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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
Since I’m an author who also owns a bookstore, I’ve been on both sides of the book signing game. Today, I’d like to talk about what an author can do to make book signings more successful. For my next post, I’ll switch hats and talk about what the bookseller can do.
- Help with promotion. You’re an author. You probably have a website and/or a blog. You’re probably on Facebook and Twitter. You probably send out an e-newsletter. (If you’re not doing any of these things, why not?) Once you’ve finalized a book signing, tell everyone about it! Help the bookstore spread the word. It’s your book, and nobody can talk about it better than you can!
- Send promotional materials to the store. Sometimes, especially with new authors, I have a devil of a time finding a good hi-res photo of the author or the book cover to use on our posters and announcements. When you confirm the signing, ask the store manager if photos would be useful. If you have any little giveaways, like buttons or bookmarks, send some in advance for the bookstore’s promotional display.
Communicate your special needs well in advance. Do you need a second chair at the signing table for your spouse or assistant? Do you need a projector, screen, or computer for your talk? Do you use a wheelchair and need help setting up? Do you need an easel for your signs or props? Figure it all out and tell the bookstore — preferably in writing (email or letter).
- Let the store know when you get to town. As a bookseller, it frustrates me when an author is coming in from another state, and five minutes before the signing starts, I have no idea whether they’re a block away or caught in traffic in another town. If you’re running late, call and tell them. As my wife says, “If you’re not five minutes early, you’re late!” When you arrive, drop by the store and tell them you made it. Then (if you have time) go out and grab some dinner or whatever else you have to do. Speaking of which…
- Do what you need to do before the signing. Booksellers don’t like telling customers, “Yes, the book signing was supposed to start now, but the author is having a smoke/going to the bathroom/buying a soda/calling home.” Take care of everything in advance and be at your table ready to go at the scheduled start time for the event.
- Be prepared! Bring a spare pen in case you run out of ink. Bring a little notepad where people can write down the spellings of their names. If the store doesn’t have a coffee shop or tea bar, bring your bottle of water or thermos of hot drink (save the booze for after the book signing, please).
- Don’t undercut or bypass the store. Want to piss off a store owner? Hand out bookmarks that say “available at Amazon.” Tell people they can get your other books at the store down the street. Tell customers to call you direct for more copies instead of coming back to the store. Even worse, sell books out of your trunk right after the signing. The store has worked hard to put this event together, spent money on promotion, and showed their faith in you by providing space in the store. Return the favor and send them business.
- If you’re doing a reading, bring a personal copy of your book. Do not take a new book from the bookstore’s stock, crease the pages, and read from it during your talk!
- Engage the customers, but don’t be pushy! Don’t sit at your table like a lump and wait for people to come ask about your book. Say hello! Tell them you’re in the store signing your books. Then, if they don’t make eye contact, or they act uninterested, leave them alone.
- While you’re at it, engage the staff. Be pleasant. Chat with them (when there isn’t a customer waiting). Offer to sign a book for them. Make them want to send customers over to your table. This will pay off in spades the next day when they’re telling everyone how wonderful you were and showing off your books. The signing is only the beginning. If they like you (and you wrote a decent book, of course), then they’ll hand-sell your books for months. On the flip side…
- Don’t monopolize the staff. Keeping the employees from doing their job does not lead to happy store managers!
- When there are customers nearby, stay by the table. I’ve had customers get interested in a book, and then I couldn’t find the author to sign a copy. Don’t wander away unless you tell the bookstore staff where you’re going.
- 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.
- Allow a little bit of time afterward to sign their stock. Typically, my store will sell as many of your books in the week or two after the signing as we do at the event. You can help to make that happen by staying after the event is done and signing our backstock. It’s also a nice touch to keep a package or two of bookplates with you. Then if the store sold out (yippee!) you can sign a few bookplates and leave them.
The number one requirement for a successful book signing is communication. If you have to leave at 6:00, tell them that in advance. If you’d like to go out and have a beer with the store owner after the event, don’t wait until the day of the signing to ask. Tell them whether you’re bringing books and what you’ll charge the store for them. If you need to be paid for books on the spot, say so. There may not be anyone there with check signing authority when the signing finishes up.
Good luck, and good signings! And if you happen to have a book that you think would do well in a small-town Montana bookstore, let us know when you’re heading our way. Maybe we can set something up!
NOTE: If this post leaves you wanting more, please take a look at “11 MORE book signing tips for authors,” which I posted on August 2, 2011.