I was so honoured. It was the first real conversation I had with a stranger about the book - at least one who wasn't involved in getting it published.
So for the next hour, maybe more that night, I sat on the stool in front of all those empty chairs and chatted with her about my book - and lots of other things - while I "signed stock." (Which is simply autographing all the copies of your book a store has in stock, so they can slap that little sticker 'Signed by the Author' on them.)
I hadn't heard the term 'hand-sell' (or handsell) yet, but I instinctively knew this was an important night. The publicist on my next tour explained more about it. She said bookstore staff are some of the most powerful people a writer can meet. That's because they're the kings and queens of recommending books - or 'handselling.' It's the foundation of word-of-mouth publicity - which we all want because it sells more books than even great reviews.
The main difference between general word-of-mouth publicity and hand-selling is that someone can literally 'hand' your book to a potential reader (or guide them to the aisle where they can get the book themselves). The best people in a position to do that are bookstore staff. Think about how important that makes them to a writer:
1) Bookstore staff are usually smart, avid readers who are not only comfortable recommending books, it's part of their job.
2) If the staff member likes you or your book, they can literally hand-sell it to anyone who walks in the store.
3) Your book could get chosen for that 'Staff Picks' table - and anything that gets your book off the shelf and visible to buyers is a huge bonus.
4) Bookstore staff may even be responsible for the spark that causes your book to take off.
So whether you're on a fancy book tour paid for by your publisher, renting a U-Haul and toting books around on your own dime, or just walking down the street to your favorite bookstore, the employees are much more than name tags. They're real people with real power to help sell your book. Remember their names. Ask about their families. Send thank you cards when you get home. Hopefully, if all goes well, you'll see them again when you tour your next book!
By the way, being nice to bookstore staff isn't going to be difficult. They were some of the greatest people I met on tour. That night of my first no-show reading is a case in point. Because I left with a smile on my face.
Even if I cried (a little) on my way to the airport the next morning. ;)
btw, if you're wandering around a bookstore for something to read, ask one of the staff members for their recommendations. You'll see the power of handselling up close and personal. If you're feeling gutsy (and let's face it, you have to be gutsy to sell books), let them know you're a writer and what you're working on. Some day, they could be handselling your books, too.