces the idea that you should try a lot of things and see what sticks.

    Reply
    • Joan

      Correct, Deanna. And if it sticks, rinse and repeat.

      Reply
  3. Frances Caballo

    Love the title of this author’s book. I also love the progression of events as you describe them, Joan. It’s amazing how one step can lead to another. And getting a gig at Barnes & Noble is no small feat. Congratulations to this author for all of her hard work and for your guidance, Joan.

    Reply
    • Joan Stewart

      Kathleen has been following me for several years, Frances, and she has heard me speak. But she gets all the credit for this successful series of events. She had the courage to walk into the Barnes & Noble and ask for a book-singing, the ability to multi-task and the tenacity to keep book store customers interested and engaged.

      Reply
  4. Ethan

    Smart! Haha. I don’t think I will be able to do this but I will keep this in mind! Thanks Joan.

    Reply
    • Joan Stewart

      Ethan, you CAN do this. Be willing to keep trying when you hear the word “no.” If a big chain like Barnes & Noble isn’t interested, approach an indie bookstore. They love hosting indie authors.

      Reply

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