How to host a SUCCESSFUL book signing event

Posted by Lizzy Armentrout on February 15, 2010 at 3:43 PM

After discussing a successful book signing event that I had at a major bookstore, my publisher asked me to write a blog about my interactions with the management personnel.. It is my hope that this will help other authors who are setting up events.

     If you are an author who has attempted to get your book into a bookstore for a book signing, then you have probably noticed that the bookstore managers are not falling over you wanting to schedule one (unless you’re a celebrity or other famous person.) I'll be the first to admit that I was confused by this response when I first started doing these events.  Why wouldn’t stores want authors to come in? After many book signings and having conversations with many bookstore owners, I believe I've figured out the problem---it's us authors! What? The author? Howcould we be the problem?    

 Here’s the problems that I’ve seen (and heard about from store managers) alongwith the solutions:

1. Prayer- Before beginning always ask the Lord to bless and help your event.

2. Presentation- I've seen authors come to a book signing with just their books and a pen.  Others have taken it a step further and had a poster made.  Some have a tablecloth.  Remember, you are trying to GET people to WANT your book.  You are marketing while doing a book signing.  What does your table look like?  Does your tablecloth match your cover? Does your table make people curious about what you’re doing? 

  • Invest in getting a vinyl banner made with your book cover and title on it to hang in front of the table. 
  • Take your book cover in a jpeg format to your local office supply store and have it made into a large poster on foam board.  (This cost me about $10)
  • Have a tabletop easel to put your poster on
  • Don't display the price...let the reader come & ask so you can draw them in
  • Put out a bowl of free candy
  • Arrange your books in attractive stacks of 3-4 books on the table
  • Have 2-3 business card holders with your card in it for those who can't buy it that day
  • Dress professionally---remember, you are wanting to be approachable
  • I have a book trailer of my book, so I take a portable DVD player and have it loop the trailer the whole time I’m at the table.  Managers have told me that they’re very impressed with this, because it gets everyone’s attention.

3. Personality- You can have the loveliest display table but if this area isn’t right then you will not sell books. This is probably the biggest area that most authors have trouble with.  We authors like to think that people will see an author and just rush over to meet him/her.  So, most authors go to a book signing, have their pens in hand, sit behind their table, and wait for the reader to approach asking for a book.  I've seen many authors at these events just sitting the entire day waiting for someone to come up and ask for their autograph and not sell one book.  According to the manager of a local Barnes & Noble that I had an event at, THIS is the MAIN reason bookstore managers don't want to host events.  The manager orders in multiple copies of the book and the author doesn't do a thing to help move them. Now that manager is left with a huge stack of books after the event is over and has all of that inventory left to move.  So what DO you do

  • DON'T SIT!  I know it sounds hard, but it is VERY important!  Do NOT sit behind the table.  Now, I have arthritis in my knees, so I understand that it can be hard to stand for a long period of time.  What I do is this---I look around & if no one is in close vicinity then I take a minute or two to sit down and take a drink.  BUT, as soon as I see anyone within talking distance I stand right back up.  Yes, my legs and feet usually throb after an event, but it's well worth it when you've sold out and left a very happy manager behind at the store. Think of it as a party that you have to attend for the room! Just like a party, if you are a wallflower and “hide” behind the table for security then you won’t receive much attention.  Make connections with each customer who walks by you so that they will want to see what you wrote.  Remember, the customer has no idea who you are, so why would they want to read your book?  One manager told me that he’s never seen so much activity at an author event as I had at mine.  When he came in at the shift change and saw people surrounding my table and me standing there in the middle, he was thrilled that I was helping HIM sell HIS books! 
  • Stand slightly to the side of the table and have business cards in hand. As you see someone enter the store or come within close proximity to you, ask a question to hook them.  I'm a Christian mystery author, so my question is, "Do you like to read mysteries?"  (I love hearing the variety of responses that I get, but that would take another whole blog to write about.)  This is how I handle the different responses:
  • Somesay, "No, I only read historical." (or whatever genre they like that isn’t mystery)
  •  I reply with, "That's fine; if someone asked me if I liked to read historical fiction, I'd have to say a huge no also!"  This usually makes them smile.  Hand them a card as they move on with, “If you know someone who does, please give them my card.” You've not angered them or harassed them, BUT you’ve made them wonder about you, the author. This just might capture enough of their curiosity to make them wonder about your book.
  • If they pause for any reason after I ask my hook question, I then proceed to say,  "I'm the author of a murder mystery set in NC."  By this time they are usually over at the table, picking up a book, and looking through it.
  • As they look through it, I'll say, "I'd love to sign a copy for you today. How would you like me to make it out?" Book sold! If they say that they would love to buy one but can’t because of money or whatever reason, I hand them a card and tell them that they can always get one on my website or from an online bookstore.
  • I’veactually sold some books to customers who responded with a, “No.”  When I’ve asked them about why they came back and bought one, their answer has always been that I made them feel comfortable and didn’t bug them.

4. Pitfalls- Watch out for the time wasters.  These are people who have NO desire to purchase a book but will take up your entire day by chatting with you about any number of topics.  These are usually people who are writing or have a desire to write and want to pick your brain.  If you’re not careful, they’ll keep you talking while potential sales go walking right on by.  How do I handle this?  Well, you should always smile and be polite, but you have to firmly take control of the conversation.  I usually respond with, “That’s great that you’re a fellow writer also! I’d love to chat with you some more, but I really need to be meeting the customers.  Please feel free to send me an email with your questions.”  I then hand them a card and look away at the next customer walking by.  I will immediately ask my hook question to that other customer so the time waster will take the hint. Sometimes you just have to be blunt and state that you’re not there to have a writer’s discussion. 

A personal anecdote:

            My publisher had set up a booksigning at Barnes & Noble!  I was thrilled and so excited to be at a major chain store!  At my publisher’s request, I contacted the manager a couple of weeks before the event, but I could tell the manager wasn’t as thrilled as I was about this.  She was polite and helpful but guarded.  The day of the signing came, and I arrived 15 minutes early to get everything set up.  Again, the manager was helpful and very polite but again very standoffish.  I just thought it was the personality of the manager and didn’t give it another thought. I jumped right in with my above hints and started making sales.  I didn’t even notice when the shift changed because I was so busy.  Imagine my surprise when I asked my hook question and the person I asked was the manager!  He told me that he had started an hour earlier but because I had so many people around my table he didn’t want to disturb me.  He was very enthusiastic and told me that he was thrilled at the response I had.  He also mentioned that he loved my booktrailer being played on the table; that it was an instant drawing card to customers.  He very enthusiastically told me that he’d get me anything that I needed.  I was there 2 hrs and was down to 4 books, so I went and found the manager to ask him how he wanted me to proceed.  Did he want me to keep selling or did he want to save a couple for the shelf?  He couldn’t believe that I was down to just 4 books in such a short time!  He told me to keep selling until they were all gone, and they would order more in for the shelves.  15 minutes later we were sold out! Woo-hoo!!!!  Again, I went to find the manager to thank him for allowing me to come and sign my book.  He was so enthusiastic in his replies.  He kept going on and on about how he wished more and more authors would talk to the customers like I had.  I asked him why the store hadn’t ordered more books for the event?  His reply, “Because the author usually sits there, and I’m stuck with cases of books to move.”  We then proceeded to discuss book events and much of my information for this article came from that conversation. He helped me take down my display and carry it out to the car.  As I said good-bye, he shook my hand and told me that I could come back to their store anytime I wanted. I had to call the store back the next business day to take care of a minor detail and reached the manager that had been there when I arrived (the one who was polite but guarded).  She was a totally different person...just gushing on and on about the successful event.  






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