As the pandemic began to cause event cancellations, at first book signings, seminars, and festivals were rescheduled. But then, like a series of cascading dominoes, all my 2020 events were canceled. Fortunately, many of our author outreach programs are already internet-based. But does anything truly replace the in-person event? And does holding an e-reader truly replace the heft, aroma, and feel of a “real” book?
Among my very favorite events are book signings at independent bookstores. Would these bookstores be able to stay open with mandated closures? Would they still exist when we came out of this shut-down? I really wanted to make sure. So, I began to think this through.
I now had monies that’d originally been allocated for my 2020 book tour. 2020 became a different year and I had some funding that wasn’t used. I had readers all over the country who might love to receive a free book now when they’d likely have extra time to read, and nowhere to go. Could I afford to send out a few freebies? What if, instead of sending books directly, I ordered them from independent bookstores?
A plan began to formulate. Here’s how and why it works.
1 – Contact a reader, ask if he/she would enjoy receiving a free book. So far, every single reader has said yes.
2 – Next, ask for that reader’s mailing address.
3 – Use IndieBound.org to look up the independent bookstore closest to their location. Why? Two reasons. First, it keeps the shipping cost low. Second, and most important, it connects that reader to his/her local store.
4 – Call that bookstore and order your own book.
I’ll admit that this usually causes some confusion. The bookseller starts to take the order, looks up my book, finds it in the Ingram database, and then asks for my name and billing information Then they pause. “But . . . if you’re Mara Purl, why are you ordering a book by Mara Purl?”
My answer is: “I’m ordering my book to support you, and to connect you to your local customer.”
“Really?” they ask. The warmth in the bookseller’s voice is unmistakable. Now they’re thrilled. They place the order, and sometimes when the book comes in, they give it a special wrapping before sending it on to their local customer. Sometimes they even hand-deliver the book!
The emails and notes from readers and bookstores alike are overwhelmingly appreciative. Why is it that receiving a free book is so incredibly special? Because a gift “out of the blue” during this time of social distancing, shut-downs, and loneliness is truly something special.
To cap off the project, I post to social media about the bookstore. I post in my own social media feed, but also in the bookstores. I created a poster featuring the logos of all participating bookstores. And I created the hashtag #SendIndieGiftBook, so this program can reach farther.
How does the budget work? Well, the purchase of one book, with shipping, is just under $20. So, if I have $200 to spend, I can send out 10 gift books. If I have $2000 to spend, I can send out 100 gift books. It’s entirely up to me and my budget.
So far, I’ve worked with about thirty bookstores all over the country. It’s a joy each and every time. I love the feeling of being generous, providing a surprise, doing something nice for my readers, and supporting indie bookstores, which are important community hubs.
And here’s one more benefit I had not foreseen. As quarterly sales reports began coming in, my book sales were up–all over the country. The sales I had generated were there, of course. But many customers, now reconnected to their local store, decided to buy other books in my series too or to send out gifts themselves.
Can other authors use this program? Of course! I designed it for all of us to use. Just follow the simple steps I outlined above. I guarantee you’ll be doing something practical, something good, and something generous.