How to Host a Great Book Signing

In the ten years I worked for Barnes & Noble, I have managed and attended many book signings, some very successful and some not so much. Whether we like it or not, part of being an author is being a salesman. In this post, I hope to offer advice and insights I’ve learned on how to set yourself up for a great book signing and how to hand sell your work.
1. Good Location
Having a good location is the first step to having a good book signing. What you are looking for is traffic. The more people who see you the more opportunities you have to sell your book. In a bookstore, this is often right at the front of the store or right in front of the children’s department for a YA book. At a convention, try to get a table where there will be high traffic and then during the convention watch the traffic patterns to plan for next year.
2. Good Timing
Timing is also key to good traffic. In a bookstore, for instance, Friday nights and Saturdays are busier than Monday day. You can also try to pair up with other local authors or with book fairs supporting local schools. Both options will net you more traffic with little advertisement on your part. The weekends leading up to Christmas and Fathers Day are the busiest times of year for the book industry. Book signings on these days are the most sought after so ask early. Even if they can’t fit you in this year, building a relationship with the store managers and having a few good signings may help you out next year.
3. Ask for 15 minute overhead announcements.
Some stores believe overhead announcements are best left to Kmart. Despite this, they do drive curious customers to stop by and see what’s happening. Discuss this with your contact person beforehand. If they’re willing, be ready with a short prepared copy on the day in case the store hasn’t prepared one. Something like, “Please join local author Trevor Boylan at the front of the store.  He is signing copies of his new science fiction book…”  followed by title and a one line sales pitch of your book.
3. Don’t be Passive
The worst mistake an author can make at a book signing is to passively sit back and wait for customers to come to them. Stand up, greet every person you see, and introduce yourself. The best authors will ask about a customer’s interest in their subject material then ask if family and friends might like a book on that subject. This opens up the conversation and also allows you to gauge the interest level of your potential customer.
4. Stay Calm
The second worst mistake an author can make is to sound desperate to sell. Inevitably, it will alienate customers. Stay calm, be yourself, and don’t try to sell your book to the staff unless they come to you. Your goal should be to try and sell as many copies as you can while having as much fun with it as you can.
5. Ask for the Sale.
Once you’ve initiated conversation and had a brief conversation, ask if your customer would like you to sign a book for them (or as a gift for a friend.) The simple act of asking often makes many people say yes. Even if they say no, it allows you to take another shot at convincing them or move on to the next customer. Knowing when to move on is sometimes just as important as making a sale. If ten customers walk by ungreeted while you are chatting with one customer for a half hour, you may have just lost the one customer who would be really interested.
6. Advertise
A store will only bring you so much traffic. Your best bet is to bring in more yourself. Make a poster and put it in local coffee shops. Have a website and post your signings there. Develop and email mailing list to keep those people who you’ve already sold to informed of upcoming book releases and book signings. Team up with other local authors with complementary titles to do signings together and cross advertise.
7. Sell to your Friends
One of the best pieces of advice I received from a former professor was to sell to your friends. If you can’t sell to your friends who can you sell to? Invite everyone you know to your book signings and be up front with them that in store sales will help you. The best way to be invited back or to get a better date for your next signing is to develop a relationship with the store managers and by having great sales numbers to back that relationship up.
8. Bring your own stock.
At a bookstore generally provides the stock. However, if you do your job very well you will run out of books. There are two solutions to this. First, you can use it as an opportunity to set up another signing. Secondly, some stores will allow you to use your own stock which they will then return in kind when they get a shipment.
9. Be yourself and savor the moment.
The book signing is all about you and your work. Just be yourself and savor the moment. Just like the rest of the publication process, there’s going to be a lot of hard work and a lot of rejection. The moment you become a jaded used car salesman people will start shying away from you. Your own exuberance for your work is your best weapon for success. Good luck on your next book signing.

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