Bookselling scripts at Hershey Winter Arts and Crafts Show 2016

career indie author

career indie author introduction

It’s said that pressure makes diamonds. It also can make something unexpected.

The Winter Arts Show was this past weekend. It was our third appearance at the show. We have done more than a dozen of these, and each time we try to learn something. At the York Book Expo, it was “always do what you’re your wife asks.” Admittedly, I’m still learning this lesson after 23 years of marriage, so it never hurts to learn it again.

hershey winter arts and crafts show 2016

More than 140 vendors crowded the halls and cafeteria at Hershey High School

This time, we underestimated the number of cookies and recipe flyers to give away. Teresa had made a double batch of her Butterscotch Crunchies, and we had more than a hundred flyers printed up. We were cookie- and recipe-free after five hours, with an hour left to go.

hershey winter arts and crafts show 2016 cookies

These cookies are like crack, but tastier

Our cookie/recipe giveaway is a sneaky marketing trick. My wife had developed the recipe years ago and its combination of sugar, salt, and crunch made it a family favorite. She decided to give them away at shows, along with a copy of the recipe. The flyer has the company’s logo on the front and a description of our books on the back.

At numerous shows, people tried it and were thrilled to get a copy of the recipe. We even had one customer who came to the show because she remembered it from last year and wanted the recipe!

Now, were these people book buyers? Would they later buy a book? We don’t know. (Writing this now, I’m thinking that I should add a note to the sheet encouraging people to sign up for my newsletter. That would help give us an idea of the response.) I’ll find out for sure when I do this month’s reports around Dec. 1.

We also learned something else about the show: We were getting better at our patter. That’s one reason why we gave away so many cookies. And possibly why we sold so many books and tote bags.

We used scripts.

We didn’t do this consciously, like we sat down at the computer and wrote it out. But as we talked to each customer, we subconsciously worked on our spiel. We refined and streamlined our chatter. We learned to close with an invitation to pick up a catalog or a flyer.

hershey winter arts and crafts show 2016 peschel press

Talking to a customer off-camera.

If they were pausing before a book, we gave them a little space to examine it. If they wanted to talk, we listened. If they looked like they were moving on, we closed our talk and let them go.

The Parts of the Spiel

There are three parts to the spiel:

1. The Opener: It depends on their opening move. If they’re passing by, it could be as simple as “Hello!” If they move on, let them.

If they pause to look, I’ll deliver a self-introduction: “I’m Bill Peschel, and this is Peschel Press.” I like to joke about it: “I named it after myself because I couldn’t think of anything better.” Or, “I named it after myself because I have a huge ego.” This seems to catch them by surprise and they laugh.

Most of the time, it’ll be “Hello” or “Good morning.” Sometimes I’ll mention the weather or a similar statement. I noted that most of the time, they’ll be equally happy to respond. Because this is a local arts and crafts show, the vibe is very low-key. They’re shopping in the halls of Hershey High School, not at a bazaar.

It may also be that the show was not very crowded. We were visiting another local show at a neighboring high school where the aisles were packed with shoppers. The noise level was much too high for most conversations. This was not the case at Hershey.

2. The Spiel: You might call this our elevator pitch. We describe our books in general, using our slogan “The history behind the mystery.” We then describe our books, focusing on facts and stories, and trying to convey the emotional feel you would get reading our books.

So in talking about “Writers Gone Wild,” I would emphasize that it was published by Penguin. I fell this gives me a little more credibility because Penguin is a well-known publisher, and even if they never heard of them, they’ll understand that I am a “professionally published” author. I give them the elevator pitch (“200 short stories about famous writers and the trouble they got up to away from their desk” or “stories that you never heard in English class”). I’ll mention a few examples. My wife likes to tell about the mystery writer who was a “teenage lesbian killer.” She isn’t in the book, but it’s so salacious that she tells it anyway, adding that it’s not found in the book. I’ll mention Virginia Woolf punking the Royal Navy, Ernest Hemingway throwing meat at his first wife, Sylvia Plath biting the ear of her future husband until it drew blood, and whatever else comes to mind.

Moving on to the books in the Complete, Annotated series, I’ll be sure to mention the authors (if Dorothy L. Sayers is not known to them, surely Agatha Christie is), and that these books are in the public domain in the U.S. (to forestall any thought that what I’m doing is dodgy). I’ll show them the inside pages, pointing out where illustrations are used, and why I annotated them.

Then I’ll move on to the 223B Series, calling them “fanfiction from Conan Doyle’s lifetime.” I’ll mention that there are famous figures who wrote these pieces (Mark Twain, J.M. Barrie, adding “the creator of ‘Peter Pan’ for those who don’t recall that), as well as anonymous newspaper reporters. I’ll also warn that some of these stories aren’t very good, but they all show how Sherlock percolated through the culture like a virus.

With a combination of humor and stories, we try to engage and entertain them.

torchbearer sauces hershey winter arts and crafts show 2016

This has nothing to do with the article. I thought it was cool that Torchbearer Sauces set up their tent in the middle of the cafeteria. Talk about an attention-getter.

3. Call to action: At this point, I’ll mention that we have a show special and name the discounted price, adding that we take cash or check (we don’t have the ability to take credit cards).

I’ll pause and gauge their reaction. If they seem not interested, I’ll point out the catalogs and/or cookies. If they talk about something else, I’ll go along and we’ll have a nice chat. If they leave, I may thank them.

Sometimes, they’ll make a purchase. Or they’ll look at the tote bags (which my wife makes at home) and we’ll chat about that.

As CTAs go, it’s not very emphatic, but it works for us.

Write Your Own Script

I’m not saying my script is the best, nor should everyone use it. You should develop your own, based on your strengths and the type of books you’re selling.

hershey winter arts and crafts show 2016 dog treats

I wouldn’t be above throwing a few dog treats if it’ll attract customers.

Here are a few guidelines to consider:

1. Be pleasant, but not overbearing. Back away if they’re not interested. Some people’s body language — not looking at you, moving quickly, pre-occupied with a map or smartphone, walking as far from you as possible — make it clear they’re not interested. Leave them be.

2. At the same time, don’t let a glum face keep you from approaching them. I’ve see faces light up suddenly when I say “Great day, isn’t it?” If nothing else, the sight of a cheerful face leaves them feeling better. That’s a win in my book.

3. Keep it fresh. Be conscious of what you’re saying and avoid sounding robotic or monotone. Vary your pace and intonation. Experiment with dropping the tone or volume and see the result. Change the script when you feel like it, or try out new jokes.

4. No matter what, never be rude back to them. Even if you think you’re being dissed. Other shoppers can hear what you’re saying. Don’t give them a reason to avoid you.

5. Don’t take anything personally. I’ve had customers tell me they don’t read books. “That’s all right. We all like different things.” I haven’t had anyone be downright rude to me; maybe it never occurs to me that it’s insulting.

Nor should you worry about what they might think of you. You’re there selling books. Of course they expect you to try to sell something to them. The question is how you want to do it; think about how you might want to be talked to by a salesperson, and let that be your guide.

6. At its heart, selling is like improv. You’re making it up as you go along. It’s those times when you go “off the script” that you can enjoy meeting people, talking to them about books — worse comes to worse, ask them “have you read anything good lately? — and learning about new authors to try. At the last show, a customer told me about the works of Dan Simmons, who writes books in all kinds of genres and has won awards in each of them.

Some rewards from public appearances can’t be counted in dollars and cents.