John Hewitt signs his book “Drone Baloney” at Copperfield’s Books in San Rafael, CA. Photo by Ken Kobre© 2014

If there’s anyone who knows how to do a Meet-and-Greet, it’s author John Hewitt. He once sold fourteen books to passersby in just a couple of hours. One reason for John’s success is his clever use of props. Notice the “cactus” on the table and his T-shirt with the book cover on the front; they’re both great conversation starters.

Here’s John on how to do a Meet-and-Greet:

I was assigned a tiny desk and chair in the back of the strip mall bookstore …

in the Do-It-Yourself and Chinese calligraphy section. The clerk then repositioned a wheeled bookshelf so it blocked the view of my table from the cash register. And the front door. And all the browsers in the store.

This was going to be a long day.

Eventually, I heard a woman’s voice, on the other side of the moveable shelf, “Oh, there’s an author here today.”

My despair halted. I perked up.

“Come and see what an author looks like.”

A 10-year-old girl peeked around the bookshelf. The obvious grandmother added the killer line “See, if you keep writing, that’s what you will look like.”

I think the girl ran screaming into the parking lot.

Meet-and-Greets are eternal surprises.

Once I arrived at a distant bookstore to find out they didn’t even know I was coming. Sometimes you are ostracized to the back sections, where nobody ventures, and occasionally, you get the front door. Bookstore clerks are invariably nice. They have pity on you, and offer coffee and encouragement.

Here are some of my meet-and-greet rules.

Cook up an engaging opening line that you can repeat.
I was in a front door position at a very busy bookstore in a tourist location, but there was a huge forest fire raging no more than five miles away. Every few seconds, six CalFire engines would roar by, sirens screaming. I asked everyone coming in “Need something to read in case they close the road?” This stirred a few conversations and led to a better sales day.

When one of my novels centered around vineyards, and I was in the Napa Valley, I told them it was perfect as a way to get to know how wineries work. [Editor’s note: Ha ha. John’s novel is about a screwball establishment that is nothing like a real winery.]

On a Friday before a big three-day holiday weekend, I suggested then needed something to read while resting from the parties.

Once, while situated so that the line to the bookstore café went right by the front of my table, I handed out a stack of the takeout menus and suggested various dishes to avoid. Conversations ensued and that led to people paging through my novel.

Bring something to attract the eye to your setup.
Posters of the cover. Posters of slambang reviews, enlarged so they can read them from ten feet away. T-shirts with your cover on them. For my novel set in Mexico’s Baja desert, I brought a large cactus piñata. For my novel set in the wine country, I added a large poster of grapes, as well as my book’s cover poster and the blurbs.

Engage everyone and smile.
Even as the tedium wears on, smile. Chat anyone up. Check out the books they are carrying; these will provide for a conversational gambit. Customers in bookstores are friendly and most don’t mind a chat. Most will tell you they already have a pile of books unread at home. They probably do. So do I. Then suggest this would be perfect gift for a friend.

Finally, make the most of it.
When a bookstore put me outside, at a card table on the sidewalk, I had to confront everyone who walked by, even if they weren’t headed into the bookstore. This led to some wildly interesting chats and I sold a few books.

When another store put me next to a shopping mall Santa’s set up, I was lucky. The parents  had to stand next to my desk while they waited for their urchins to finish with Santa. It was the perfect time to suggest gifts. And that worked.