Well, probably you’re thinking about setting up a book signing, but you’re not sure what to do, or what to expect. Before we begin, have you thought about what you hope to accomplish at your book signing? Keep in mind that from a bookstore’s perspective, it’s all about bringing people into the store and selling more books. From your perspective as an author, however, keep in mind that you will not make a lot of money at a book signing.
You can, however, make a lot of contacts, and work on building a fan base for your future books. Consider having a sign-up list for people to use to join your author mailing list, or business cards, bookmarks or other take-aways that will help fans find you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social media venues.
How to approach a bookstore to set up a book signing
First of all, you need to find out if a bookstore you are interested in actually hosts book signings. Many bookstores list this information on their websites. For example, chains like Barnes & Noble have people who work with the community to promote these kinds of events. Larger independent bookstores like Powells have a promotions person who handles these events, while many small bookstores don’t have the space or interest in book signings, and often will just say no. See if you can discover the manager’s name, email address, and direct phone number through a Google search or a visit to the bookstore website.
If you can’t get the contact information online, you’ll have to pay a visit to the bookstore. Keep in mind that managers are very busy people, so be prepared to provide them with the all the details they’ll need on a datasheet, which is a letter-sized printout which includes your title, your name, the ISBN, the price, the wholesale distributors, and the publisher.
Slip some bookmarks, business cards, your book, and a few datasheets into your backpack, briefcase or satchel and go to the customer information desk (in small stores it may be just the person behind the cash register) and ask to speak to person who arranges book signings. Be prepared to be told that he/she is too busy and ask when would be a good time to come in to meet with them. Ask if you can have a business card, or at least get a post-it note with their direct phone line or email address. Leave your business card, a bookmark and/or a copy of your datasheet if they will let you.
Be sure to follow up with an email or a voicemail message giving your name, your book’s title, that you’d like to meet to schedule a book signing, and why a book signing would be good for the store. This is crucial. If it’s all work and no profit for the store, they aren’t going to be interested.
When you do get to meet with the book signing manager, give them a copy of your book, the datasheet, and a business card with your contact information. Often the manager will pass on the book to one of the staff members and ask them to read it, so you’ll want to get the name of the person who will be reviewing it, and be sure to ask the manager to “match” your book up with someone who likes to read your genre. It’s probably not going to help if a Sci-Fi/Fantasy aficionado read your book about how to put on a wedding.
Ask the store to provide you with a table and a chair in a prominent place where customers will find you. Try to get the store to set you up at near the entrance. This can be tricky, since they’ll often tell you they have the “perfect” place — usually in the back of the store, out of the way. That’s not ideal as you’ll get very little traffic that way.
Be aware that a very good book signing has sales of 20 to 30 books — and this is rare. Any books the store purchased will be returned to your publisher — and charged back against your royalties if you don’t sell them at the event, often with a restocking or handling fee, increasing the pain. So it is far better to encourage the store to buy just 10-15 books by offering to bring in 10-15 extra copies to sell on consignment if you run through their copies. Be aware that most bookstores expect at least a 40% discount off the selling price of the book, so make sure that you will at least break even on any copies you sell directly to the store.
Your book signing: What to expect
When you’ve set up a book signing, you may be able to get your local paper to list the event in their calendar, or even run an article about you and your book a day or two before your event. This is free advertising. Make yourself newsworthy, and you’ll get coverage. The easiest way to do this is to send out a press release.
See if you can connect your book signing with a special promotions day like “teacher’s weekend” or a holiday, a news trend—anything that can catch a potential book buyer’s interest. Holidays other than Thanksgiving and Christmas are good days to hold a book signing, such as:
- Valentine’s Day for romance novels
- July 4th or Veterans Day for military or political titles
- January and February for Fitness books
- Halloween for horror, paranormal or dark fantasy works
- You can make up your own holiday, or use an “unofficial” holiday
No matter where you end up sitting, come prepared by bringing your own eye-catching signage, which you’ll use to attract attention. Think about a gimmick that will draw patrons towards you.
Be prepared to produce “buyers” for the big event. These are usually friends, colleagues, and other people who know you and are willing to come into the store to support your signing. You need to have a viable list of people you can “turn out” for your events. If you don’t have this, develop this before you try to get a book signing.
What places besides bookstores do book signings?
Actually, most book signings are not in bookstores! Libraries are always looking for authors to talk to interested patrons. Business Fairs are locally run by chambers of commerce, and depending on what your book is about, they may be interested in having you there. Local elementary schools, middle schools and high schools are usually very interested — especially if your book can be used to get students to read. Even community colleges and churches would be interested in inspirational/self-improvement or career development titles.
There are many different kinds of women’s, men’s, and community groups you can connect to, depending on the topic of your book. Book clubs are another option, and these readers have banded together on their own or through bookstores or libraries. Call your library and the bookstores to find out if they are sponsoring book clubs, or google to find local book clubs.
You can also set up talks and presentations in all kinds of unusual places, depending on your book’s topic. Some example include:
- Craft stores and craft fairs
- Health clubs
- Medical clinics or hospitals that provide education to patients
- Farmer’s markets
- Flea markets