I recently read an article by a fellow author who kept emphasizing the word “do.” As in, book signing. Not “host,” or “have,” but “do.” And I couldn’t agree more with at least that much of what she had to say, everything else, beyond “doing” is and should be up to the potential author “doing” a book signing. The implied meaning behind “doing” is proactive, the author should be proactive during a book signing. I’m sure you’ve seen those authors, just as I have, perhaps at your local shop or Half Price, cramped inside a tiny space, little to no imagination to the table or placement, and the author sits there, immobile, either glaring at customers as they walk quickly by or at their phone or tablet waiting for that special someone to come to them. And if you are one of the poor sods to ever make eye contact with such a person, the look of desperation will chill you to the bone. Its the look of something kin to saying “I just buried my loved one in the cellar, would you please come buy my book…” And you feel for these authors cause you fear deep down that if you ever did a book signing, that would be you, the strange loner stuck in some hobble corner watching with that same crazy look as people avoid you as if you’d been quarantined by the CDC.
Now, I’m not going to sell you a ketchup popsicle. I’m very new to the game of publishing and recently had my own very first book signing. And I can say with pride and honesty that I too, like you perhaps, was a little nervous meeting and greeting people I did not know and/or being shunned as readers shopped for other peoples books, or laughed and pointed at or worse, became the dreaded disinterested weirdo hawking my wares to no one but an empty table and some smelly fellow calling himself Fernando. So, what did I do to overcome these fears? What did I do to prepare for my book signing event? Where was my location? What did I wear? Etc. etc. Well, I’m so glad you asked!
Let me tell you what I did, and perhaps in reading both my successes and blunders, you can take away something that you can either avoid or implement in your own book signing.
Here’s my list:
- Remembering the emphasis “doing,” rather than “having.” Stating the obvious here, but “having” implies inactivity, it implies the author sitting on their rump while thousands of fans are lined up out the door waiting to see you. If this is the case, well…you don’t need to read my ramblings, do you? However, assuming you’re a bit like me, and the fans are not quite lining out the door, you may want to reconsider your game plan. Be proactive. What does that mean? Get off your butt. Walk around, talk, chat. Smile, hand out flyers with your work (more on this later), but please, don’t be weird about it. Just be yourself, so long as yourself isn’t glued to your chair or on your phone. In fact, keep that phone hidden. The only time you should be on your phone is if you’re taking a picture with someone who bought your book and you want to tweet it out. We have a bad habit nowadays (not to get on a rant) with always having something in our hands keeping our attention. The idea of “doing” rather than “having” also implies that you’re there to work. Keep that in mind.
- Location. I feel like location will determine a lot of different things, including the proactive emphasis. Some book stores are really cramped and there’s not much room to wander about. And there are other book stores that are so massive, your little table will get swallowed into irrelevancy. Also, some book stores have themes which will determine your attire (we’ll get to that soon). So what do you do? Simple enough, seek out a venue that will suit YOUR needs. If you’re like me, you need your space. Being cramped will do you more harm than good. For my first signing, I went after Barnes & Noble, who are generally super friendly to authors (for B&N you’ll need to get a hold of the Customer Relations Manager or CRM in person or over the phone). If your B&N is like my local B&N, the store is rather large. This is nice on the nerves because your not cramped into a small space, but because of the square footage, people may miss your table among the many other displaces and shelves and what not. What to do? Here’s what I did. Ask the CRM if you can set your table next to the Starbucks. Yup. Don’t scoff. Panhandling to coffee addicts will help boost your table traffic, especially if you’re walking around and talking with them. I did not go inside the Starbucks, I was place strategically outside, quasi near the registers, which made it really helpful when people wanted a signed copy but needed to pay first. Making it easy for potential buyers/readers is the name of the game!
- Your table shouldn’t be cluttered. Clutter looks disorganized and unprofessional. Lucky for me, the B&N CRM at my store already had a table, a nice thick wood table, and already had ordered my books and made posters directing people to the event. Just another reason why I love and will certainly go back to B&N for any future book signings. On my table I had, obviously, the books B&N ordered for the signing, a stack of flyers with my backlog (all my work), bookmarks, and business cards, a note pad (for spelling out people’s names), a large bowl of candy (the good stuff, not leftover Halloween or Easter crap) and a couple of fine point acid free pens. That was pretty much it. Your table will be YOUR table, so decorate as you see fit, just be sure to discuss whatever you do with the store and/or CRM, and so long as you avoid clutter, AND be sure not to bring along books not sold at B&N, if the store has agreed to order your books for the signing, keep to those books. Your backlog flyer will point people to your other works. In conclusion regarding the table, I considered my table as the base of operations, but as any decent troop will tell you, you need to get out into the field, whilst keeping a close eye on your base of operations.
- Materials of obsession…i.e. FREE STUFF!!! As mentioned above, I had bookmarks, business cards, and candy, all free. Now my experience may differ from yours, but folks coming to my table were not very interested in the free candy. I did however ensure every book signed came with one bookmark and a business card, both or at least one of these should include your information, as in where the reader can find you in the vastness of cyberspace, you may want to include your Facebook info, Twitter, and blog. The one thing I forgot to include on my table, and I’m kicking myself in the butt for it, is the newsletter signup sheet. So…ya…you’re going to want to do better than me.
- Attire. Again, depending on your book store, dress accordingly. For me, B&N is kinda a nice place, I dressed in slacks and a nice polo. You may want to consider something between full on hobo and wedding attire. You don’t want to look unprofessional, but you also don’t want to overdress (unless the book store has a theme and/or part of your pro-activity is wearing a costume that has to do with the book you are signing, such as fantasy book wizard robes or maybe crime thriller James Bond-esk tuxedos). Some basic rules ought to apply regardless of theme, deodorant, do not go heavy on the cologne or perfume, brush your teeth, and comb your hair. Bathing would also be helpful.
- Attitude. This should be a no brainier, but I feel it must be said, cause we’ve all seen those authors at signings that act like crazed loons selling severed heads in baskets. Don’t be that person, don’t have an angry face, especially not when people are not coming to your table. Don’t be overly pleasant either, too pleasant comes off sounding fake. Be yourself, but as stated from the beginning, also be proactive. If someone is not interested in your flyer or your book, say thank you and walk away. Don’t start with “do you want to buy my book.” Give the reader a reason. Be normal. Here’s what I did, I walked around the store, keeping a close eye on my base of operations (table) and approached people I felt wouldn’t mind being talked to and asked if they would like a flyer. Most people did. This is your foot in the door. Next, I told them who I was and what I was doing at the store. I kept it short and sweet, mentioning the books I was signing, generally, theme or genre, nothing too in-depth. So, chin up solider. If people are not flocking to your table consider what I’ve mentioned above, but also keep in mind the store traffic. Its been a while since I was last in retail, but customers come in waves. Be prepared for that. ALSO, if you think a book signing event is about selling book you might want to adjust your thinking. A book signing is only marginally about selling books; the most important part of a book signing is talking with your potential readers. Selling you more than your books.
- Book Manager. If you don’t have an official BM, get one, or get a close friend or family member to help you out at the signing. This was something I did not plan for but by some strange miracle my BM from another publisher drove 3 hours from her place of residence to help me with my book signing. My BM had asked previously if I needed help, and me being who I am (taking no help typically from others) said no. But she came anyway and stayed the entire slotted time (11-2) and even almost 2 hours extra, cause the CRM was cool and let me stay as long as I wanted. What did my BM do? She helped talk with folks coming to my table, which was super helpful when I was engaged with another potential customer. She helped guide people to my backlog, promoting my other work and not just the books I was signing. Basically, a BM ought to be an extra hand, helping guide store shoppers to you. This was something I did not plan, but helped tremendously. Plus, the help passerby’s think you’re not alone at your table, other people are interested, maybe they should be too. As in nature, a flock draws crowd. Maybe not right away, for those readers who are introverts, but once the crowd disperses, they’ll approach, or send their kid, as with a few who ended up purchasing my books did.
And I think that’s about the whole enchiladas. The event went fantastic. Having and following the above items helped aleve tension and nervousness and kept me away from the always dreaded loony tunes stigma. I walked and talked with a lot of interesting people, including a few veterans who were likewise interested in writing, which is awesome for me because I too am a veteran interested in writing. I learned more about my audience as well. I had a general idea/stereotype of who reads thrillers and dark fiction, however, the majority of those who bought my books were ordinary (as in, not scary goth kids), in fact one was a wife of a WWII Screaming Eagles veteran, how freaking cool is that! Bottom line, was I hesitant about getting away from my bubble? Yes. Profoundly so. My bubble is safe and warm and far removed from crowds and strangers. But I’m glad I did. I think coming prepared mentally helped a lot too. And most of all, having my BM from Booktrope show up to help was a very nice added bonus. I have little doubt having her there helped pull in more readers than what I could have done on my own. There’s a wise saying, “For every Solo, there is a Chewbacca” (sorry Lauren, not calling you a furry Wookie).
How did I do? Well, unfortunately I forgot to have a newsletter sign up sheet, so without the sheet, its kinda hard to gauge how many people came up to my table to talk and/or purchase my books. I can say though that B&N ordered 40 copies (20 each of Dwelling and Emerging) and in the end, there was only 6 total books leftover (some sold after I left the event). Not to brag, but from what I’ve been told by other authors and by the B&N CRM, that is a fantastic sells %. And I have been asked by the CRM to sign the rest of the books because they want to keep them and sell them, AND if I would be interested in a future signing event. I’d like to think, a huge part of my success was what was done in the items mentioned above. In closing, if you’re new to book signings, I hope my experience helped you in some way. If by chance you’re an old pro, please, share your experience and/or suggestions for budding authors in the comments section below.