The Stock Signing Lesson by Elizabeth Wein

Image used with kind permission of The Sirenic Codex
In the first flush of success that followed the publication of Code Name Verity, I was asked to speak at a conference away from home, and it was during this trip that I had my first “stock signing” experience. Now, I have to tell you, no one explained to me ahead of time the ritual of a “stock signing” tour, and I had no idea what to expect. I’d done a few bookstore signings when some of my previous books were released, so I expected something similar—shaking hands with the bookstore manager, the offer of a muffin and a cup of coffee, and then a handful of customers wandering past and showing interest in you just because you were there—not because they had any idea who you were, of course, but just because it’s kind of cool to meet an author who’s in a bookstore signing copies of her own book.

The first thing I realized that day, which maybe should have been obvious from the name, is that a “stock signing” is just that—you’re signing stock. You’re not sitting at a table talking to customers. 

The first thing I realized that day, which maybe should have been obvious from the name, is that a “stock signing” is just that—you’re signing stock. You’re not sitting at a table talking to customers. There hasn’t been an announcement in the local paper, and there’s no sign up outside the shop or at the till. You’re just popping into the shop as a courtesy to the bookseller, for no longer than the time it takes you to sign whatever they have in stock of your books, in exchange for the courtesy of a special “signed by author” sticker on the cover of your book (stickers sell!). It’s really that simple.

 On my first stock signing jaunt, I was driven around an unfamiliar city by a “media escort” (that is an actual job title), who basically acted as chauffeur, guide and liaison. My escort took me to half a dozen chain bookstores and introduced me to various managers, occasionally providing a pen and helping to put stickers on the autographed books. In, out, back into the rain and on to the next.

About half the stores were expecting me.

About half the stores were expecting me. Most of them had a few copies of my book available. In one of them, everybody—including me and the escort—had to hunt for the two copies of my book that appeared in the computer database—I found one of them hidden in a stack of books under a display table. The worst case scenario was the shop where the manager wasn’t expecting us, and was called out of a meeting to welcome me. She didn’t know who we were and wasn’t pleased we’d interrupted her meeting. The media escort offered her an autographed copy of my book which he’d come prepared with as a personalized gift; the manager told us not to personalize it because then she’d be able to sell it.

 And that was just my FIRST DAY of stock signing.

I swear to you that, as a writer, I have yet to experience anything I find more demoralizing than a day of stock signing at the big chains—of driving from one indistinguishable bookselling giant to the next, asking if they have copies of my book for me to sign, being told, “I’ll see if it’s in stock,” being asked to repeat the title three times (“Code Name Rarity?”), and then the “Huh!” of surprise when the sales clerk discovers it’s actually on a special display—the unspoken “Why is that being showcased, since I’ve never heard of it?” The best reaction I can hope for in this situation is, “My colleague read your book and says it’s very good.” The second best is, “We seem to sell a lot of these.”

The contrast with the reception I’ve had from independent booksellers is absolutely remarkable. In the indies, I walk in and I am treated like a rock star. The employees are delighted to see me even if they haven’t read my book. But actually, most of them have read my book. I owe Code Name Verity’s success, in a huge part, to handselling evangelism in independent bookstores. Two years after the publication of Code Name Verity, it’s still occasionally popping up on some of the Indie Bestseller Lists in the USA .

Once Upon A Time Bookstore, Montrose, CA
 Handselling is a remarkable thing, and even in the big chains, if you’ve got a champion who loves your book, you’ll sell more copies there. But here’s the difference: in an independent bookstore, booksellers are not constrained by the top level administrative rules that prevent booklovers who work in chain bookstores from making individual decisions, such as which books to put in their display window and which books to showcase at the end of an aisle. It makes a difference. Chain stores are constrained in terms of which publishers they’re allowed to buy books from; the example I always find crushing is the friend who wasn’t able to sell her books in her hometown because her publisher wasn’t on the approved list that the chain was allowed to order from. And then there’s the time when I couldn’t get the local chain to supply the local school with books for a visit I was doing, because the manager was on vacation for three weeks and no one else was authorized to order in extra copies…

It’s heartbreaking that the individuality which survives in the independents is threatened by the powerhouses that are actually able to generate the most sales. And yet, it is this individuality that, I hope, will keep the independents in business.

Picture this: seven o’clock on a dark, wet, windy weeknight in a village near the England/Scotland border. The nearest town of any size is twenty miles away. In the loft of a converted barn, fifty people gather, ranging in age from 11 to over 70. There are teens from two school book groups there. There are men and women, boys and girls. They’ve all come to hear you talk, to buy your book, and to get you to sign it for them—because they know and trust the wonderful people who work here, and they know that these events will be entertaining, and they know that the book they go home with will be a great read.

Lunch with the Little Shop of Stories team

Shout-out to the Mainstreet Trading Company in St. Boswell’s, Scottish Borders! Because it’s shops like this, and Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Georgia (who gave a copy of my book to the Obama family as a gift), and Politics & Prose in Washington D.C. (who have sold my books for over twenty years), and Dulwich Village Books in South London (who put my books in their window), that sustain me as a writer.


E Wein by David Ho
Elizabeth Wein writes fiction for young adults. She is the author of Code Name Verity, as well as the The Lion Hunters cycle, set in Arthurian Britain and sixth century Ethiopia . Her most recent novel, Rose Under Fire, has been shortlisted for the Costa Award in Children’s Fiction. Originally from Pennsylvania , Elizabeth has lived in Scotland for over fourteen years. She is married and has two teenage children. 

7 comments:

  1. I'm some way off experiencing this phenomenon :-D but what an interesting insight into the mysterious world of publishing. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. Hurrah for Indie bookshops and people who sell books, not just stock. Thanks for this, Elizabeth.

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  3. I should probably add that I know I have some *huge* supporters in Barnes & Noble, so I feel a bit mean making this distinction. Nevertheless this has been my experience!

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  4. That was a revelation, Elizabeth. When I picked up a book with a signed by author sticker I always imagined that I'd just missed yet another spectacular signing event. The 'stock signing' in a weird way is quite poetic.
    I really enjoyed the story - thank you!

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  5. She is very expert in teacher and his lesson very helpful thanks for share it comma corrector free .

    ReplyDelete

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