I just had an author friend write to say, “I’ve been asked to do a book signing party at our local bookstore. It seems like most booksignings I’ve been part of were a disaster. Do you have any tips for making a book signing successful?”
Anyone who has spent time in this industry has been to a dud of a book signing party. The author shows up, sits at a table by herself, and fidgets while a couple people wander by, ignoring her. Eventually an older woman hesitantly approaches, looking furtively around, and asks, “Hey… can you tell me where the ladies’ room is?”
Nothing is as deflating to an author as throwing a party and having nobody show up. The fact is, if you want to do a book signing, the first rule is simple: Don’t rely on the bookseller to get people there. They might send out a flyer, or put it on the company website… or they might now. (I remember one A-level author who showed up with me for a book signing only to find the staff hadn’t been told, there was no signage, and her boxes of books were actually locked in the manager’s office, and he was away on vacation. True story.) So, like in everything else in marketing, don’t rely on someone else to do the work – YOU do it, and have a plan for succeeding. Some tips…
1. Invite people. Again, don’t sit and wait for people to show up. Go out and invite them. Make it a party. Tell your family they need to show up. Personally invite all your friends – call them, send them notes, check back with them and get some commitments to be there. Focus on inviting some groups, since groups of people will make it feel like more of an event. (So invite your co-workers, your neighbors, the people at church, the people at the gym or the civic groups you belong to.)
2. Call people. Remind them. Bug them. Get them to commit to showing up. Events like this are successful if people show up. If they don’t show up, you don’t have a party; you have an empty room.
3. Make it a party. In other words, don’t just have people show up to see you, especially if it’s near your home town. Those folks can see you anytime. Have a theme. Make some noise. Do a reading. Dress up. Ask the bookstore’s event person for suggestions – if you get the bookstore staff involved, they’re more apt to act supportive of the event.
4. Bring stuff to give away. You want to SELL books, but you can give away swag. Bookmarks. Pens. Buttons. I’ve known people who have had drawings for bigger prizes.
5. Talk to everyone who comes. As an author, you’re most likely an introvert – but at a book signing, you’re going to pretend you’re an extrovert. So walk up to everybody who shows up, smile, thank them for coming, ask their name. If you need to, have a couple questions in mind to ask people. Be able to talk about your book without sounding like you’re desperate to sell some copies. And by all means, let the bookstore staff hear you say, “If you like this, you should check out these other books while you’re in the store.” Let’s face it, the bookstore isn’t doing this to be nice to you – they’re doing it to bring in potential book-buyers.
6. Have a handler there to manage the line, if there is one, and to chat up people while they’re waiting to get you to sign a book. A friendly and attractive person who can smile and chat up people at a busy booksigning is a real help to you.
7. Contact your local TV and radio people. Get in touch with the local arts and entertainment reporter of the paper. Tell them it’s a “local girl makes good” story, and invite them to be there. Make sure to build in time for an interview, before or after the signing.
8. Have someone taking pictures. You can use them on your website later. Make sure to get one with the bookstore staff.
9. If there’s a crowd, read from the book and take questions. If you’ve invited the local book groups or the local writing groups, they’ll want to hear you read a bit, and they’ll want to ask about your writing techniques. In a setting like that, read three or four passages from your book, for maybe 20 minutes, then answer questions for 20 to 30.
10. Have candy for everyone. If possible, serve coffee or wine, since food and drink loosen people up and make it feel like more of a party and less of a sales pitch.
11. Again, talk about how great the bookstore is. Mention friend’s books that are in the store. Or, if you’re not doing this at a bookstore (let’s say you’re doing this at a country club or a community center or a restaurant), then make sure to invite people to do something there, or buy something, or be involved in some way. In other words, try to get the venue and its staff on your side.
12. Get there early. No matter how well you plan, the arrangements won’t be right.
13. Dress nice – the rule of thumb is to dress one level above where your audience is. (So if they’re in jeans, you’re in business casual. If they’re in business casual, you’re in something a bit more formal.)
14. Show your personality. Your book reveals who you are, so readers want to see you. If you’re funny, show some humor. If you’re dark, offer them a bit of mystery. But don’t just show up thinking you can sign books, shake hands, and walk away. People who are coming want to either support you (if they know you) or get to know you (if they’re simply fans of your work). So they all want to see the real you.
What other tips would you offer to someone doing a book signing?