Someone wrote to say, “My publisher has scheduled me for a booksigning, but I don’t know the first thing about doing a booksigning, and what I’ve heard isn’t very positive. Can you help? What do I need to know?”
Sure. Let me offer some wisdom on book signings and other pieces of information you can’t live without…
1. Remember that the FIRST rule of marketing is that “YOU are responsible for marketing your book.” So don’t leave the marketing up to the store manager, the publisher, the shipping clerks, or your publicist. Instead, take the initiative. Call people and invite them. Turn it into a party. Let everybody know about it. Contact the local newspapers, radio shows, and tv stations. Send promotional announcements. Get it announced in your church, and in other organizations who know you or have had you as a speaker. Make sure it gets placed in more than one spot in the paper — for example, in the “calendar” section, the “entertainment” section, and the “book” section. Talk with the bookstore management about using their marketing to promote the event.
2. If you want to get more people there, offer to give away free books. I know an author who once got a radio station to do a remote broadcast from a bookstore just by offering to let them give away a few copies of the book. Free books bring people in, and that’s the key to having a successful signing event.
3. Learn to work a crowd… even if there’s a handful of people there. Take the time to talk with people, ask questions, and listen to answers. Tell them about your book, and express appreciation for their coming. Have a couple stories from the book (or a scene from the book, or some wisdom from the book, or something) at the ready so you can share part of your work with the people who come and talk to you. Experienced book-signers know they can keep a line of people in front of them by speeding up or slowing down the process by which they talk to folks.
4. Lower your expectations. If this is your first signing, and you’re expecting something that looks like a Coors Light commercial, you’re going to be disappointed. (Note: why is it that in beer commercials they always have all these bright young people laughing and cheering and having fun, when in real life most of these places are dark dives with lonely people who don’t know how to talk to each other? Just wondering.) Yeah, when Jim Patterson does a signing, he gets a crowd of 5000. If you sell sixty million books, you can expect the same. Right now, lower that expectation. Call friends and family and ask them to come, try to turn it into a party atmosphere, and by all means appreciate the fact that SOMEBODY showed up to see you sell books.
5. Notice that all this advice relies on the author to do work. If you think you’re just going to show up, sign for the adoring masses, and leave, you’re mistaken. And you will be disappointed. Crowds don’t show up for every signing — only for the ones with celebs or the ones they get invited to. A bit of advice: get a copy of Annette Smith’s Stories to Feed Your Soul and read her story about her first book signing. They had enough food for an army, and a pile of specially printed angel-wing napkins with her name and book title on them. When the handful of attendees left (having not exactly attracted the crowd she had expected), Annette got to freeze a lot of food, and stuck the angel-wing napkins in the storage room for later. And months later, when she ran out of toilet paper just before hosting a party at her house… well, she found all sorts of useful things to do with her special napkins. The joy of signings.