10 book signing tips for booksellers

Since I’m an author who also owns a bookstore, I’ve been on both sides of the book signing game. Yesterday I talked about what an author can do to make book signings more successful. Today, I’ll switch hats and talk about what the bookseller can do.

Book signing
Me signing books in Yellowstone Park in 2005.
  1. Promote the Event. Policies on paid advertising vary from store to store. Many stores don’t have the budget to take out an ad for every author. But there are a lot of forms of free publicity: Posters, email newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, displays and signs in the store, and telling customers about it at the register. The more publicity you do, the more books you’ll sell.
  2. Get the details right! I’ve shown up a stores where a sign had my name spelled wrong. It’s right there on the front cover of the book  — and it’s not a complicated name, either. There’s no excuse for goofing up details like that.
  3. Order enough stock. Even returnable books cost money to return. I understand that. In my own store, I won’t order a hundred books unless the author is huge. But I will do my best to have enough for a decent display, and enough to satisfy demand. Booksellers need to work with authors. If the store can’t justify spending what it costs for a good stock of books, then authors should get a heads-up so they can bring books themselves.
  4. Know where the stock is. Yep. I showed up at a store for a book signing where they had 100 copies of my book on-hand, but they couldn’t find them. They weren’t out on display; someone had prepared them for the signing, put the boxes of books in the back room, and then gone home without telling the manager where they were. My signing started over 10 minutes late while they searched the store for the books.
  5. Prepare the signing area in advance. It’s frustrating for an author to show up, ready to start — hopefully with customers gathered in anticipation — only to have no place to sign. Again, this tip is from my own experience. I’ve hung out in a store more than once, chatting with customers while waiting for them to find a table or chair for me. Ideally, that signing table should be set up well in advance of the signing, with “AUTHOR EVENT” signs and a big stack of books.
  6. Tell your staff what’s going on. I was doing a book signing at a big store — not a bookstore, incidentally. When I arrived, none of the clerks working in front knew there was a signing that day. The manager was on break, and I stood in front wondering if I was in the wrong store until they tracked him down. Not a great first impression of the store!
  7. Send customers to the table. Whenever you’re talking to a customer, say “we have an author in the store doing a book signing.” The author can’t be expected to run around the whole store flagging down customers. You need to help.
  8. Let the author describe the book. If a customer asks during a signing what the book is all about, let the author answer if she’s not busy. She can describe the book much better, and is more likely to sell a copy.
  9. Negotiate book discounts and terms in advance. Don’t let the situation arise where you get to end of the event, and have the author hand you an invoice at 20% discount (payable immediately) when you were expecting a 40% discount and net 30 terms. Before that author pulls out one book of his own, you should know what it will cost you.
  10. Take special orders in advance. Customers who can’t attend the event would love to be able to get a personalized book anyway. Take orders up front, and have the author sign them before or after the event — not while customers are waiting.

The number one requirement for a successful book signing is communication. I said it yesterday, and I’ll say it again today. We’re all guilty of it. I know I screwed up communications with a bookstore once when I had to reschedule a signing. They had a couple of unhappy customers because of it, and it was my fault.

I’ve seen bookstores mess up signings, too. In almost every case, good communication up-front would have prevented the problem. Some stores go so far as to draft a policy on signings and send a copy to every author before the event.

Book signings are a partnership. Authors and booksellers need to work together to create successful events.

Good luck, and good signings!


book signing book banner

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