Making the most of a book signing

By Carol / August 6, 2012 /

J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and Amy Tan sit at tables to sign books while people line up out the door and down the block. These super stars barely have time to take a drink of water for the crush of fans waiting to talk to them.

Now you’re an author, too, and you’ve lined up book signing events. You’ve got your books all displayed. Pen at the ready. Readers will be just as eager to line up for your book, right?

Enter the reality. Book signings are a great way to get your name out there, to meet readers who may become loyal followers, and to sell books. They can also be tedious, even spirit crushing. So tedious, in fact, that you might be tempted to read a book, file your nails, or eat lunch to fill the time. But don’t do it. A successful book signing requires work on the author’s part.

Here are some things I’ve learned from other authors and from doing dozens of signings myself. These won’t guarantee success, but they will help your book signing events come closer to your dreams.

Promote the event yourself. You can’t count on the host to do it all for you. Post on all your social media sites that you’ll be signing books and invite your friends to come.  Email everyone who may not use social media. Friendly faces are helpful even if they’ve already bought.

Location, location, location. Arrive early to get the lay of the land and thank your host for the opportunity. If it’s possible, get your table moved closer to the door. You want to be in the highest traffic spot possible. Ask to have a few of your books positioned next to the cash register to encourage impulse buys.

Set up your display. Have a stack of books but also have a stand to hold one book so the cover is clearly visible. Prepare an 8×10 sign that includes the cover of your book, a pithy review comment or two, and the sale price.

Have something for everyone. A bookmark touting your book and your contact info is great. People like bookmarks and even if they don’t buy your book on the spot, the bookmark will be a useful reminder of  your book and how to get it.

Sell yourself. Stand beside your table (instead of sitting behind it), make eye contact, smile, greet people. People who may have walked on by may be drawn in by your friendly greeting. Tell them you’re an author that xyz location has invited to chat with their guests. Ask them if they have a moment so you can tell them about your book.

Sell your book. Be ready to explain your book in 30 seconds or less. Here’s where your log line comes in. Put a book in their hands. It’s harder to say, no, when they’re already holding the book. Ask questions to engage them in a conversation and find out their reading interests. Tell them you’d be happy to sign a copy for them. When they buy, ask how they’d like the book inscribed. Be sure to ask them to spell their name for you. You’d be surprised how many ways there are to spell Carol!

Thank them. If they buy, thank them. If they don’t buy, thank them. Make sure everyone you meet leaves your table happy they met a real, live author. And get a bookmark into their hands.

Backroom Details.  It took me a few signings (and a little lost money) to learn these tips. 1) Be sure you and the store agree on how sales will be handled. Will the store ring up the sale? Before you sign the book? Or will you handle the money? 2) Keep track of book numbers. Know how many books you came with and how many you have left. Even bookstores can’t always tell how many of your books rang through their register and you’ll settle up before you leave. And of course, thank the store owner for the opportunity.

These tips work as well if you’re on your own at a signing or if you’re in the company of a dozen other authors, at bookstores, restaurants, libraries. 

Have I thought of everything?  Probably not. If you have other tips, or book signing stories to share, don’t hesitate to leave a note. And, happy book signings!

photo credit: BlissDom 2012 via photo pin cc

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  1. Sonia Marsh/Gutsy Living on August 6, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Thanks for the advice. I spoke to a book shepherd who knows I’ve booked several events and recommended that at one of my events at Peet’s coffee, I have a sign that offers discounts on buy 1 for a special price today, Buy Two (25% discount) Buy 3 (35% discount). I also wrote a post about how to do a successful book launch party on my blog if your readers are interested here:

  2. Carol Bodensteiner on August 6, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    Great ideas, Sonia. I like being gutsy! You have more good ideas on your book launch party post. I wrote on that same topic this past week. I agree – the worst they can say is ‘no’ – and that’s no biggie.

  3. Mary Maddox on August 7, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    Very useful post, Carol.
    Sonia, I’m intrigued at the idea of doing a signing at a coffee house.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on August 7, 2012 at 7:55 pm

      Thanks, Mary. Another author also suggested a coffee shop signing because she did much of her writing there and knew the owners. Some coffee shops around here are very supportive of writers, e.g. hosting NANOWRIMO write-ins. It would be a nice payback to the coffee shop to hold a signing-launch event there.

  4. Doreen McGettigan on August 7, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Great advice Carol and Sonia. I always bring little gift bags for the first 10 that purchase. Just things like candy or a notebook and pen. I was so excited when at my last signing a woman came up to the table and said am I one of the first 10 here!! I have also realized that press coverage is a charm. Not an add but an actual announcement or even a feature story. When these happen I do great. The hard part making that press happen. I’ll be doing a post on that next week:)

    • Carol Bodensteiner on August 7, 2012 at 7:59 pm

      Good idea to have gift bags for the first 10 to purchase, Doreen. I’m adding that to my list! In my experience, media coverage always drives sales. One thing I did here in Des Moines was to arrange three bookstore signings before I took the news release to the newspaper. The number of events became part of the ‘news’ in addition to a new book by a local author. I talked more about this in my blog about launching a print book:

  5. Carol on August 7, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Carol, I haven’t done one yet, but I’m memorizing your advice. And I wonder, does it get easier? My reluctance to publicize myself has faded somewhat, so I’m thinking maybe my fear of a book signing will diminish with experience? Please say yes. 🙂

    • Carol Bodensteiner on August 7, 2012 at 8:03 pm

      I spent most of my professional career behind the camera – publicizing clients – instead of having the spotlight on me. That role switch took some getting used to! But, it does get easier, Carol. I find that once I have a ‘plan,’ it all becomes normal. So, yes, yes, YES! Be bold and go for it. Good luck!

    • Linda Caddick on December 30, 2012 at 1:06 pm

      I know just how you feel!

  6. Aimee Anderson on August 16, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Hi Carol,

    Thank you, I enjoyed and appreciated this post. I have recently published my first children’s book and have had my first signing. I had it at a local cafe and had a marvelous time. It became like a big party in the cafe, and of course the cafe was happy because they sold a ton of smoothies. I did some of the things you suggested, but there are some new things on the list that I will use next time. Recently, yesterday in fact, I made a facebook page for my fictional character that you might enjoy, here is the link:

  7. Carol Bodensteiner on August 16, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Glad you found some new things to try. Aimee. Many venues can be good for book signings. What I’ve learned from many of these posts is ways to make the signing beneficial for the site.

  8. Shirley on August 17, 2012 at 8:59 am

    Hi, Carol! I am reading your book right now, will be doing a Q and A with Sonia on my blog soon, and am so excited to be learning from authors who are sharing what they are learning about marketing/book launches with others. I’ve been blogging four years and have a manuscript almost drafted, a book contract, and deadlines to meet for a book launch a year from this Sept./Oct. You are leading the way, and I am taking notes!

    Thanks so much for sharing this good info. All the best. And I hope we can stay in touch.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on August 17, 2012 at 5:49 pm

      Congratulations on your upcoming book, Shirley, and good luck getting ready for the launch. I’m glad my comments gave you some things to think about trying. It’s all fun and even more so when you don’t have to learn it all yourself.

      Thanks for reading my book! I trust we will stay in touch.

  9. Jodie Toohey on October 11, 2012 at 10:05 am

    What a timely tweet link to this blog post! I’ve just scheduled three signings for my new book, “Missing Emily: Croatian Life Letters,” for November and December and will definitely take this advice. Thank you!

  10. Carol Bodensteiner on October 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Glad you found the info helpful, Jodie. Congratulations on having three signings for your new book. That’s exciting! Good luck.

  11. Linda Caddick on December 30, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    Reading this has helped ease some of the horror at the very thought of having to do this!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on December 30, 2012 at 6:49 pm

      Glad to help, Linda. Hang in there. Like anything else, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

  12. Barbara McDowell Whitt on March 12, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Carol, thank you for putting a link to this on Twitter. I learned some valuable information from your post and from the comments and your responses. I will use these tips to prepare for my appearances when my book comes out.

    I own an Amelia Bedelia costume. On Tuesday, January 29, 2013, the day designated to celebrate Amelia Bedelia’s 50th anniversary, I wore it and showed up unannounced in the children’s book department of the Barnes & Noble store on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri. I gave a copy of a local newspaper article and photo from when I was reading Peggy Parish’s first Amelia Bedelia book at a birthday party to the sales associate on duty. I was invited to return on the Saturday before Valentine’s Day to promote Amelia Bedelia books during the afternoon story hour. It was a fun experience and I saw it as a learning experience as I related to a children’s department sales associate and gave two presentations.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on March 12, 2013 at 10:57 am

      I’m glad you found the post helpful, Barbara. You made some valuable friends at Barnes & Noble when you added value to one of their regular events with your Amelia Bedelia portrayal. I expect they’ll welcome you back when your book comes out! Good luck with your book launch.

  13. Karen L Boncela on April 22, 2013 at 10:20 am

    Always LOVE your POSTS! Love the gift bag idea for the first purchases. I had my first BOOK SIGNING at my home. It was so laid back, my readers LOVED it! I got to keep all the $ in my pocket. People could stay as long as they wanted. I served snacks and wine. SO MUCH FUN! I’m planning my second book’s debut and signing this summer. After considering other locations, I’ve decided to do it at my house again. It’s all about getting the word out in every way possible!
    I’ll offer a gift bag for those invited guests who bring a friend along as well. Keep the GREAT tips coming, thanks!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on April 22, 2013 at 10:33 am

      Thank you, Karen! I joined with two other authors to launch our books with a book signing event in the home of one of the authors. We also had wine and snacks and it turned out to be a great social event all around. Offering the gift bag to guests who bring a friend is a another great idea for encouraging more to attend.

  14. April Yamasaki on May 20, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Thanks for a great post, Carol. I wish I had thought of placing a few copies at the register too for my signings. I’ve also found it helpful to post a sign on the door or at other strategic places so people just walking in will know there’s a book signing since it’s not always obvious in a larger or less-than-typical venue.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on May 20, 2013 at 11:58 am

      By the cash register is prime real estate, April. At least during the time of your signing – and hopefully for a few days before and a few days after. I’ve bought lots of things just because they were there and I could think about them as I checked out. Having a sign our two of your own to post around is a really good idea. Some locations do a good job of promoting author events; others, not so much. I’m adding your idea to my list. Thanks!

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