On Halloween night, 2009, I had my first book signing at a Barnes and Nobles near where I live and went to college. I was so excited that I showed up an hour early for the event. There was a large poster announcing the event at the main door and a table with a display and books set up along the main isle in the middle of the store.
I was immediately concerned.
There were only four books on the table and no other boxes with additional books in sight. Apparently, to attract potential readers, the store had displayed the books three weeks before the event. Most of them were sold before I even got there! That was a great feeling, but I was still apprehensive. Would the display look good enough if there were only four books out? Would readers still come by if there were no books left? Breath! Breath…enjoy the moment.
In the end, I sold all of the books in the store (a few more were found in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section) and the retailer had ordered another ten. Half of those were pre-ordered by people that I had spoken with. They will get autographed copies of the book once it arrives in the store.
Below are some of the things that I learned from my first experience:
Embrace the Salesman in You! The most important thing I learned was that you are selling yourself, as much as, you are selling your work. Potential readers want to know what you have to offer. They want to connect with the author and may even want to feel something special about getting a signed copy. Heck, I was the one feeling all of the excitement! I was honest with those I spoke with; I told them what I thought my book was really about. I tried to relate it to the things each reader was most interested in. I even let readers know who my favorite authors were so they could see a little of who I am. I also shared that I was a local author, a combat vet, and how everything tied back into my writing. I was not dishonest, I was just enthusiastic and sincere with every person I talked with. I remained standing the entire time (except when I was signing a book). I dressed professionally. I smiled and greeted every person that walked by. I passed out bookmarks to those that looked interested but continued to walk past. The bottomline is that you HAVE to be personable.
Bring in Your Support Base! I invited everyone that I knew, even if they had already purchased a book. They came in to get their books signed, to get a photo, or just to talk. This let others see that I was having fun with the event and wanted to share it with everyone.
Reviews! I have a lot of support from my early readers. They wrote what they liked about my book on Amazon.com and my website. I put them into what I thought was the best order and printed them onto professional paper. When a person seemed curious and wanted more information, but was not sure about buying the book, I asked them to take a look at the reviews.
Bookmarks! I hated developing the bookmarks because I tried to do it on my own. After spending $100 on a terrible looking product, I went to a more professional company associated with my publisher. The bookmarks look great. I think they say a lot about the type of book just based on the color scheme, font, and select quotes. My website address and the name of the online retailers carrying the book are listed on the back. When someone decided they wanted to think about it more, did not want the book, or just wanted to say hi, I gave them a bookmark and asked them to check out my biography and the more detailed back cover on the internet.
Pre-order Forms! This was not something I would ever have thought of but having photocopies of order forms actually helped my credibility. Because most of the books had already sold out, the additional order forms convinced potential readers that both the store and I were committed to offering more books with autographs. It also reinforced that a lot of readers were grabbing the book! “Hurry and buy one before they’re all gone!”
Engaging the Staff! I learned a lot about the ordering, shelving, pricing, and advertising of signing events from the friendly staff. If you can’t tell, I like to engage people in conversation. It helped to be professional and friendly with the staff. They got me free coffee and water from Starbucks, talked with me when the crowd was thinning out, and encouraged me to come back. I can’t wait to meet them more just to talk about things we have in common, as well as things that can make my book sell better.
A Good Pen! My wife thought this was silly, but I just felt that I had to have a quality pen to sign my books with. All pens are NOT created equal. Don’t choose one that is too fat or too thin or your signatures will look sloppy. I didn’t choose an expensive pen, I chose one that would do the job.
A Scratch Pad! I found it helpful to write down the names of readers to make sure I had it spelled right before writing on the novels. There is no room for error.
Flyers that Didn’t Fly! I plastered flyers all around my college campus, the local stores (including Halloween stores) and even my church! I don’t think a single person came to the event because of a flyer. It didn’t take much money or time to get them out, but I was disappointed they didn’t boost my crowd potential. I think you have to really plan out where your potential readers are, when they will see the flyer, how long they will remember the event, and how far they are away from the event.
Make the Signing Memorable! Some of the readers were very friendly. One said she decided to buy my book because I had a great aura and that she wanted to share her “happiness” with me. Though I was somewhat taken back, I know it was meant as a compliment and incorporated her enthusiasm in my short message to her. — “For Gloria, Thank you for supporting me and reading the book…And thanks for sharing your “happiness” with me. I hope it helps both of us become successful! I hope you enjoy reading the story. Regards, Tod”
Have Fun! I was nervous going into the event, but I was ecstatic coming out of it. I was asked back to sign the other ten books that should arrive this week, as well as another signing between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I was also asked if I would consider using their store for my next book release (next summer). And I got to keep the poster ads!
Hope these lessons learned help other new writers enjoy their first signing.