Saturday, four members of my critique group read and signed our picture books during four hours of a school bookfair at the Barnes & Noble in the Mall of America.
The volunteer organizer of the event did an amazing amount of work to promote this. She emailed, printed signs, talked to parents, the PTA, teachers, etc. We authors answered questions on Facebook from students at the school. We prepped readings and props and brought giveaways. We offered free stuff (books and dvds) with the purchase of any 2 books. We scheduled kid activities between our readings.
And the whole thing was a bust. For us, not for the school, I hope. Connie Van Hoven, who has a Minnesota Christmas book out, signed about 15 copies of her book for people. The other three of us sold just a couple. I signed one book–for the organizer of the event.
What was the problem?
Well, the logistics were bad. The store is so huge that you could literally walk by the front of the children’s section and not know there were any people signing or reading–even when a reading was actually going on. Their little stage is at the VERY back of the store, quite hidden.
The signage was terrible as far as visiting authors. There was a sign about the bookfair, but B&N (unlike the other times I’ve signed at one) had no signage up front with author names and reading times. Instead, they were promoting Sarah Palin’s signing today.
There just wasn’t much traffic in the children’s section. The store itself was busy, but not the children’s section. And the people who came with kids gravitated right toward the books with toys or the licensed character books. The people without kids were buying for older kids mostly (chapter books) or for new babies. Or they came back looking for a specific book, found it, and left. From the school itself, one teacher came in. And as far as we could tell, not a single family came in from the school during the 4-1/2 hours we were there (we were early). Most of our scheduled events didn’t even happen because there was no one in the children’s area. And the volunteer coordinator was trying to drum up people to send back to us!
We went all out on this event, which the amazing school volunteer has been in the planning since May. I spent probably 12 hours on various prep stuff over that time. And one person bought Stampede.
Most of the members of my crit group, including me, had already had similar experiences at readings/signings. And so have most other children’s writers we know. But we figured December…Mall of America…this would be our chance to see if it could work. And it couldn’t.
On the plus side, the store manager nicely had us sign all 40 copies of the book he had stocked for each of us, so that’s technically a sale.
The other plus side is that I will no longer feel guilty declining invitations to read and sign at bookfairs. Despite the fact that the schools usually make some money, which is wonderful, bookstore bookfairs have universally been complete failures for me. But now I know that beyond a doubt, and I’m crossing this activity off my promotional to-do list.