TBT 2008: Yes, Book Signings Can Be Awkward. But They Can Be Awesome, Too!

by admin on November 26, 2015

DSC00194Since my first children’s book came out fifteen years ago, a lot has changed. But book signings continue to elicit a level of anxiety and insecurity not felt since middle school. Here’s why they’re still worth doing.

Tale of a Book Signing

I’m sitting at a table at a local bookstore, signing copies of my latest book. That is, I would be signing copies, if anyone was buying the book. But it’s a sunny Saturday afternoon in late September. Who goes to a bookstore on a day like that? Not unless they’re on a mission to buy a particular something – and chances are, it’s not my book. After all, it’s not like I’m a famous author, or even a semi-famous author. No one was standing in line outside the store, awaiting my arrival. There wasn’t a line inside the store, either. Maybe someday. But probably not. In my experience as the author of five children’s books, you usually don’t sell a lot of books at a signing – unless maybe it’s your first signing and you have lots of friends and family, or you’re a well-known author or celebrity.

Since my first book came out in 2000, I’ve done a variety of book signings – including what I call “solo signings” where I was the only author featured, local author showcases where I joined at least two other writers at a bookstore or library to sign our books, and signings at conferences where I was one of many authors featured at various booths in an exhibit hall. I’ve had signings where I’ve sold just one or two copies of my book. Twice, I sold every copy the store had in stock. And then there was the signing that cost me more than $200, because I got a speeding ticket on the way to the bookstore. P.S. I didn’t sell a single book that day.

So, why even bother doing signings if you don’t sell lots of books? First of all, books don’t sell books. People sell books. Book signings are about building relationships, starting with the store community relations manager, or CRM, and the store staff. These are the people who can recommend your book to customers, so you want to be very nice to them. The booksellers I’ve worked with over the past eight years are happy to have me back in their stores. They welcome authors who are professional and pleasant to work with. According to several booksellers I’ve worked with, many authors – some of them even children’s authors are demanding and downright rude. Just like ungrateful houseguests, they probably won’t be invited back.

Second, you do signings to connect with customers. Although they may not buy your book that day, they might come back another time, or tell a friend about it. And for those who do buy your book, it’s wonderful to know who your “baby” is going home with.

Third, you do signings to build name recognition. Book signings are just a small part of a comprehensive marketing plan, but they’re important. Anytime you get your name out there, anywhere, there’s a chance someone will be interested in buying your book, scheduling you for a school visit, or booking you to speak at a conference. As you write more books, you’ll probably do more signings, and before you know it, your career will have taken off. As I look at it, just get your name out there enough and sooner or later, something’s bound to stick.

Here are a few things I’ve learned during my various book signings:

—Arrive early. Give yourself enough time to find the bookstore, introduce yourself, and get set up. Most places will provide you with a table, and yes, a chair, plus copies of your books, and some sort of signage that says who you are.

—Bring a few of your favorite things to “spiff up” your signing area, but don’t go overboard. You probably won’t have the luxury of a lot of room, so limit yourself to a couple of simple accents that work with the theme and/or look of your book.

—Pack a couple of your favorite pens, Sharpies, or whatever you like to use for signing books. Most places will supply you with something to write with, but if you prefer a particular type of writing instrument, you may want to bring it along. It’s also useful to have a pad of Post-It notes or some type of paper for making sure you have the correct spelling of any names used in your dedications..

—Bring candy if you like, but make sure it’s the kind that melts in your mouth, not in your hands. You don’t want any sticky paws on the pages of your book, especially if those paws belong to someone who hasn’t yet purchased the book. Avoid anything with nuts, for allergy reasons. And if you eat when you’re nervous or bored, don’t bring your favorite treats. You could easily be both, all in a single signing.

—-Offer a way for customers to find out more about you and your books. Do you have another title coming out? Do you visit schools? Do you have a web site? Send customers home with a flyer, business card, or personalized bookmark with your contact information.

—Smile at everyone you make eye contact with. Greet everyone that passes your table. Invite people to look at your book by handing it to them directly. This instantly connects you to the customer, and connects the customer to your book. It’s called “hand selling,” and it’s what booksellers do when they recommend a favorite book to a customer. They do it because it works. It can work for you, too.

— –Offer to stay late. You never know who you’ll meet if you hang around a few extra minutes, or longer. And it’s an excuse to spend more time at just about every writer’s favorite place: a bookstore! Ask if you can sign any remaining copies. An “autographed copy” sticker on the front cover of your book can attract customers long after you’ve left the bookstore.

Remember, books don’t sell books. People sell books. If you’re a published author, you’ve already done the hardest part — convincing a publisher to buy your book. After that, you can do anything!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Dayne Sislen, Children's Book Illustrator November 26, 2015 at 7:40 pm

Thanks for sharing this Jeanie. I have a lot to learn. I always want instant results.

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