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How to Have a Successful Book Signing

Saturday was my book launch signing at Hastings Books in Grand Junction.  I've done all my local book launches at Hastings because the book manager there supports local authors, and she's done all she can on her end to help make the signings a success, which includes contacting the newspapers before the event, putting up signs in the store announcing the signing a week before, ordering enough books (and some extra copies of my other books), setting up a comfortable and visible signing area in the store, and then checking with me several times during the signing to ask if I need anything.  She's a saint.

My signings in town have all been successful.  In each case the bookstore has been happy and so have I.  Every time I've mentioned how I did on line, though, I've received mail from other authors who either haven't had good signings, or they're getting ready for their first, to find out what I do.

I know why there are questions too.  I've been at signings where I've sat the entire time looking lonely and pathetic with a pile of books on the table and an unused pen in hand.

So, here's what I know:  The real secret to a great signing is . . . wait for it . . . to be Neil Gaiman. 

Being famous, popular and having reputation can do quite a bit to attract a crowd.  I know that sounds obvious and flip, but the fact that most authors are not famous, popular or have a reputation means that they need to help the bookstore make a signing successful.

Here's what I do:
  • E-mail an announcement of the event to all my friends in the area about a week ahead of time.
  • Contact my more distant friends and relatives who might be willing to have me buy the book for them at the signing (the more books the bookstore sells, the more likely they will be to let me do another one later).
  • Snail-mail postcard invitations to the same set of folks (some people remember e-mails better--some like to post a physical copy of the invite on a bulletin board.  Besides, the postcards are cool.  I make the template on my computer then get them duplicated on the very nice color copier at CopyCopy.  It's about a quarter a postcard.  I mailed sixty of them).
  • For this signing, I had a poster of the book cover made at CopyCopy.  It's a beautiful reproduction of the art.  At 18 X 28 inches, and mounted on foam board, it is visible from dozens of feet away and announces very visibly what I am signing.  I'll be able to reuse it at other signings.
  • Make sure the signing is in all the local newspapers' "upcoming events" calendars (this may duplicate some of the bookstore's work--we talked about who she contacted).  My contact to one of the newspapers generated an interview and article about me and the book.
  • Send a press release to the television and radio stations who cover the local arts scene.  In a couple of my signings in the past, the stations have covered it as a news event.  We're a slow news area.  LOL
  • Contact the local book clubs.  We have six of them in the Grand Junction area.  The bookstore provided the contact addresses.
  • Contact the local science fiction clubs.  We have two in the area.
  • Contact the local small press publishing association.  They have monthly meetings which I have spoken to a couple of times.
  • Contact the writing workshops in the area.
  • Contact the high school and middle school librarians.  The schools all have book clubs, and there are science fiction/fantasy fans by the bucketful in the schools.  I also have offered to do book/author talks to their groups.
  • Put up fliers at the public library on the community bulletin board.
  • Contact the high school and middle school English teachers who teach Creative Writing or Science Fiction.  I make the same book/author talk offer.
  • Put a postcard invite in the on-campus mailboxes of the college's English department faculty.
  • Put up fliers on the college student center community bulletin board and on the English department's bulletin board.
  • Let my students and parents at the high school know that I'm doing a signing.  Also announce it to the faculty.
  • Brought candy to the signing.  It's amazing how many people will approach to grab candy and stay to talk about the book.
  • Brought handouts for educators to the signing.
  • Brought handouts with a brief description of my other books.

As you can see, it is possible to do quite a bit more to promote a signing than just showing up at the bookstore at the scheduled time.  We sold out all the books yesterday that Hastings had ordered and then ten more that I had brought with me.  We also sold copies of my other three books, including one fellow who decided he needed a complete set of my titles and bought all four.

When I'm doing a signing, I try to be gregarious, approachable, and not a salesman for the books (pushiness is a turn-off, as is aloofness).  I talk to folks about the books they are carrying, what kind of stuff their kids like to read, and anything else that comes up.  The key for me is to stay engaged.  A book signing is not a passive event.

A signing can be a great opportunity to make contacts and/or set up more events.  This signing went so well that I was able to convince the books manager that she could do a group signing for local authors in early December.  The advantage of a group signing is that each author will attract their own crowd, but book lovers love books of all kinds, so more books are likely to be sold to folks I wouldn't ordinarily meet.

There are other strategies to use at book signings that I didn't use.  I didn't make bookmarks, for example (which I never have thought have been productive).  Nor did my family come to the signing wearing tee shirts with my book cover printed on them and a label on the back like, "The author's mother," or "The author's youngest son"  (I didn't plan that one--they did it as a surprise).

I think a signing is an opportunity to have a lot of fun, but it takes a little time and planning.

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
tbclone47
Oct. 11th, 2009 10:54 pm (UTC)
Yay, Jim! Congrats on another fabulous signing.
tbclone47
Oct. 11th, 2009 10:56 pm (UTC)
Musta been right at the beginning of the signing...quite a stack of books there. Glad you sold 'em all!
kmarkhoover
Oct. 11th, 2009 11:29 pm (UTC)
good advice all the way around, thanks for sharing
serge_lj
Oct. 11th, 2009 11:54 pm (UTC)
Congratulations on the signing. And should you somehow show up in New Mexico...

Edited at 2009-10-11 11:54 pm (UTC)
(Anonymous)
Oct. 12th, 2009 03:45 am (UTC)
Congratulations.

Somehow, I missed all the announcements. I'd have liked to come by.

-Ira
mckitterick
Oct. 12th, 2009 04:41 pm (UTC)
This is fantastic advice, Jim. Passing it on....
jimvanpelt
Oct. 12th, 2009 04:45 pm (UTC)
Hi,Chris. Glad to hear from you. I like the Lawrence zombies video.
(Anonymous)
Oct. 13th, 2009 08:58 pm (UTC)
LOL
(Anonymous)
Oct. 19th, 2009 07:30 pm (UTC)
How do you feel about having a book signing not in a book store but in a nice building and just going all out. Maybe having music and finger foods,giveaways and a children's dance group.(I'm a new children's author and this is my first book signing.)
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )