I have done two book signings in my entire life as a writer. The first one was in 1999 when, after the publication of my first book, The Spirit of Medieval Japan – a bilingual study (Romanian-English) about the social classed in Medieval Japan –, my parents organized for me (I was 21) a book launch and book-signing event. I remember clearly that, apart from a speech, I didn’t prepare anything at all and let the bookstore and my family manage everything, from snacks and drinks to book supply and window displays.
My second book signing took place last week at a school concert in Bangkok and this article is mostly inspired by this experience, by the mistakes I made and the successes I had. Also, the concert book signing wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t read J.A. Konrath’s The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing which offers tons of advice on how to make a book signing successful.
So, here are 10 things to have in mind when you do a book signing. These apply mostly to self-published authors, but I see no reason why you wouldn’t acknowledge these even if your publisher is the organizer of the event.
1. Stock enough copies of your book
There’s no point in doing a book signing if you ran out of books, if your publisher can’t send you the books on time or, if you want to invite a local bookseller to do the selling, the book is out of stock.
I was lucky enough to have had more than 30 copies of The Ironman. A Play – a book for children -, and Moon Hunter & Other Stories – a collection of short fiction I co-edited, gathering dust on my shelves so I didn’t have to order more copies for my book signing.
2. Plan in advance
Know exactly where you’re going, visit the venue a few days in advance, and talk to the staff there asking them how you could help them make the book-signing event more successful. Don’t forget to thank them for hosting you.
I was invited to have my book signing the day before the concert but as the event was taking place as the school I’m also teaching at, a late invitation was just fine. But, I did make sure I checked out the area where the book signing would take place and I was grateful for the help I received (from the organizer and the students).
3. Display plenty of promotional materials
Not everybody knows about your book-signing event and if you have enough posters displayed inside and outside the venue, there are high chances passers-by would pop in just to have a look at the writer and, if there’s a large crowd already, to see what the commotion is all about.
I had three A4 posters made, which I put right in front of my desk, letting the concertgoers know what was happening. Also, on the desk, I had two more fliers (taped to the surface of the desk) and two 3-D mini-posters (easily made from folding and stapling the edges of an A4 sheet of paper). Plus, of course, I had all the books on display.
4. Target the correct audience
If your book is about knitting, then having your book signing at a women’s book club is a much better idea than setting up a table at a gun show. If you target the right audience you will be able to gage people’s interest.
The two books that I was selling had a very specific readership: school children, ESL students, parents, teachers, librarians, and educators. One books is about three children who try to warn their parents about the dangers of the Ironman approaching their house and the other is a collection of short stories written by ESL students. Having in mind that most of the people who bought tickets from the concert were the students, teachers and parents from my school, I was in the right place, pitching my books at the right audience.
5. Talk to people, but don’t be pushy
The objective of any book signing event is to sell books, find new readers, and build the author’s fan base, but you have to present your book in such a way that the buyers don’t feel like they’ve been coerced into buying it. Talk to the people who stop at your station, tell them what the book is about, and encourage them to hold the book in their hands and leaf through it. If they find it interesting, or even if they like your (cheerful and outgoing) personality, they will make a buy.
The best part of my book signing was the chance I got to talk to the parents of our school’s students and even to some of my fellow colleagues who didn’t really know about my books. The books were fairly priced and people were in a giving mood; after all, they were attending a fundraising concert. If even after chatting with the customers for a while they were not sure if they wanted to purchase my books or not, I told them they can think about it and come back after the concert. Many did, and, actually, I sold half of the books after the show.
6. Get up and shake hands
Unless you’re Stephen King and the audience is already waiting for you, there are high chances that very few people (or even no one) will show up at your book signing. Waiting behind a desk with a sour look on your face (feeling humiliated, let down and ready to give up) won’t help you at all. What you have to do in this case is stand up and introduce yourself to the people coming in the bookstore, make eye contact, tell them about the book signing, and pitch your story to them. J.A. Konrath writes in his Guide that very few people refuse an outstretched hand.
My desk at the concert book signing was right in front of the auditorium door and next to a shop on wheels selling snacks and drinks, so there was no shortage of people stopping over. But, I did send some of my students (on a voluntary basis) to walk around with a book in their hands and invite people to stop by and meet the author.
7. Ask buyers to spell their name
The last thing you want to do is waste a book because you’ve misspelled the name of the person who wants to buy the book. So, always ask for (or confirm) the spelling of any name you write in your dedication.
I even asked the parents of students in my classroom to spell their children’s names and, when the corridor where the concertgoers had gathered became to noisy, I asked the buyers to write down the names on the fliers that I had taped on the desk. (Having an extra pen on hand was quite useful too.) One of the parents bought a copy of The Ironman. A Play, started reading it and, five minutes later (it’s a play for 7 to 10 year olds), bought two more for her niece and nephew. Before she even asked me to sign the books, she had the names of the children written down on the concert ticket.
8. Giveaways for buyers
It is in our human nature to enjoy receiving free stuff and the reader will remember you for giving them a free promotional item when they buy a book from you. Konrath suggests the following giveaways: chapbooks with your short stories, coasters with the cover of your book, bookmarks, and your business card (which can also be used as a bookmark).
This was one of the things I missed at my book signing. As I was invited to hold the event on such a short notice I had none of the above but I’m working on stocking up.
9. Spread the word
In an age where social media can literally topple governments, making sure you update your Facebook status and inform all your Twitter followers that you’re having an event is crucial. Social media can have a snowballing effect and is a very good brand awareness tool. For your name, your book, is a brand which you want to put out there for everyone to recognize and identify with.
I began posting updates and pictures on Facebook even before the event had started and many of my friends who could not come sent me congratulatory messages. By simply commenting on my status or photo they were spreading the word as their messages also showed up on their own Facebook wall. I also posted updates during the concert (when there were no customers in sight) and after the event. Social media definitely works for writers. How do I know? The next day of the event some of my Thai acquaintances showed their surprise that I am a published author and wanted me to sign books for them.
10. Keep in touch with your readers
A book-signing event is not over when everybody goes home and the bookstore closes down. You have to build momentum on your success and continue promoting your book. There’s nothing wrong with self-promotion, on the contrary, even big publishers like it when their authors put in the effort to increase book sales. If you have a blog (as you should!) and a website (a total must!), write a post about your experiences. Readers love articles about the trials and tribulations of authors. If you’ve exchanged business cards with anyone, send them an email and network with them. Also, don’t forget to send a thank you email to the organizers and/or the hosts of your book signing. The more your name and the title of your book are out there on the internet, the higher you chances to sell more books you have. If you have a Facebook Fan Page, create an album with the pictures you’ve taken and tag everyone you know in them (tagging names will automatically add the picture on that person’s wall).
The evening of my book signing I was really active on Facebook, interacting with family and friends and letting everyone know how things went. Also, I in the following week, I wrote four articles about the event or the concert, including this one. Here are the posts I published on my blog: How I hand sold my first 24 books, UNESCO Peace Concert and Child Trafficking Awareness. By reading them, you might find more ideas how to make your book signing even more successful.
By taking into consideration these 10 tips, I’m sure you can also organize a successful book-signing event and sell more books than you would expect.