Febuary 12, 2018

How To Auction Books

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Have you been asked to auction books at a launch? Are you sweating over how to do it? You shouldn't, if you know the answers to 7 key questions. These are the questions you need to ask yourself and answer well to make the book launch a successful one. (Remember, you can apply these questions to an album launch as well.). Are you ready? Here come the questions.

Question One: What is the first thing you should do when you are asked to auction a book?

Answer: Thank the author, get your hands on the book and read it from cover to cover.

There is a reason why top salespeople spend hours filling their brains with product information. It is because the more they know about what they sell, the better equipped they are to offer it to their prospects and turn them into customers, hopefully at a profit. Before Prof Atukwei Okai launched his collection of children's poetry, he sent me all three books to read. After going through them, I even passed them on to my children. On the day of the event, I was able to quote lines from some of my children's favourite poems while I made my fundraising appeal. I smiled quietly when some audience members reached for their wallets after I gave them a sneak preview of what they would be missing if they didn't buy their own copies. So make time to read the book you are going to auction.

Question Two: What is main objective of a book launch?

Answer: To make money for the author.

It sounds obvious, doesn't it? But I have attended many a launch where the event was crammed with so many speeches and readings and acknowledgments of VIPs that invited guests just fled the venue, probably with desperate thoughts of hunger and traffic on their minds. Remember, a book launch is a sale. Nothing more, nothing less. As the auctioneer, you are responsible for raising funds from the sale. You are a salesman. Or saleswoman. You will be held responsible if you don't make the target set for you by your boss the author. By all means, meet with the author and event organizers before the launch to agree on the program lineup. If there are too many items between the opening prayer and the auction proper, convince them to cut down or even strike out some of those items. See yourself as an athlete. Know why you are on the track. The auction is finish line and you have to win the race by making the sales.

Question Three: Who are the most important people at a book launch?

Answer: Members of the audience.

Really, you ask? Not the auctioneer? No. Not even the author? Nope. He did his bit when he wrote the book. The members of the audience are the most important people at a book launch. They are critical simply because they hold the funds. And all you have to do is to raise those funds out of their pockets and purses into the author's coffers through your persuasive words. As an auctioneer, it is important that the organizers tell you who is attending the auction. Find out as much as you can about them - their names, industries, places of work; their relationship with the author, a guesstimate of what they can spend and many other indicators. At the last book launch I attended, I positioned myself at the entrance to the venue. I said hello to as many invited guests as I could. Because the author was the CEO of an insurance company, I knew that a fair number of the guests would be from the financial industry. I passed out as many business cards as I could. I did this with one aim in mind - to make it easier for me to approach them with an offer to bid during the auction. And you know what? It worked. I don't know about you but I do better business when I have a friendly relationship with my associates. So get to know your audience members - you need them to make your auction a success.

Question Four: Should you set a target for the funds you want to raise from the auction?

Answer: Absolutely.

Our ancestors warned that if you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there. Worst of all, you won't know it when you reach your destination. So it is with auctions at a book launch. From my experience, eight out of ten authors will not give you a definite figure when you ask, "How much money do you want me to raise for you?" They will say something like, "As much as you can" or "Anything you can get". Talk about working against your own interests (please refer to Question Two)! When an author gives you such a response, smile, agree and press them for a figure. Never go into an auction with no idea of what your target is. You will only setting yourself up to fail. At a recent auction, I insisted on a precise figure and was given 50,000 Cedis as my goal. After 45 minutes of persuasion, we had raised 30,000 Cedis from the sale of 50 books. That was 60% of our quota. Not bad was it? True, we didn't reach the stars but we touched down on some pretty high clouds. Whoever said, "Let's aim for the stars so that if we fall short we'll land on the clouds" knew what he was talking about. The whole point of having a target is to encourage you not to give up when the going gets tough, as is often the case during an auction where the audience takes some time to warm up. Remember, no target, no results.

Question Five: Should an auction be fun?

Answer: Definitely!

Most auctions tend to be as about as enjoyable as a funeral service. Members of the audience sit statue-still in deathly silence, heads bowed, fervently praying the auctioneer does not catch their eyes to gouge out an initial bid from them. A guest stretches innocently and suddenly the auctioneer swoops on him with devilish glee. Ladies and gentlemen we have our first offer! The victim shakes his head violently from side to side. He mouths out the words No, it wasn't me!

The problem is that auctioneers tend to begin with a high figure and then do their utmost to cajole people to part with their hard-earned cash at that level. This tactic can cause the event to drag painfully. If audience members feel they are being stampeded into making a very public decision, they won't co-operate. A consequence of this 'high figure' policy is that after ten or minutes of stubborn silence, the harassed auctioneer may discount the initial price from 10,000 to say, 5,000 Cedis, to the audible relief of all present. Keep in mind that an auction is an audiovisual spectacle.

Think of it as your favourite show on TV. It's entertainment. A successful auction should have moments of tension, excitement, relief and joy scripted into it, just like a great thriller. A great auction should involve everyone in the room, not just the moneybags. I remember an auction I held for an international NGO. We auctioned a cake using the Chinese auction method. This kind of event works well when you have a large number of people involved. An opening amount is offered and then audience members offer higher amounts, paying the difference between their bids and previous offers. At the end of a thoroughly entertaining 45 minutes, we raised close to 10,000 Cedis with virtually everyone in the audience contributing to the fundraiser. Towards the end of the auction, two bidders engaged in a thrilling dingdong contest, successively outbidding one another for more than 15 minutes. We were all on the edge of our seats wondering who would take the cake home. In the end, the eventual winner pleasantly surprised us by asking asked the cake be cut up for everyone to enjoy. Talk about maximum audience participation! So I suggest that you adopt the Chinese auction method to sell first book. It will make the event entertaining, memorable and above all profitable. After the tension of that initial Chinese-style auction, you can wrap up the event by selling the rest of the books at predetermined prices.

Always remember to make the author smile and look good. Although the ultimate reason for the launch is to raise cash, the author built the cash machine by writing the book. Thank everyone as soon as they make their offer. They are helping you succeed in your duties as chief fun raiser and fundraiser. Don't forget, it's a show and you need to get the audience relaxed, involved, entertained and on your side. This way you lessen their discomfort of parting with their money. It's a question of no pain, more gain. Make the auction enjoyable for everybody. Have fun!

Question Six: Should you handle money during the auction?

Answer: Absolutely not.

Let the organizers designate ushers as debt collectors to record names of customers and those who offer cheques and pledges. Practice division of labour. When an audience member offers an amount, direct the ushers to locate the buyer to pick up the cash or cheque or pledge form. As an auctioneer, your job description is 3 words: sell the books. But never handle the money during an auction. It insulates you from suspicion when calculations don't add up at the end of the auction. And you most definitely don't want your reputation to be soiled in any such way. Make the cash but don't touch it.

Question Seven: What should you do at the end of the book launch?

Answer: Leave a lasting positive impression.

Stand by the exit. Look people in the eye. Smile, shake them and thank them for a wonderful time you have all had together. Pass out your business cards to as many audience members as possible. Who knows, because you did such a great job, one of them just might hire you or recommend you for another auction. So there you have it. The seven things you need to keep in mind in order to have a successful book launch:

  • Read the book.
  • Remember your goal
  • It's about the audience
  • Set a target
  • Make it fun
  • Don't touch the cash
  • Leave a good last impression
  • Feel free to let me know how you get along with these tips. Sell those books!