Book Signings: Learn from my mistakes!

Last month, I wrote a blog post entitled “14 book signing tips for authors.” Last night, I kicked myself for not following all of my own advice.

Actually, things started out just right. I talked to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center well in advance and worked out the details. I would give a talk in their theater from 7:00 to 8:00 pm, and then sign books in their gift shop afterward. I publicized the talk and signing on Facebook, Twitter, and this blog (tip #1), leaving the local publicity to the Grizzly and Wolf Center—and I made sure the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce knew about it. I sent them some artwork for posters (tip #2) and packed my big sign. Since they told me that they regularly carried my book and it sold well, I assumed they’d have plenty of stock, but I tossed a few extras in the car, just in case.

See the problems? Hint: they’re both in that last sentence, and there are two key words in each problem. The first one is “I assumed” and the second one is “a few.” When I showed up a couple of hours early to check in (tip #4) and chat with the staff (tip #10), one of the first things the manager said to me was, “we sold out of your books, so I hope you have plenty of them out in the car!” Oops. I had five. Count ’em, five.

Luckily, West Yellowstone is a small, friendly town. The gift shop manager at the Grizzly and Wolf Center knows the owner of the bookstore in town, and called her. Oops again. They were out of stock, too. Fortunately for us, a very pleasant assistant manager at another store in town (thank you, Smith & Chandler!) had a big stack of books they were willing to share.

Talking Poop in West Yellowstone

So all went well. I gave my talk to a good-sized group, and there were plenty of books for the signing. I also learned my lesson. I should have paid more attention to my own tip #13 (see below), and I should have called the store before I left home to ask whether they would need books. Calling ahead might not have been adequate, though. My event was on a Sunday, and they had a good stock going into the weekend. She might have told me they had it covered. But it still would have been good to ask.

TIP #13: Carry some spare books. If you’re lucky, the signing will be a smash hit. With the economy down, though, booksellers are being cautious about over-ordering. That means that if your signing is fantastic, they just might run out of books. If you have a box or two in your trunk, you can grab them (be prepared to sell them to the store at the standard distribution discount!) and keep on going. If you don’t, the signing is done.

As always, everything comes down to communication. As writers, that’s our first job anyway, right?

book signing book banner


  1. Maybe you can help me. I own a used bookstore and some of my customers have asked about book signings. I would love to host some author events, but don’t know what is standard. In a case where the author brings his own copies, what’s the usual “split” or commission?

    1. Everything is negotiable, Maggie, depending on who pays for marketing and a lot of other factors. Typical, however, is a 60/40 split (60% to the author, 40% to the store). That keeps the store’s profit in line with standard distribution discounting. If you’re not spending any money on inventory, advertising, or equipment, then you can afford to weigh the split more heavily to the author.

  2. Gary, thank you for putting this all together. As a new author, the details of a book signing haven’t come up before. I found this very helpful. Best to you.

    1. I’m glad it helped, Cheryl. I’m putting together some more book signing information now. I should have something new to post fairly soon.

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