Monday, March 14, 2011

How to Hold a Book Signing (If You've Never Done it Before)

Today's essential question: Should you schedule a book signing?

Here's how my first ever went down (with hints and spoilers):

After playing phone tag with a few bookstores, I finally nailed down one manager. Two days later, I consigned four copies each of Loathsome, Dark and Deep and The House Eaters. We scheduled a signing one month out (this was on February 12th).

So, flash forward one month. I was nervous. What if I didn't sell a single book? I used to work at a bookstore (long before I was a writer), and we used to make fun of the visiting authors who didn't sell any books. I was an asshat back then...

Hint #1: Show up early. I arrived a little early (to help set up as all good authors suggest you do), and surprise, surprise, a little table with my books and signage was already displayed in the entryway. So far so good.

Hint #2. Don't sit down. They gave me a chair. I only sat in the chair to sign books. You must be up and moving around. Engage with customers. Smile. Just say "hi".

Hint #3: Bring something to give away. I had bookmarks and candy. Candy is good. Everybody likes candy. I shared with the employees. They are your friends. Trust me.

I sold my first book within three minutes. Hey, I thought, this might be okay. 10 minutes later, I sold two more books. Hey, I thought, I might run out of books. I'd sold two more within another 10 minutes. Wow. The score after a half-hour: 5 books down, 3 to go.

And then I stood around for another 90 minutes, talking to a lot of folks about my books, but with no takers. *sigh*

Hint #4: Keep talking to people, even when they just want to talk about themselves. Several individuals told me how they were writers, too, and would be published...but. There was always a but. But I can't edit. But nobody "gets" me. Keep talking. Be real.

My second and third sales came to two women who didn't look like they were my target audience. Why did they buy the books?

Hint #5: Love your books. If you hate to sell, stop writing for an audience. Even if I'm giving you a story for free, it is still a sale. The reader pays with his/her time. You have to love your work or no one else will. Enthusiasm is addictive. Be excited about your stuff. I knew it was time to go home when my energy level waned.

Final score: 5 books sold; 3 books back on the shelf; $34.54 in my pocket. Understand that those books were consigned and about a $1 each actually went into my pocket (I'd got the books at a discount through my publishers). Of course I'm donating the $34.54 to Tsunami/earthquake relief efforts, and I'll give you a gift if you donate, too.

What I learned:

1. Book signings are not about making money. Five bucks didn't even cover gas.

2. Book signings are about talking to people about your book. They are about meeting folks you might not meet any other way. Five copies of my books walked through the door. Four new readers took my books home. Maybe they'll pass them on or tell someone else.

Will I hold another? Maybe. It was pretty exhausting.


Daniel W. Powell said...

As you've written, it's all part of the gig. These efforts add up (though I admit that I probably would really not be good at it).

My wife and I always try to see our favorite writers when they come through Jacksonville. For folks like Tim Dorsey and Randy Wayne White, it's always standing-room only.

I think you just keep working it until that's you up there, brother, and the room is full. It's hard work, but it leads to a good place.

Cate Gardner said...

"we used to make fun of the visiting authors who didn't sell any books."

Gulp! An easy lesson in how to put me off ever having a book signing. Ha!

Good to hear it went well. I suspect I'd swivel in my chair eating the candy.

Jeremy D Brooks said...

I've never done a signing on my own (just with the Hint Fiction group), but that's flat scary stuff...I've seen my share of lonely writers sitting at the little table looking all forlorn and doe-eyed behind a mountain of unsold books. I never thought it was worth the time/expense, but, you are absolutely's marketing, which is measured separately than revenue. I would seriously consider doing some coffee shop/art gallery signings for my next title (I'm making the assumption that I'll be self-pubbed for the entirety of my career, better or worse...)

Aaron Polson said...

Daniel - I'm sure the next one will be "easier"'s the hangover which got me.

Cate - When I use the word "we" I mean the other employees, of course. (Of course). I saved my candy for the ride home.

Jeremy - I'm looking forward to doing a reading at some point--a little different than a signing. My hometown library wants me to come talk about writing. That should be interesting.

onipar... said...

Nice article, thanks for the tips. You know, I was thinking about how to go about doing readings/signings when my novel comes out. Or, more accurately, I was wondering if I *should* do them.

My main concern is that being published by a small press, my books won't be available in bookstores, which means bringing books to sell. i wasn't sure how that worked, but you cleared it up a bit.

Thanks again.

Michael Stone said...

My knees knock at the very thought of doing a signing. Thanks for the tips.

Aaron Polson said...

Tony - Most stores take books (especially by local authors) on consignment. Just call and ask. (easier said than done, of course)

Michael - Mine knocked for a while, and then I was too tired for knocking.

Kate said...

Great tips there - thanks for that!

K.C. Shaw said...

Thanks for giving us the lowdown, and that's awesome that you sold so many books (hey, five books is a good handsell if you ask me). Our only indie bookstore closed at the beginning of this year, which bummed me out for a lot of reasons, but one of them was the closing of a venue where I could have had signings with lower stress (they did a TON of local/regional author events). I dread having to deal with B&N or Borders where they would probably sneer at me.... I would eat all my candy before the signing even started. :)

Anonymous said...

This is a great article on your experience. The thought of doing a book signing is a bit worrisome for me, so I know it must be for others as well. I'm glad you had an interesting experience.

Lee Thompson said...

Agreed! Thanks for all the tips, Aaron!

Danielle Ferries said...

You sold books! Well done! I'm reading it at the moment and loving it.

Aaron Polson said...

You're welcome, Kate.

K.C. - I could send you some. (I still have two bags)

Alexis - It was worrisome for me, too, but if you look at it as "marketing" (and hey--you get to talk about your writing), it feels a little better.

Rock on, Lee!

Danielle - Glad you're liking the read. ;)

Natalie L. Sin said...

Don't forget to bring a dog, if possible. Seriously, is anything cuter than a dog at a book signing? No.

Simon Kewin said...

Great post and a very successful Book Signing I'd say. Thanks for all the tips. It all sounds rewarding and deeply scary at the same time.

Katey said...

Five books sounds good to me, Aaron! Thank you so much for posting this, because it really is a harrowing idea. Just knowing people who've been there makes it a little less stressful. Thank you, thank you!!

Aaron Polson said...

Natalie - YES! A dog would have put me over the top with a few hesitant customers.

Simon - Exhausting, too. Without a doubt, very exhausting.

Katey - You'll be awesome when you do it.