9 Ways To Avoid A Humiliating Public Failure At Your Book Signing Event

 

Your humble host.
your humble host

You finally worked up the nerve to ask a real, live bookstore to have you sign books at an event!

Okay, you emailed them.

But they replied and now you have a signing event! Woo hoo!

Uh oh…

A real live event.With people.

Or worse, maybe with NO people.

I can hear your heart pounding from here. You’ve heard horror stories about signings. Nobody came. Nobody bought a book…

Yeah , that can happen. IF YOU DON’T PLAN FOR A SUCCESSFUL EVENT.

It can happen even if you DO plan. So what do you do? After all, for the most part you tend to be humiliation-averse.

Good thing I was here!

I have 9 tips for what you need to make your signing a hit, plus some bonus tips for before and after the event, and a few planning/social media suggestions.

The biggest thing to remember is: don’t act like getting people to the signing is solely the responsibility of the bookstore. In fact, assume they won’t get anybody there.

If you’re unknown to the masses, you can’t really expect people to line up to see you – unless.

Unless what?

Unless you follow these 9 tips. Come on, work with me.

Gleaned from my own prior blog posts,  10 Winning Strategies For Your Author Event and Should You Participate In A Book Fair? Three Points To Consider, and from “35 Ways to Make Your Next Book Signing an Event!” by Larry James, The Internet Writing Journal, January 2000

BEFORE THE EVENT – Days/weeks before

Go meet the folks hosting you. Shower and dress nice, the way you might for the event, and bring a copy of the book you want to push. This meeting is kind of an audition, even though you already got the gig. Stopping in to meet the manager/owner/person in charge, at a time that’s good for them, shows them in person how friendly you are and how well you’ll do for their store. Tell them you wanna help market the event, so you have some questions if they don’t mind. Then when they say yes, ask your questions:

  • Can I bring a pop-up banner?
  • How many copies of my book should I bring?
  • Does this forced smile make me look crazy?
  • Can I/should I bring other books besides the main title they agreed to – have these with you; show them to the manager. Often they will say, “Yes, bring those, too.”
  • Where will I be standing and signing? (Scope it out. You wanna have as few surprises the day of the event as possible.)

BONUS TIP:

Ask about having your pop-up banner on display in the store for a week before the event you’ll be signing at, with a stack of pre-signed books. Many managers will be agreeable to the extra advertising.

You will be agreeable to the extra sales. (More on that in a second.)

TIP 1A: PICTURES

At the pre-event meeting, ask to take a picture of the manager and yourself with the book, possibly in front of a stack of them or next to its place on the Local Authors bookshelf, so you can post it on your Facebook page and tweet about the event, etc. Tell them this is why you need the picture. They will like your initiative. Promote the crap out of the event several times a week, for weeks before it happens, using those pictures and others, on your Facebook page and Twitter and everywhere else. It’s kind of a big deal. Act like it. One post will not do it. (Remember the horror story you heard about the signing where nobody came? This helps avoid that.)

Be sure to tell friends about the event in person and ask them to stop by, even if it’s just for moral support, but also because the place is great and has cool stuff they’ll wanna see. What stuff? I don’t know; these are your friends – think of something! (At my April signing, they’re giving 50% off any book in stock if a customer buys the featured author’s book. That means I get you the latest James Patterson for half price.) Odds are if you are excited about it, your friends will be. And tell everyone to ask their friends to come by. Maybe have a meet and greet afterwards at a nearby bar. Is this starting to sound more like a fun evening? Good.

Tip 1B: It’s An Event

The place I’m signing at in April is next to a wine shop and a restaurant. I’ll be asking the wine shop owner if she will schedule a special tasting for people I send to her, and I’ll be asking the restaurant owner if they will do a special hours d’ouvre for my guests who come there from the signing. (They are not gonna say no if you are sending them traffic – known to them as potential customers – but if they do say no, send your people anyway and tell them to tell the manager they heard about the place from you. Next time – and there will be a next time – they’ll say yes.) 

Then, take pics of the restaurant and pics of your and the owner, and the wine shop owner, etc., to plaster on social media.

If YOU saw me posting about

  • a book signing, with

  • a special wine tasting, and

  • a special deal at the restaurant,

all as part of a post on Facebook, for an amazing evening event, would that be more interesting to you or less interesting?

Odds are, your bookstore isn’t all by itself. Scope it out and talk to the places nearby. Tell the managers about your event and how you plan to post on social media about it. Think about ways you can get traffic there, and post about it like crazy. Tell everyone you meet for weeks. Don’t worry if they can’t do all three. Tell them to come by and say “Hi.” Traffic is what matters here.

James says call the local newspaper and request that someone come and take pictures for the “feature article” you will also request. Suggest that they interview the book store manager or community relations person. If they like you, they will almost always say great things you and your book.

TIP 2: Make a note of the Local Authors.

The place that has you come for a signing has probably had other local authors come for signings, too. They may have a Local Authors bookshelf. The other local writers may know additional venues to do signings (they will) or they may be interested in combining efforts for cross promotions – they email their newsletter subscribers about your cool new book, and you do the same. Because it works.

BEFORE THE EVENT – Day Of Event

Go early and plan an extra hour to set up. Even if it only takes five minutes, plan an hour. Better safe than sorry. Things go wrong. Extra time = less stress. Events are challenging. You’re nervous. You’ll be amazed at how much less stressed you are if you go early.

James recommends: Come bearing gifts! Give the community relations person (or the person who booked the signing) a rose, small bunch of flowers or a tiny box of chocolates. They will not forget YOU!

James also says: request to give an overview of your book to the employees (the manager or owner in a small shop) so THEY can be aware and help sell it when people ask for that kind of book. Book signings are an opportunity to build relationships with the book sellers. I consider book signings as an opportunity to SELL the book sellers on recommending MY books to customers. Books DO NOT sell themselves. People SELL books. Shmooze with the people who take the money from the customers. Get to know the staff at the book store. THEY can help you continue to sell your books LONG AFTER you have gone! (And before you even get there, if you’re allowed to set up a pop-up banner the week before the signing. That whole week, the manager can tell customers what your book is about!)

EVENT START

Tip 3: Stand and smile.

First, you STAND because you’re gonna be interacting. That means wear comfortable shoes. You SMILE because you are approachable.

STAND: If you sit you are less likely to engage with the people meandering around (known as prospective readers) – and more likely to reach for your iPhone. If you stand – and if your iPhone is under the table where you can’t get to it – you’ll be more likely to engage with those prospective readers (known as people who buy books). That’s why you’re there, so engage.  Stand. And stay off your phone.

SMILE: You are not in the Miss America pageant, but for the length of the event, your face needs to pretend you are, and that means a BIG SMILE. You need an appearance that says you are happy. Even when nobody’s at your table. You can do it, and you can take Advil afterwards for those aching cheek muscles.

NO CELL PHONE

That also means NOT reading your iPhone! Being on your phone says This Event Sucks or I’m Not Selling Any Books – which to a prospective reader says THAT BOOK SUCKS OR IT WOULD BE SELLING. That’s bad.

Most people tend to get a restful face or a semi-frown when they are reading on their iPhone. Their head is down and their body language says “don’t bother me.” That’s bad for sales, too! Instead, you want your appearance to say, “Hey, I am a happy/ friendly/ approachable person – coincidentally I would like to tell you about this awesome book/sell you its sequel. Let’s be friends. Come talk to me. There may be cookies over here.

Tip 4: Walk around!

Larry James also says: Walk around the store with several copies of your book and introduce yourself to everyone. (Folks, that is brilliant – Dan) If those you introduce yourself to show the least bit of interest, hand them a book. They will almost always take it. Tell them to look at it and bring it back to the table when they are finished.

Example:

You: Hi, I’m Dan Alatorre, the featured local author tonight. Thanks for coming in!

Them: Hi. Oh yeah, I saw your banner when I came in.

You, handing them your book: Awesome! This is my latest title, The Navigators. Have a look at it and bring it back to the table when you’re done. Thanks for coming!

 

You can do that.

Yes, you can.

James says on average, he more than tripled his book sales at signings by implementing this tip. (That’s a solid idea – Dan) James recommends letting the manager know you will be the store’s official greeter while you are there.

You can do that, too.

Tip 5: A Trick For The Table

This is brilliant, also from James: When people stop by your autograph table, as you are introducing yourself, hand them a copy of your book.

  • Many people will not pick up your book, but most will take it if you hand it to them.
  • If they begin to read it, that’s your cue to keep quiet.

My book sales at back of the room and at book signings have increased significantly since using this tip.

Tip 6: Announcements

If the store does announcements, James recommends writing your own announcement for the book store’s intercom. Make it short and brief. Give them several versions, because they usually announce that you are there several times. Don’t hesitate to remind them to make the announcement again if it’s been awhile since the last announcement. They will often get busy and forget. Every half hour should do it

Tip 7: Your signup list

If it’s cool with the manager, have a newsletter sign up list handy (name, email address), and encourage people to sign it. Maybe a $25 Amazon card, maybe a gift certificate to the store, your call – and run it by the manager first. Oh, and start the event with a few friends’ names and emails, or fake ones, already on your signup sheet. Nobody likes to go first, but everybody will do whatever everyone else is doing.  If you are putting the names on paper and putting them in a jar, fold a dozen up and put them in the jar before the event so it looks “busy” already.

Tip 8: Autographs

ALWAYS sign your books at events. As James notes, some people are too shy to ask for your autograph. Simply say, “Here, let me sign that for you.”

Tip 9: Be Unique

James says: Come up with a special way of signing your name every time you sign your books. For many years, I have signed books, “(their name), Celebrate Love! Larry James.” (I really like this idea, kinda how Walt Disney’s autograph was so distinctive; definitely worth some thought – Dan)

AFTER THE EVENT – Two bonus tips from James, one from me.

I’ve done lots and lots of events. You may not get mobbed with adoring fans. In fact, plan for that to not happen. These have been suggestions for if there are people; here are a few for if there aren’t.

Chat with the manager about upcoming events and about your book. The story. The place gets customers, just not tonight. Shrug it off. You learned stuff. You made a friend who sells books for you. There’ll be another day. They’ll have other events, so get scheduled for those. When one works, the rest will, too. Don’t expect to hit a home run the first time at bat.

Do a “Facebook live” with you and the manager. Have the manager ask a few pre-planned questions and have your (relatively short) answers ready. Talk about how great the store is and how helpful the staff is. If it’s really dead, do a few of these, like it’s a big deal. Your friends will see them (eventually) so it still helps your overall platform.

Take lots of pictures, like you didn’t already, of the store and your book and the manager and you, all smiling. It’ll remind the manager that you will be promoting the event afterwards, too. These pics will be good for social media later, and if there is anybody in the place, try to get a picture with you and them in the shot. Ask the manager to take casual shots of you with customers. (They’ll all look good because you’re smiling, remember?)

And some don’ts:

  • Don’t complain if you don’t sell lots of books. It happens. It’ll probably happen your first time out, or maybe more than that, so expect it. Signings make those who bought your book feel good, but they really don’t sell lots of books while you are there, UNLESS you create a presence WHILE YOU ARE THERE! But networking with the manager will get books sold for a long time afterward, so remember that’s a goal of the signing, too.
  • Don’t show your disappointment if you don’t sell very many books. It only creates bad will. Nuff said!

DO: Send the manager a written “thank you” card. Nobody does that any more, but everybody appreciates it.

BONUS TIP:

Copy down a few awesome ideas from this post and print them out. Take that to your event. All the “before” and “after” event stuff, you need to do, but the “during” stuff can be hard to remember when the event is happening. A printed list will help you. Glance at it periodically and do the stuff you haven’t been doing. No need to try to remember, so you can relax, and no excuses! You can do these things!

Whether it goes well or badly, set up your next event signing. Practice makes perfect. You may have to do a few before it clicks, but usually these signings don’t cost you anything, as opposed to a book fair that does, so learn how to do them while it’s free.

Trying to get into a better venue? Use the fact that you did a signing at XYZ Bookstore as a door opener in your request. It all helps.

Got ideas? Post YOUR suggestions below!

82 thoughts on “9 Ways To Avoid A Humiliating Public Failure At Your Book Signing Event

  1. My signing wasn’t in my hometown and my family was with me, so I gave my phone to my 8-year-old to take pics. It was great for a few reasons: 1. He got some impressive shots, 2. It kept him busy, and 3. It kept my phone out of my stupid hands.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Pay attention to the radio and television in your local area, find out where the venue advertises and approach the media, tell them about the event and offer to provide a signed copy of your book to one of the listeners (radio) viewers (television. If they have segments for local people, doing good, etc. they might just jump at the chance to promote something cool, especially if it involves a business that helps them pay their bills.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. These look like a collection of very sound and wise advice; however
    Slightly tongue-in-cheek-
    British Version:
    1.Find a town which has a bookshop that is not Waterstones or WH Smith’s or any other chain as they do not let their managers footle about with such stuff as encouraging local authors; their Head Office will judge what is worthy of their time and space (ie sellable in large numbers)
    2. Politely approach the owner or manager by letter because no one would be so forward as to walk into a shop, when the staff are obviously busy, either selling or not selling books and are might not want to speak you to.
    3. Put something up on Facebook and hope someone reads your page.
    4. Don’t tell local authors you don’t personally know just in case you inadvertently blunder into a clique who will take offence because they never had a book signing.
    5. At the day of the signing. Do as you are told by the staff and sit politely in a place which although does not obstruct customers puts you where they will notice, have a pile of your books. (And thermos flask of tea) Do not bother the customers, British customers hate to be bothered by total strangers and will instantly want to leave the store or avoid you and your book. Wait for curiosity-smitten folk to wander over.
    6. Engage those who wander over in a polite and restrained way. Proffer a copy of the book in a similar manner, do not look directly at them while they are reading they will feel uncomfortable, but do not remain silent, they will feel you are looking at them. Simply give a brief outline of genre and sub-genre, drink tea.
    If they do indicate they will buy a copy, offer to sign it, and restrain yourself from grasping their hand or shoulders in sheer relief.
    7. Consider 1 sale a success, 2 an amazing success. 3 or more, do not give way to delirious or hysterical babbling.
    8. Go home and write up your account on WP.
    9. Allow yourself 1 hour before going to bed sitting in the calm soothing silence, or alternatively watch a DVD cartoon.
    10. Accept you are now in the hands of the gods of public readership and accept your fate with all good sufferance and forbearance.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Very helpful thank you Dan.. I once set up at a summer craft and book festival in a wonderful country house garden. It started pouring on Friday night and stopped as we were packing up on the Sunday.. I nearly gave the books away to the wonderful souls who turned out in their galoshes.. They can be fun but as you say even when you plan…

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Like all the suggestions. As a Brit everything here is much more low key. Also there are very few independents in the UK prepared to host a book signing- unless it is from a main publisher- that they already have a contract with. I may get the opportunity one day, who knows? – the tips are useful for such an event. My latest novel Galactic Mission by Sam Grant is a science fiction/ futuristic novel. American Kindle readers have liked my earlier novels. Love you for that. Thanks very much the tips -Kind regards, Colin.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you guys have used bookstores over there, that would be a good place to start. They are much more accommodating because they don’t have to worry about contract with the publishers.

      Also, public libraries will often feature a local author.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve been doing signing events for a couple of years now with my children’s books (as Wendy White) and I usually love doing them. But there were some great tips here I hadn’t thought of, like asking if you can put up your banner a week before and handing your book to people. I normally use flyers to break the ice but will definitely try the book technique from now on. Thanks! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Here’s another reason it’s a good idea.

      I literally am leaving the bookstore where I’m going to be doing the signing, and I was bringing over my banner today.

      First of all, I brought the wrong banner! Whoops!

      Second of all, I brought some additional books. While I was there I chatted with a couple of customers and sold two books in the first five minutes.

      So, more reasons to visit and chat is more opportunities to have the owner point you out and say hey here’s the author.

      Also, I got to interact a little more with the owner and build some more rapport with her. Today she knows a little more of the story in my book then she did yesterday. That helps her sell it while I am not there.

      It’s all good. Two books sold, two more fans, a little more rapport with the owner. Plus, once I get the right banner over there, I will have advertising for the week!

      Like

      • Great tips. Book signings have been on a market stall where passers by have stopped and picked my latest novel up. One signed book was to a woman in bike leathers and helmet. She was keen to have my signature. I never got to ask if she’d read my other novels. Her partner paid. I hope he’s still in love with her next time they visit !!—-One day, who knows? I might do a book signing in a book store! These tips will be very useful.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. These are great tips! If you haven’t already suggested it, it might make a good link or feature for the next IWSG newsletter. I’d like to think that once (and if) I finish my first book, everything else will be peanuts. I do like to socialize, but an event like this must be quite stressful, especially the first time.

    Liesbet @ Roaming About – A Life Less Ordinary

    Liked by 1 person

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