Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How to Sell 50 books (and More) at a Book Signing

I mentioned James Megellas in an earlier post. Here's an article I wrote about him a few years ago. James is now in his 90's and still selling his book.

I met Jim at the Books-a-Million in Grapevine Mills Mall in Grapevine, Texas on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. He was at a table set up by the entrance where thousands of people passed by that day. I couldn’t help but notice that nearly everyone who stopped at his table purchased one of his books, All the Way to Berlin.

“How are book sales?” I asked.

“Pretty good today. There’re lots of people buying my book for
Christmas presents.”

“How many do you suppose you’ll sell today?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I’ve never sold less than 50 books at
a book signing.”

50 books! I’ve never heard of an “unknown” author selling those numbers at a book signing. I decided I better get to know Jim a little better.

James Megellas, Jim, was a 1st Lieutenant in the 82nd Airborne Division during WWII. He fought in the mountains outside Naples then was part of the landing at Anzio. Jim’s brigade, the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, nicknamed “Devils in Baggy Pants,” were so decimated by the carnage at Anzio that it did not rejoin its division until the famous “bridge too far” campaign of September 1944. At the end of the war, Jim was part of the occupation forces in Berlin.

Jim was the most highly decorated officer in the 82nd Airborne Division. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts.

Jim is now 86 years old. He started writing his book about his experiences in WWII at age 80. “Writing the book revitalized me,” commented Jim. It sure did. Jim is the youngest looking 86-year-old I’ve ever seen. Presidio Press picked up his book and before it was published, Ballentine purchased Presidio. So when the book came out, Ballentime Books with the Presidio Press imprint appeared on the title page.

“How did you get so many sales at your first book signing?” I asked.

Jim chuckled at that question and told me the story. His son called a local “sports talk” radio station, “The Ticket” and told them about his dad and the book. One of the talk show teams wanted to interview Jim on their show. Jim had already set up a book signing at the local Barnes and Noble Bookstore, so when he was interviewed on the air, the guys really talked up the book signing. They had such a great time with the interview that Jim was on for the whole show and after he was off the hosts continued to talk up the book signing. When Jim finally arrived at the B & N to sign books, there was a long line of people waiting on him. They sold 125 books. Jim had to start signing book plates to put in the books when they restocked.

After that, both major newspapers in Dallas and Ft. Worth reviewed the book and Jim continued to have successful signings throughout the DFW area.

Jim was also a lecturer at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. The museum did a nice postcard with Jim’s book cover and a picture of him during the War that they sent out to their members. After the lecture, Jim sold over 150 books, ran out and had to take orders for more. He will be doing similar lectures elsewhere. On January 29th, Jim will be at the D-Day Museum in New Orleans and will sign books afterwards.

I noticed that Jim was not shy about talking to everyone who passed his table.

Each person he talked to, he attempted to establish a link between them and to the subject of his book. “Are you a veteran?” or “Is your father a veteran?” or “Do you know a veteran?” are some of the questions that start out the conversation. He would then go on to tell about his WWII book. Nearly everyone he spoke to bought the book.

Jim showed me a letter from a company in Ontario, California. He has been invited to be a guest at 2004’s “Weekend of Heroes.” The company is making an action figure of Jim in his Anzio battle outfit for the event. I’m sure he’ll sell lots of books when he’s there.

Several people came up just to shake Jim’s hand and say “Thanks” for defending our country. When I left, I not only thanked Jim for being a veteran, I thanked him for showing me how to conduct a great book signing!