Earlier this week I came across a blog post by Austin S. Camacho, a D.C.-area author of crime and adventure novels, in which he mentioned the great experience he had signing his books at . . . Dulles International Airport. The idea of signing books in one of the cramped Borders Express outlets was a new one on me—I imagine it’s not a great place to find return customers—but now that even authors with books published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux have to find innovative ways to promote themselves, I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Since November of 2007 he’s done 16 signings at three D.C. regional airports (Dulles International, Reagan National, and Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International). Camacho answered a few questions about his experiences via e-mail.
He has two signings this weekend: Saturday, April 18, at the Borders Express in Wheaton, Maryland, and Sunday, April 19, at Reagan National between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
How did you get the idea of doing book signings at airports? Had you seen or heard about other authors doing it?
I haven’t met anyone who approached book signings the way I have. Using the Yahoo Local search I made a list of all bookstores within an hour’s drive of my house. The stores in my local airports are all Borders stores (one in Reagan National, two in BWI and three different stores in Dulles Airport) so they came up on the list.
Any lessons learned from your first signing?
You learn quickly to leave your pocketknife at home, print eye-catching table signs, and clue the bookstore staff on who your books should appeal to.
I found the store managers very welcoming. Apparently they don’t get any of the corporate-arranged signings other stores get, and writers never call them, so they’re happy to hear from us. They print big posters at their expense (other stores don’t) and try to book the next signing at the end of the present one.
I imagine that there are a number of barriers to getting readers’ attention at an airport—they’re tired, they’re rushing to catch a flight. How do you grab somebody’s attention in that context, and is the strategy different than at a more conventional bookstore?
Most bookstores attract browsers actively looking for their next good read. Airport shoppers are either bored with time to kill waiting for their flight or rushing to find something to read on the plane. These will be impulse purchases made with little consideration so you really have to have your elevator pitch down pat. You must engage quickly, tell them in a few seconds why they might want your book, then move on to the next person if they’re not interested.
Another assumption is that people who shop at airport bookstores prefer to take comfort in the familiar: They want the new James Patterson, or a celebrity/business magazine. As a small-press author, how do you get potential readers out of that headspace?
To help their decision making process you need to know whose writing compares to yours. I can say, “If you like Patterson’s Alex Cross novels you’ll love Hannibal Jones,” and “If you like reading about Jack Reacher or Dirk Pitt you’ll enjoy the exploits of Morgan Stark and Felicity O’Brien.” If they don’t know who Pitt and Reacher are, they aren’t the market for Stark and O’Brien. If they do know those characters you can say, “I’m a big Clive Cussler fan too, but he’s not here to personalize and sign your book. I am.”
Sales-wise, how does a signing at the airport perform compared to a more conventional signing?
Sales numbers are about the same, but there are some differences. I get fewer multiple sales. More people ignore me. More people don’t speak English. On the other hand, the airport stores never return books, my books fly all over the world not just in the town the store is in, and these stores have no regular customers so I could go back the next day and find a whole new set of customers.
Are there any unique security issues that you need to be concerned about with airport signings?
Just give yourself extra time to get through security, and be prepared to be escorted if you need to visit the bathroom. I’ve packed lots more tips into my manual, Successfully Marketing your Novel in the 21st Century, which is available on Amazon.com.