Almost ten years ago the general manager of the grocery store where the Nehrings shopped regularly asked me if I’d like to do a book signing in his store. (This store is part of an independent chain in my area, with over 90 locations.) An author friend of mine once talked about doing grocery store events in Houston, so the idea was already slumbering in the back of my head. After short consideration, I decided to give bookselling among the groceries a try.
Here’s how it worked for me. I made an appointment with the head of the chain’s department over non-food items. At our meeting he looked at my books and asked a number of questions, finally deciding I had a good product to sell. I signed a non-food vendor contract with the chain. Shoppers who wanted a signed book could put it in their cart and it would go through check-out like the potatoes and canned peas. At the end of a signing day I would give the store an invoice for books sold, and they’d be in charge of sending my invoice to the home office. Not long after, a check for books sold, minus a small percentage for the chain, would be mailed to me.
I was given a list of the stores in my area, and I could pick any store I wanted, deciding when I’d like to sign there. After trying out the idea with some trepidation, I now hold fairly regular Friday and Saturday book signing events in the chain’s grocery stores. In preparation I notify my contact in the General Merchandise office, she notifies her contact in that store, and I visit the store early, taking copies of the books (usually 4) I plan to sell on the days of my visit so they can put the UPC codes in their system.
On signing days I am allowed to set up inside the front entrance of the store where I will be for seven or eight hours each day. I take in a small table, two chairs, a colorful cover for my table and set up books on easels and also any free hand-out material I am presenting—book cover postcards, bookmarks, and business cards. I stand most of the time, and I am usually the first person customers see when they enter the store. You might say I act as a greeter, offering a cheerful hello. If people hesitate or come to look at my books, our conversation continues.
Grocery customers are a huge cross-section of humanity in any area, much more varied than those seen in any bookstore or at advertised signings. If you want to learn how people in an area look, sound, and live their lives, sign in a grocery store. I continue to be amazed at the number of men who shop alone and, more than any other group, enjoy finding someone to talk to, though they are not often book purchasers. Older women are excellent potential customers, and also like to talk. I hear many stories, some are incredibly sad. I have even shared hugs and tears with a few of these women. I have spoken with people, usually younger, who say they love to read and obviously want a book but explain they haven’t the money to buy one. An example is the young mother who showed me a $20.00 bill and said that was all she had to cover groceries for herself and her son for the week.
The opportunity to own a real book signed by the author catches many. I also present books as excellent gifts, very easy to wrap and mail, and quite a few of my books are sold for gifts, though the purchaser often plans to read it first. A number of my customers have never been in a bookstore or even know if there is one in the area.
Other differences between these and traditional book signings? The surprise element among those entering the store when they see my table. The number of people who want a friendly chat. Questions from those who are wanna-be writers or have even finished a book and wonder how to get it published. The number of people, generally middle-age or younger, who are in too big a hurry to acknowledge a greeting.
So, if you are a published author, I recommend grocery store book signings. Grocery stores are a very good place for profitable impulse sales!
(Note, I always write a positive report covering general observations and happenings in any store I visit, and send it to my contact at the office. This, it turns out, is greatly appreciated.)
Radine Trees Nehring, 2011 Inductee, Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame
For more than twenty years, Radine Trees Nehring’s magazine features, essays, newspaper articles, and radio broadcasts have shared colorful stories about the people, places, events, and natural world near her Arkansas home.
In 2002, Radine’s first mystery novel, A VALLEY TO DIE FOR, was published and, in 2003 became a Macavity Award Nominee. Since that time, she has continued to earn writing awards as she enthralls her original fans and attracts new ones with her signature blend of down-home Arkansas sightseeing and cozy amateur sleuthing by active retirees Henry King and Carrie McCrite King.
Website URL: http://www.RadinesBooks.com
Blog URL: http://radine.wordpress.com
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