Prepared! Or The Bare Table and The Handy Traveling Kit

Prepared! , or The Bare Table and The Handy Traveling Kit By Jennie Helderman

Oh, the glamour of book signings, the admiring crowd coiled through the book store and down the street, the cha-ching of the cash register sounding each sale, oh what a dream!
The store overflowed at my first ever book signing and I floated like a balloon, even if the store was a dollhouse that held only a dozen people, some of whom were related to me.
I was still inflated the next day in a city with a metro-sized store. Even when no one seemed to expect me. Past the aisles of Stephen King books, I searched, around the floor-to-ceiling John Grisham displays, and beyond the bargain-book bin, until finally in a corner I found one lone, unadorned card table and chair. No banners, no table-top sign, not even any of my books were in sight.

Suffice to say that books did appear and I did sign---about one book per hour. Had the store prepared displays, more people---I had time to spare. I rearranged the books, adding mine to those of Stephen King, etc. I’d never heard of product placement fees and no one objected. They didn’t even notice. They didn’t notice when the time ended and I left the store.

Years later I read a collection of book signing stories by famous authors. Nearly everyone had an experience similar to mine at some time.

So now, seasoned author that I am, how do I avoid a repeat of that book signing. What have I done to promote As the Sycamore Grows?

First, I hired two publicists. One is the go-to person for book events in the Atlanta area where I live, and the other is on the west coast and equally connected with national news media. Their fees were an investment, but a sound one. They had access to people and places I had no knowledge of. They know bloggers such as The Writer’s Life. And of course, there’s the Hollywood scene. That’s pie in the sky but worth the effort if it happens.

While these two were working their phones, booking me here and there, I put together a handy traveling kit. First, I ordered a 7 foot tall banner with a 4-color facsimile of the book cover and a blurb on it. The banner retracts like a window shade into a metal cylinder that sits on the floor. It weighs about 11 oz. and fits into a canvas case, so easily portable and can be assembled in thirty seconds. The banner goes up as a backdrop at any book talk, or is placed in a prominent place in book stores for book signings. It attracts attention, shows the book and tells something about it, thus stirring interest in passersby. It stands out in all photos made at an event. Banners are available at office supply stores and online through trade show and display equipment sales. The prices range from about $100 way up. I spent $250 and, again, I think this was a good investment.

I also ordered several 11 x 14 posters of the book cover with self-stands attached, these to be set up around a store during a signing. One store owner asked me to sign the poster and leave it with him as a permanent display. Price on such posters is about $10-15. I got the same on 8 ½ x 11 inch paper to use as flyers. When I have an event scheduled, I’ll send ahead several flyers and a poster for pre-event promotion.

I’m a believer in the 7 Times Rule: A customer needs to see something seven times before he remembers it. Thus, my next recommendation is giveaways. Bookmarks are so common they’re expected. And they’re inexpensive. A book store owner suggested that I also give, especially to stores, something useful and lasting. Good pens are an example. I did post-it-type notes with a picture of the book cover on them. Affordable and available from trade show suppliers.
Next I put together a book trailer and some videos from book talks. These I set up to loop and place them around the book event. I use my laptop for one, which stays close by me, but for another I use a digital photo frame, the kind grandparents have with albums of grandkids pictured. Again, these draw people in and get them interested or asking about the book.
Add a small table cloth to the kit, just in case, an easel to hold one book, and a supply of retractable Sharpies with fine points. The Sharpies won’t smear like ballpoint pens do. And I’m set to do a talk or book signing.

I’ve used every piece in my kit over and over. Even when I returned to my hometown for a book signing, this time at a big bookstore in the mall. They knew I was coming. Nevertheless, I walked up and down the aisles until there, in the back corner---yes, the bare card table. No problem. With my handy traveling kit, I had it transformed into a sales platform for me in less than five minutes. And with posters and teasers strategically placed about the store pointing people my way.

The crowds aren’t lined up in coils through the stores yet, but I’m ready when they come.

# # #

Jennie Helderman broke the glass ceiling at age ten by becoming the first girl page in the Alabama State Legislature. That surge of girl power wouldn’t be the last time she saw a need to put women’s issues at the forefront. Years later, after she helped set up a crisis-call center in an old house, a cry for help at the other end of the phone line resounded in her head. That call was the catalyst; eventually, the empty bedrooms upstairs served as the community’s first shelter for victims of domestic abuse.

From there, Helderman began work with women’s issues and leadership, community development, public relations and communications, beginning in Gadsden, Alabama, and reaching to national levels. She has championed women’s and children’s issues and worked with child abuse victims. From 2000 until her term expired in 2006, she presided over the six-member board of the Alabama Department of Human Resources, which serves 520,000 clients each month and oversees all family abuse issues in the state.

A 2007 Pushcart Prize nominee, Helderman coauthored two nonfiction books, Christmas Trivia and Hanukkah Trivia and writes profiles for magazines. Previously she chaired the editorial board of the 120,000 circulation alumnae magazine of Kappa Kappa Gamma, The Key.

Her latest book is As the Sycamore Grows.

Helderman is married to a retired newspaper publisher; is the mother of two and grandmother of three; and has recently moved from Alabama to Atlanta. Her website address is
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