Reality Check: Unless you are on the New York Times Best Seller list, book signings won’t bring in a ton of money. So, if not for the money, why should the average Joe participate in a book signing? Exposure.
Books don’t sell themselves. If you are self-published, that also means self-promoted. Small-time and self-published authors will likely sell less than 10 books at a book signing. Many of the people who attend the event won’t even buy a book–they’re curiosity-seekers, tire-kickers, and sometimes, just looking for a bathroom. However, all the marketing and promotion that occurs prior to the event will help you reach new readers who might buy the book, even if they don’t come to the signing.
After hosting several book signings, I’ve created a list of tips and tricks for eager authors to help make their next book signing a success.
Before the Event
Plan on scheduling at least 3 months in advance. The bookstore needs time to get your books in inventory and your host needs time to create promotional material and send out press releases for the event. Authors also need to use this time to engage in actively promoting their event.
- Create marketing and promotional material. Good items to have on hand are bookmarks, posters, and flyers. Posters can be displayed on an easel next to your table. Flyers should include links to your website and social media accounts in order to help build your fan base.
- Create buzz by cross promoting. If you are signing with other authors, swap book reviews on your websites. Posting on social media, “Looking forward to signing books with _______,” is a good way to get the word out about your event without the desperation of repeatedly posting “Look at me.”
- Contact the local newspaper and radio stations a month in advance and offer to do an interview the week of your event. Post on social media. Put an announcement in your church bulletin. If you are a member of the Lions Club, Kiwanis, or other groups, let them know about your event. And it never hurts to post flyers.
- Put your email list to work. If you don’t invite anyone, don’t be surprised when no one shows up. Email all of your friends, family, followers, and fans to let them know you will be signing books. Be very specific in telling them when and where. It can be disappointing for fans to show up only to discover the author has not yet arrived or has already left.
- Confirm the details of your book signing with the host two weeks in advance.
The Day of the Event
Authors need to bring a lot of luggage with them, so it’s best to pack everything the night before so you don’t forget anything.
- Wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers. There’s no telling what temperature the bookstore will be.
- Bring water and secret snacks.
- Bring book stands and a tablecloth in case the bookstore you are working with doesn’t provide those. Also bring the easel for your poster and all your promotional material: flyers, bookmarks, business cards, etc.
- Bring a large stash of books in a rolling suitcase. It is better to bring too much than sell out and end up turning readers away. Remember, always sell from the bookstore’s inventory first!
- Arrive 15 to 20 min early. Familiarize yourself with the layout of the store and location of the bathrooms. Locate the table where you will be signing books. Mingle with the customers before your signing begins.
- Gimmicks work. If you have an unusual item associated with your book, bring it for display. People will be drawn to the item, giving you a chance to strike up a conversation and sell your book. No gimmicky item? No problem. Any author swag will work: refrigerator magnets, pens, postcards, etc. Bookmarks are inexpensive to create and can be given away as promotional material or slipped in the book as a “thank you.” Engage people by having a drawing for an item related to your book. Even something as simple as a small bowl of candy can get people to your table.
- Bring a sign-up sheet. Collect emails from fans. Even if they don’t buy a book, they might be willing to be put on an email list. Also collect testimonials or reviews that you can later put on your website.
- Hand people a copy of your book as soon as they approach your table. Stop talking if they start to read.
- During slow times, chat with other authors and see what works for them.
Signing the Book
The actual moment of signing can be nerve-wracking for debut authors. Practicing your signature ahead of time can help. Also, plan to use just a couple phrases, so you won’t need to think of something on the spot.
- Use a high quality pen that won’t bleed, in a color other than black.
- Make sure your writing is legible. Your author signature should be different than your legal signature to help prevent identity theft.
- Decide where to sign. Either the title page or inside the front cover work well.
- Ask people who the book is for and how to spell their name, even common names can have unusual spellings.
- Personalize your message. “It was lovely to meet you at Book People” or “Wishing you happy reading.” Other key phrases, like, “Happy Birthday” or similar personal touches will make readers want to show their friends and nothing sells better than word of mouth.
- Close with a signature phrase. Examples are: All My Best, Thanks, In Gratitude, Health and Happiness, Much Appreciation, Warm Wishes, and Best Regards.
- Add the date or at least the year.
- Make it fun! Allow fans to snap some selfies and get some yourself. (Be sure to post to social media.)
- When you hand over the signed book, add, “If you like it, please tell your friends,” and ask the recipient to post a review on Amazon or Goodreads.
After the Event
Your work doesn’t stop just because your turn at the table is over. Good follow-up practices will lead to future successes.
- If the bookstore will allow it, sign any remaining books and put “Autographed by Author” stickers on them. These can be ordered from, ahem … Amazon … for $20 to $40 per roll, depending on style.
- Send a thank you note to the bookstore or whoever hosted you. Many bookstores won’t host little known or self-published authors. Put in the promotional effort ahead of time to make it a worthy venture for them and be sure to let them know how much you appreciated the opportunity.
- Send an email to everyone who added their name to your list. Thank them for stopping by your table and direct them to your website.
It is important to remember that the purpose of book signings is not necessarily to sell books, though everyone wants to do that, too. The main purpose is to build relationships with booksellers, other authors, and to introduce yourself to potential readers. It is through positive relationship building that you will be able to sell books in the future.