5 Ways to Ace Your Book Signings
#3: Don’t just sit there — walk around!
When I compiled and self-published my first book, I knew I wanted to speak to its target audience (college students). I reached out to my alma mater to talk to undergrad students, and I received an unexpectedly warm response.
The email reply from the school librarian confirmed that I was being honored as a “Master Student.” She wanted me to visit my school to talk about what I’d learned while attending there. Best of all, the school paid for my travel expenses and purchased a collection of my first book to be given away at book signings and/or housed in the library. I was even given my own parking space for the signings. I thought, “This is exactly how book signings should go. This is the author life!”
And as happy as I was to attend that first book signing, I realized I’d made a grave mistake by expecting all the rest of the book signings to operate exactly like this one did.
Here are some lessons I learned the hard way on how to get the most out of doing book signings.
1. Make Sure People Know You’re Coming
At a second book signing at another college, I sold a grand total of two books after visiting this school for maybe three hours. Those sales didn’t come close to covering my round-trip flight to the school or my hotel stay — they barely even bought me lunch.
While no author can be sure how many books will be sold once they’re there, one of the early problems I found was no one even knew who I was or that I was coming. At least two other authors sat around bored and at lonely tables off to the side of a huge college bookstore while students lined up out the door for a fellow alma mater/fraternity member. As both a graduate of the school and a member of his very proud Black Greek Organization (BGO), he had two made-in audiences already. And considering the line started before he even got there, it was clear that the school had properly promoted him beforehand.
2. Have Eye-Pleasing Marketing Material to Lure Readers to Your Table
The lonely authors, including myself, had minimal marketing material on our tables. Oddly, one author next to me was playing a radio station that sounded like Bollywood music. And it had nothing to do with her book.
Although my table had postcards with my book cover proudly displayed on the front, unless readers came to my table, they would have no idea that they were there. Meanwhile, the BGO graduate had a huge poster, free pens, and brochures that you could see from the door.
3. Stand Up and Walk Around
I hate going into retail stores and not being able to find employees. I want them to be firmly in place in whatever department I’m in. Unfortunately, book signings work somewhere in the middle. While authors should definitely be at their respective tables to talk to potential readers and sign books, they shouldn’t depend on just sitting at the table to sell their books.
Restaurant employees have long figured that out. Recently, during a feature story I covered for the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, I planned on browsing all five floors, testing a tall version of one drink, and then leaving. But I happened to be standing in the center of one floor, just looking around, and an employee on her lunch break asked me, “How are you doing? Do you need anything?”
By the time I finished talking to her about the restaurant, I’d ordered two grande drinks and a Zucca Arrostita sweet potato slice. I didn’t even know what “Zucca Arrostita” was before that visit. Just that one friendly conversation with an employee immediately made me want to buy more.
4. Be Ready for Visitors
With the way things were going at that alternate book signing — a complete 180-degree turn from my own alma mater’s book signings — I pouted (as 20-somethings do) and decided I was leaving. But as I was standing up to pack up my books, the BGO graduate decided to take a break and stretch his legs. By that time, he had already finished signing a box of books for people in his line.
The BGO graduate walked over to my table, smiled, shook my hand, and asked me what my book was about. And I proceeded to drill him with questions about his own book. He looked at me curiously, turned his head to the side, and asked me, “You do realize you are losing a book sale, right? I’m asking you about your book to see if I want to buy it.”
Even when I was presented with a customer, I talked about everything but my own work. Always be prepared to talk about your book with anyone, including fellow authors.
5. Know Your Book Signing Location
As much as that second college book signing didn’t work out, one of the most important lessons I learned as a vendor was to always know where your location is. In the college bookstore, my table was off in the far, right-hand corner away from the door. The graduate student was right in the center where people could easily find him, even students casually walking by.
During my first non-college book signing at a hotel, I asked the promoter where the authors would be sitting. He showed me a square table arrangement near the buffet section. I asked him if it was OK to sit at a center table right in front of the door — away from the other authors. He scratched his head and wondered about my antisocial decision, but I’d already learned from the bookstore event.
Just as I suspected, when people walked into the ballroom, I made eye contact, smiled, and many guests walked over. They asked about my book and many bought copies. Meanwhile, the collection of authors by the buffet were largely ignored because people were too busy trying to get to the food.
I sold more books in total than a handful of other authors who sat together. As an author, you must find ways to set yourself apart, even if it means not being the first to get to the grub!
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