Adventures in Bookselling

Written By Bobbi Smith

Over the years Ive tried almost every method there is to promote my books. I guess my first real attempt was in 1982 when I was still working at West Port Booksellers here in St. Louis. I was so proud that Rapture's Rage my very first historical romance had been published, and I had a customer come in wanting something good to read. I didn't tell her it was my book; I just suggested Rapture's Rage because it was by a local author and set in St. Louis. The woman wasted no time before informing me in no uncertain terms that she didn't read that crap. Oh, well. When you're a writer, you aren't allowed to have much of an ego, and after waiting on her, my ego was non-existent.

Tricks of the Trade
I realized then that I had to work hard at selling my books. I had to make people want to read a Bobbi Smith novel. So, I started buying ads with Romantic Times, and I made up my very first bookmark for my second novel, Forbidden Fires, which was first published in 1983. Compared to what we do now for bookmarks, the pink construction paper bookmark was kind of pitiful, but I was trying and I was learning.

Since then, Ive tried a lot of different ways of promoting. Ive done t-shirts, pencils and pens that quickly ran out of ink. When I complained to the company Id ordered them from, they replaced them with pens without my logo on them. I guess they thought I was anonymous or something!

Write a Book, See the World
My favorite way to promote is to tour with my friends. Constance OBanyon, Elaine Barbieri and I started out with the Texas Sweetheart Tour several years ago, doing book signings at bookstores and Walmarts all over Texas. Then we teamed up with Evelyn Rogers, and the four of us became the AWOLs Amazing Women of Leisure. We wore camouflage and combat boots and toured Army posts, Air Force bases and Naval stations, along with bookstores and Walmarts on the way.

The first tour took us from Whiteman AFB in Missouri all the way to Norfolk, Virginia, and the second tour covered Florida and a fort in Alabama. On The Road Again was played a lot and so was Eastbound and Down. These tours were a blast, because we never had to worry about pantyhose! Seriously, touring is fun because you get to meet your fans, you get to see the country, and you really bond with your friends. (You know you're friends if you can log 3,500 miles in 11 days and not want to kill each other!)

Its a Sign
Autograph parties can be heaven or hell. Sometimes you sell a lot of books and sometimes you don't. After all these years of doing signings, I've come to the conclusion that anything over 6-books is a successful signing. When I did an autograph party in a K-Mart in Pittsburgh years ago with Shirl Henke, the customers actually hid behind the clothing racks watching us until wed gone. Only when wed left the table did they come forward and grab up our books. Leaving signed copies behind is a must.

One of the most fun promotions I ever did was for my book Heaven. David Alan Johnson, the winner of the first RT Mr. Romance Contest, was on my cover and oh darn!I had to tour with him. It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it!

We did autographings at Walmarts all up and down Inter-state 44 here in Missouri. The success of this tour almost had me give up my writing career and start a Rent-A-Hunk firm for authors. The minute the customers saw David, they started squealing and bought books. Of course, they didn't care much that I was there, but I didn't mind as long as they were buying my books! We also did a fundraiser for the Children's Miracle Network. I brought along on the tour the huge blow-up of my cover that RT had given to me after the Nashville convention. For $2, fans could do a pose down with David and have their picture taken. I was paid for the film, and we raised a lot of money for the charity. It was wonderful!

Of course, promotion is expensive, so everyone has to work within their budgets. Just remember, advertising your books is an investment in your career, not to mention a tax write-off!