Author handsells 13,000+ copies of his book at one bookstore

>> Friday, March 19, 2010

An article in Monday's PW Daily carried an enticing headline: "Bookstore Sells Half of All Copies of WWII Book." Eager to read a story about the amazing powers of indie hand-selling (wherein the booksellers at one independent store sell the heck out of a title, giving it a major push), I clicked through.

The book is Hell Hawks! The Untold Story of the American Fliers who Savaged Hitler's Wehrmacht. One of the authors, Robert Dorr, has done author signings at both the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and the museum's over-flow artifact museum, the Udvar-Hazy Center, in Northern Virginia. That Mr. Dorr could sell more than 30,000 copies of his book in signings at those museums is pretty incredible, until you read on to learn just how many times he has visited those bookshops:

During Dorr's initial booksigning at the Udvar-Hazy Center bookstore in the summer of 2008, he sold only a dozen copies of Hell Hawks. He has returned to the Udvar-Hazy bookstore 330 times since that initial visit, with signings typically ranging between three and eight hours. The bookstore reports that they regularly order 1,000 copies of Hell Hawks! each month, with Dorr selling as many as 120 books during one signing.  The Udvar-Hazy Center bookstore has also sold 1,167 copies of Dorr's previous publication, Air Force One since June 2008.

Three hundred and thirty times! In less than two years! And he signs for "between three and eight hours." Holy smokes. But of course he's not just sitting at a table, waiting on people to come over to him:

Dorr attributes his success to his strategy of "engaging people, getting them interested."  He greets store customers, introducing himself by name, before discussing the book,  and scrupulously avoids small talk that may distract him or the customer from the book. "The instant I decide the person is not interested, I move on," he added.

Talk about a misleading headline! Yes, that store has made those sales, but they're certainly not the ones actively doing the selling. It's the author who's doing the work. A lot of work.

Do the math on the number of times Mr. Dorr has visited the Udvar-Hazy Center bookstore. Three hundred and thirty times in two years? That works out to roughly 14 visits a month. For 3-8 hours at a time! Mr. Dorr isn't a visiting author; he's practically a part-time employee. I assume he lives very close by to be able to afford to spend so much time there.

Granted, every single person who seeks out the Udvar-Hazy Center is there because they are a die-hard aeronautics fan, so Mr. Dorr has really found the perfect way to reach his target audience. And it's great that Mr. Dorr and his writing partner are getting their book into so many readers' hands. But really, just about any book could sell that well if the author lived at the bookstore and chatted up every single visitor about it as they walked in the door. Most authors don't have that luxury though, and we have to rely on those great independent booksellers to do the hand-selling for us.


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