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Book Marketing: How I Found Success In A Bookstore – A Case Study By Jonathan Hope

Book Marketing: How I Found Success in a Bookstore – A Case Study by Jonathan Hope

If you're interested in getting your self-published book into a bricks-and-mortar bookstore, Jonathan Hope's case study of launching his children's picture book, A is for Donkeys, in a high-profile flagship store of a major bookshop chain will inspire you – a perfect example of how indie authors can work effectively with their local bookstores to mutual advantage.

Photo of Jonathan with book outside Blackwell's

Yes, you can get your self-published books into bricks-and-mortar bookstores!

It was a surreal experience to be the featured author for an Author Event at Blackwell's Bookshop in Oxford, England.

When I lived and studied in the city, Blackwell's was the place I'd go to buy books by my favourite writers and artists and, occasionally, to see them in person. It was here I heard Kazuo Ishiguro read from The Unconsoled, and persuaded Graham Swift to sign a well-thumbed copy of Waterland. (“At least I know this one’s actually been read,” he quipped.)

image of event posterThe intercom announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, please join us in five minutes in the Children’s Department, where Jonathan Hope will be reading from his delightful new book, A is for Donkeys, made me feel as if I'd stepped through a mirror.

But I don’t have friends in high places, or a radical new promotional strategy to share. I simply walked into the shop, and asked.

Elevator Pitch Trumped by Book

Every book needs a spiel. When I began mine – “Hello, I'm the author of a self-published, quirky-stylish alphabet book…”, the reaction of the chief buyer in the Children’s Department wasn't hugely encouraging. Her words were polite enough, but her face said ‘I’m sending you packing as quickly as I can.’

Then, miraculously, as she flicked through the book, her demeanour changed.

“Oh,” she said, “but this is really LOVELY!”

The book’s visual loveliness, I should explain, is not of my making. Italian illustrator Riccardo Guasco’s retro-futurist style is the source of that.

Aided by Exhibition

banner for exhibition outside galleryHis images prompted me to create a traveling exhibition, something I would encourage any self-published writer of an illustrated book to consider. The book launch in Bath was accompanied by a month-long display of prints at a local art space. Blackwell's liked the exhibition, and agreed to let me transfer it to their café.

I’ve also produced postcards, which make inexpensive gifts and help promote the book.

How the Event Worked

photo of pinning the hay on the donkey game

Pinning the A on the Donkey – a great game to engage young visitors

I wanted the Author Event to be family-friendly. I toyed with a few ideas – and got some useful pointers from the ALLi Facebook page – before settling on a “Feed the A to the Donkey” competition, a variation on the favourite party game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

I offered a free postcard, in return for contact details, for all entrants, with a signed copy of the book for the winner. This created something fun to watch between half-hourly readings of the book – definitely the closest I’ve come to busking.

Most shoppers in Blackwell's on a sunny Saturday afternoon were international tourists. Despite the punning, sometimes beguiling nature of the book’s language, the majority who bought a copy were not native English speakers. I talked three Chinese students, for example, through my Nonsense Alphabet and found them first puzzled, then thrilled to ‘decode' the words.

Curiouser and Curiouser

The experience made me wonder if English language learners and children are more open to linguistic playfulness, because they don’t expect to understand right away.

An Austrian friend, a brilliant mathematician, admitted that he didn't ‘get K' (which ‘sits in silence in knickers and knits'); and my nine-year-old nephew readily asked what ‘humming for vegetables' meant. But grown-up English speakers can seem unwilling to confess to being baffled.

In the cafe the day after the event, I overheard a girl, perhaps seven years old, ask “Why is A for donkeys, daddy?” Daddy looked a little shifty, then replied “it's a joke, of course”. A silence ensued. I sensed he didn't want to admit that he didn’t know; and that his daughter knew he didn’t want to admit it.

Perhaps, like Alice, she had a nose for nonsense?

image from Alice in Wonderland at Mad Hatter's Tea Party

OVER TO YOU Have you held a successful event for your self-published book at a bricks-and-mortar bookstore? We'd love to hear about it – feel free to describe it in the comments!

Inspiring case study of an one indie author's #selfpub book #aisfordonkeys in a bookstore #Authors4Bookstores Click To Tweet


Author: Jonathan Hope

Jonathan Hope is a Bath-based independent author. ‘A is for Donkeys’ is his first book, and is available from Blackwell’s Bookshop. The exhibition in Blackwell’s café runs until October 14, 2017. For more information, please visit his website: www.jonathanhope.co.uk.


This Post Has 5 Comments
  1. Hi Folks, each of my last three books have had two bookshop launches – one in Blackwells, Edinburgh and one in Mainstreet Trading Bookshop, St Boswells (my local bookshop) that happens to have won small retailer of the Year last year. They have previously won Independent Bookshop of the year.

    After my first book (trad published) was launched in Waterstones in Edinburgh I was invited to speak in Blackwells at a festival fringe event. At that stage the Blackwells event manager asked why my launch hadn’t been with them? When i said the publisher had organised it she got me to promise they would get the next one.

    By the time it came to the second book I was bringing it out myself, my publisher having gone down. (Not my fault, honestly!) I went back to Blackwells and explained book no 2 was going to be Indie and they said that wasn’t a problem, they’d do a launch for me anyway.

    Because Edinburgh is quite far for Borders folk to go, especially at night, I decided to ask at Mainstreet if I could have a launch there too – prefacing the request by telling them that Blackwells was hosting an Edinburgh launch. Whether that clinched it or not I don’t know. but the rest is history. Both shops have a good event space and each time I’ve provided the nibbles and (interesting) soft drinks. They provide glasses / covered table for food etc, advertise it for me beforehand, sell the books, and offer to take pre-orders for signed copies for anyone who can’t attend themselves. They also take stock in thereafter and I get an occasional spin on the front table at Mainstreet. A very positive experience all round.

  2. Is Blackwells an independent bookstore or part of a larger chain? I’m asking because I’m American and trying to figure out what our U.S. equivalent might be. Over here, it would be near to impossible for an indie author to get a signing at a large chain like Barnes and Noble or Books-A-Million, but it’s easier at indie bookstores. If they are a larger chain, did you sell your own books or did they order them from Ingram?

    1. Hi Nicole, a quick answer to your question about Blackwell’s – yes, it’s part of a prestigious British chain, and getting into this one, in the university city of Oxford, would be a particular coup with stiff competition from other authors to get a spot there. No wonder Jonathan describes the experience as surreal!

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