When I was contemplating my first book signing, I didn’t have anything to go by other than what I had seen on TV and in the movies…a bored author signing an endless parade of books. It was a stereotyped image, and the author was invariably someone who was famous and had umpteen dozen best sellers on the market. All of it was so far from my actual experience, that I was astonished. Let’s deal with the stereotype and get that out of the way.
Unequivocally, if the author is bored, people will stay away in droves. Now you might not be bored, but nervous instead and bury your face in a book to cover it. However, it will give people the same impression: you’re not interested in your book and you are not interested in the people. They will stay away from your table.
Maybe we should go back to the beginning.
When the first edition of my novel Witchcanery was published, I was ecstatic. Since it was self-published, I had to get out and spread the word. I had no clue how to go about it. Fortunately, I had attended a seminar on book publishing by small, independent publishers, and they had mentioned about a contact to get books placed in Chapters, a large Canadian chain of bookstores. I telephoned the guy, who turned out to be the regional consultant for PR with the stores in Alberta. He met with me and gave me all kinds of helpful advice, plus a list of stores to try. I contacted two or three of them, asked to speak to the store manager (or the consignment manager), and set up book signings. It was as simple as that.
In a big chain, the stores will usually take the books on consignment (under contract). That means you don’t get paid until the books are actually sold. Then the store will take a commission for selling them for you. With the big stores, it can be as much as 45% (which it was in my case). It can also be as low as 10% in small stores, such as our local pharmacy. Some places won’t charge any commission, but enjoy having the books as an extra service to their customers.
Many places will handle the publicity and posters themselves; others will ask your help. I found it helpful to do my own signs and bring them, since on at least one occasion the harried consignment manager had misplaced the signs I sent her. You can make high quality signs and posters on your own computer if you have a good graphics program. Just scan the front cover of your book and use that as the image on your sign or poster. If you can have bookmarks on hand, they are great advertising, and it’s nice to give something useful to your customers. Here is what you will need to take with you to the book signing:
2 or 3 good pens
A small notebook
A thermos of coffee or your drink of choice; also some water
Your own business cards if you have them
Any brochures you might have made about your book
A pillow for your chair
Your books (bring a few extra with you, even if you delivered books to the store in advance)
Display stands for your books
* Cash box or pouch with change in it, depending on the price of your book
* A few plastic bags for your customers to put their book in
* The last two are for venues that are not stores themselves – art shows, libraries, etc.
Check if the store will provide a table covering (they usually do). If not, bring a cloth to cover the table to make it look more professional. A solid color is better than a patterned one, unless your book is about cooking or crafts. Then a gaily patterned table cloth might set off your book better. Use your judgment and good taste.
If you have had some publicity about your book, or if you took out a nice ad for it (your cost), clip out the story or ad. You can buy some nice plastic stands at an office outlet to hold them.
You should arrive at least half an hour in advance, so you can set up your table. The store will provide your table and a chair and will place it in the store for you. The best position is facing an entrance so you can greet people as they enter.
Make the table look as attractive as possible. The store will bring you a pile of books if they took them in advance. Sometimes they want to put their magnetic codes on the books, before people buy them. Arrange the books in attractive ways. Marketing techniques say that you should have varying heights on your table to make it look more interesting. Lay out your brochures, business cards and posters in an eye-catching way. Big point is to not litter the table with pop cans, coffee cups, or burger wrappers. This is the professional table of a professional writer, so you want to keep it looking that way. Keep a little garbage bag under the table or your chair for refuse and keep the table for your books. Make sure you have enough space on the table to sign the books as well.
If you have been just married, like I was at my first book signing, make sure you practice signing your new name a few times so you don’t make a mistake on the books.
You are now all set for your first book signing. Put on a happy face and wait for the next stage of the book signing. Stay tuned to this blog for Part 2 tomorrow on what to do while you are at the table and how you can bring in more sales.