Not long ago, a local literacy group asked multiple authors to appear with their books and promote literacy. They met at a library. They announced it in a few places, but it had little success. The leader sent out an email to attendees and whomever else he knew in his literary community asking for advice on how to make the event better. I took the time to ponder what I considered a successful signing, and what it takes to achieve one. Not one to waste good words, I edited it for this feature piece for FundsforWriters.
Having done hundreds of signings, I can relate about book signings. They are usually a bust. And if you have an event with multiple authors, it’s only as good as the most well-known author, and even that is no assurance of sales because the bigger the gap, the more people spend their money on that author and have none left for the others.
Books sell based upon word of mouth and influencers, almost since the beginning of books. Books are expensive so most people think hard about the purchase. It’s even harder for an author with only a first or second book, because people these days want to know what they are getting, and they learn that through online searches, book reviews, and social media. Yes, starting out can be painful. You are indeed a nobody, and have to prove you are worthy of reading.
A book signing event has to be heavily touted which a lot of bookstores and libraries do not do, and you would be amazed at how little authors spend or take the time to promote themselves, thinking the books ought to sell themselves and the venues do the heavy lifting of promotion. In my experience (and it’s just that, my lone experience), it takes the following to have a successful signing.
1) The setting needs to be easily accessible. I’ve signed at bookstores off the beaten path and stores with no parking. People have to know you and want your book badly to overcome those obstacles. Or you refuse the offer.
2) You need an appealing venue, and hopefully one willing to promote the event. If the venue has an owner, manager, librarian, etc. they need to be excited about the event or they won’t help you promote it. How is this good for them as well as you? Keep in mind they expect you to be more excited than they are. When this event is over, you want them wishing you would do another.
3) There needs to be more than authors seated at tables signing books. That’s boring. Have some INTERESTING presentations. If you aren’t an entertaining speaker, don’t try to do it . . . or else learn how to do it. And no, people do not always want to know why you wrote your book they never heard of. They need to hear how exciting or worthwhile the book is. They need to walk away wanting to check out that book. If you don’t have speakers, have an emcee, or background music, or a coffee bar . . . something other than a quiet strip of tables with seated authors, you might rethink what you are doing.
4) You are not a famous author. You wrote a book. There’s a big difference. That means right now it’s more about the reader than you because you need them more than they need you. Ask readers about themselves. Smile. Be very appreciative of them. Customer service applies here, too. I try not to sit. Look people eye to eye and treat them as special.
5) Advertise and promote the event….as an author. That doesn’t mean a one-time Facebook post. It means multiple posts and getting everyone you know to promote it as well. It means asking commercial venues to post signage. It means taking out an ad in the local newspaper. If you are at an event with multiple authors, each author needs to bust their butt advertising, and yes, sometimes that means coming off the hip with money. Collect money and do joint advertising. Use banners on site and at the table.
6) Your book table needs to look luscious, not homemade. It needs to look professional. You need to look successful. A good tablecloth, professional signage, LOTS of books on the table (appearing like you have hundreds to sell because you need to keep a heavy inventory due to public demand), and take any and all methods of payment. Cash, check, credit card, Venmo . . . take them. Don’t make the buying process difficult. You want it slick. Your first impression reflects on the quality of your writing. If you look cheap, the potential buyer assumes your book is not well done either.
7) Have someone with you, your assistant. I have someone else handling payment while I only handle signings and conversations. It’s a small thing, but it once again gives you a more professional look, plus, if you have multiple buyers standing around, you want to only pay attention to them, not collecting money.
8) Be professional in your business cards, rack cards, postcards, bookmarks. I quit using bookmarks and started using rack cards once I had multiple books, so people would know in what order to read them. The less wording on any of it the better. Not much more than a website address. Be generous with giving them away. The goal is for them to leave with a good experience even if they do not buy a book, and with the tool in their hand to find you when they get home and wish they’d bought something.
9) Do not give away books, yours or others. Do not swap books. You will only attract people who love the cheap and the free, and you will appear desperate. These people who lean toward the free are not the readers who become fans to sustain your profession. You need to court a base following that buys whatever you write whenever it comes out. The only time I have given away books was to reviewers, and even then, I asked if they were willing to post a review on Amazon and Goodreads. I follow up after 4-6 weeks, asking if they are enjoying the book. You’d be amazed at how many people post the review at that time. After that, I follow up another 4 weeks later. If they don’t review by then, I give it up…and remember who not to give another free book to again. But over time, with each book you release, you will need fewer review copies as momentum takes over and your fan base improves. The reviews will then happen on their own.
10) Food or treats. I have used mints or chocolates at my table before, and while people appreciate it, treats do not make or break book sales. I quit using chocolate, not wanting accidental smears on my books.
A successful event is only as good as you make it. This is just my experience, and you may agree or disagree with some of it, but that’s okay. No two authors are alike.
BIO – C. Hope Clark is author of 16 mysteries, several award-winning, and several nonfiction books. She is also editor and founder of FundsforWriters.com, chosen by Writer’s Digest for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for 20+ years. www.chopeclark.com / www.fundsforwriters.com