Tag Archives: Book signing

Make Your Book More Professional By Harvesting Praise

We’ve been taught to not pat ourselves on our back because it feeds our vanity, and excessive vanity is apparently evil.  So we refrain from saying anything too nice about anything we do in case our vanity becomes too big to handle.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be), this works against us in the professional world.  Now, people still have the idea that anyone who praises himself is perhaps vain, or arrogant, or a braggart, or all three.  Yet somehow it’s necessary to get the idea across to the readers that this particular book is really good and should be read.  So, what’s a poor writer supposed to do?

You can buy advertising, you can talk on radio, you can do book signings, but all this still is you talking about you.  Of course, some people have developed a knack of saying good things about themselves and people love it, but this knack seems to be for the chosen few.  For the rest of us, it seems like we are tooting our own horn.  Well, how about getting OTHER people to say nice things about your book?  If you have sold your book to a publishing house, then your publisher will generally take care of securing testimonials from people about how good your book is.  You usually don’t have to do much.

However, if you are taking the self-publishing route, then it’s up to you to find this praise.  You might feel funny going up to someone and saying, “Will you say nice things about my book?”  This is liable to earn you a cold stare, quickly followed by a colder shoulder.  We we have ways of making you like…er…there are ways to get people to comment on your book.  The best way is to let them read the manuscript.  So, initially, make sure you know the people and trust them to a certain degree.  Then you ask them to write a paragraph or two about what they thought about your book.  You are hoping that they liked it, but if they don’t, thank them anyhow…and, of course, don’t use it.  But, if they liked it…ah, if they liked it, then it is pure gold.

A few things you need to get from them…their name, their occupation, and their permission to use what they said for promotion of the book.  You can also get their location if you think that might be of interest to the readers.  These comments are called testimonials, and you will notice that many books will include them in the front of the book in what they call the front matter (the pages before the start of the novel).  And they definitely add a professional look and tone to your book, not to mention reassuring readers that this is a book worth reading.

For the 1st edition of my first published book, Witchcanery, I sent the manuscript to a number of people I thought might enjoy it and asked them to read it and let me know what they thought.  To be honest, I had gone over the durned thing so many times, I had lost all perspective of and feeling for the book at that point.  So I held my breath, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best.  When I got the first one back, I let out the breath I had been holding and sniffed back some tears.  Here’s what he said:

Witchanery drew me into a new world and brought me new friends and new heroes, new magic, used in new ways…touching and bright even when things were very dark.  And DARK things get!  The world of Sandra Bell Kirchman’s Witchcanery spans a great length of time and we are given but a tasty slice—I hope the hints of more are materializing from the fertile grounds as we watch.

I signed it with his name and occupation:  Starhawk Victor, User Support Specialist II, American Red Cross.

Try to get a good cross-section of people to read the book and comment.  For instance, my collection of testimonial givers included a retired Colonel in the U.S. Army, a retired schoolteacher, a warehouse manager, and a geologist.  On the back of the book, I used the testimonial of a friend of mine who also happens to be a PhD.

Book cover of Guy Vanderhaeghe's The Englishman's Boy

It doesn’t hurt to do a little bit of mild name dropping.  If you know a celebrity or have a friend who knows one, there is nothing wrong with asking them to write a foreword for your book, which is hopefully just a longer testimonial.  For the first anthology I edited,  In the Shadow of the Burr Oak, the gal who designed the front and back covers of the book, photojournalist Helen Solmes, knew the noted Canadian fiction author Guy Vanderhaeghe (The Englishman’s Boy and The Last Crossing).  Helen asked Guy if he would write the foreword.  He did and it was a lovely, touching one.

Don’t overlook sources close to home either.  I gathered a few testimonials for my second anthology, Birth of a Unicorn and Other Stories, but  I made my first sale (other than to the various authors of the stories in the book) to my family doctor.  He had read my first book and enjoyed it.  When I asked him for a testimonial, he agreed.  It took a while because he is a busy man, but when it came, it was short, sweet, and well worth the wait.  Here’s what the good doctor said about Birth of a Unicorn:

“Riveting.  Sandra and her skilled team of writers transport you from mysterious forests to far-off beaches, high up into the mountains and right down into dungeons, whilst interacting with Unicorns, Dragons and other magical creatures. You won’t put it down ‘til you’re done.”

I will use it for future promotional brochures and other places I am promoting the book.  I will sign it with his name and occupation:  Johann Nel, M.D.

Well, what are you waiting for?  Go and find some people to write good things about your book.  What?  Your book isn’t finished yet?  Then go for the gusto and finish it!  You know you want to.


Promise You’ll Write a Sequel – Book Signings (Part 2)

Book on left was edited and layout done by Sandra Bell Kirchman. Book on right was written by her.

You’ve done your homework and read Part 1 of this two-part article, right? So you know about the set-up. Your table is looking beautiful, with shiny new copies of your book artfully arranged, your business cards available, and you’re waiting for someone to appear. The shoppers start coming in, and you eagerly await a horde of book fans, all salivating at the thought of getting a signed copy of your book.

That doesn’t happen.

Instead, as they come in the door, the stream of customers part at your table as if you were Moses and they are the Red Sea, leaving you in this tiny island of you, a table, and books. At this point, don’t despair. It will show on your face and drive any customer, who accidentally stumbles on your table, away. You are no longer a creative artist (well, you are, but this is not your primary function at this point). You are a marketer extraordinaire. Even if you are normally an introvert, you are not here. I don’t mean you have to get up on the table and tap dance, but you must start making eye contact, smiling at people, chatting to them in a friendly way if they get close to your table.

If you have signs/posters up, people will start coming over to see what the fuss is about. Then you start talking to them. Here’s how I did it.

One lady came up and picked up the book (Witchcanery), looking at the beautiful cover, then turned it over and read the back jacket.

 Me:  Do you like fantasy fiction?

 Her:  Not really. What’s this about?

 Me:  (Trying not to sound too disappointed) It’s about Shelley Kesinkowsky,  a modern-day witch, who is hauled out of her comfortable home by the Grand Council of Wizards because of a special talent she has and sent with her former nemesis to save the world from Mother Earth’s wrath. See, Mother Earth is ticked off at the way people are polluting the planet and…

Her:  What age group. I don’t see it marked here.

Me:  Oh, it can be read by anyone 14 years up to 85 and more. I have friends who are in their 80s and love it.

Her:  I was thinking of getting it for my niece. She’s 13.

Me:  Oh, well, if she’s a mature 13, it should be okay. It’s squeaky clean, in that there is nothing suggestive or improper in it. It includes humor, romance, high adventure, and of course the magic of fantasy.

Her:  Sounds good. Could you please inscribe it to Nancy?

Me:  Could you take it to the counter and pay for it and then bring it back?  The store would prefer you do that before I start marking up their books. (little laugh)

Her:  (Little laugh) Sure.

I’ve won her over and off she goes.

Not all the customers are that hard to sell. That was about the hardest I had to work to get someone, who was already predisposed to buy a book, to actually buy it.

I have talked to hundreds of people at these book signings. They nearly always appreciate a friendly and caring manner. Well, friendly, anyhow. I tried to be helpful as well. If they came looking for a specific book, and I had noticed it in the store, I would direct them to it. On at least three occasions when that happened, the people came back and decided to buy a book.

On other occasions, I asked them (from signs I noticed as I was talking to them) if they were interested in writing themselves. I nearly always got it right. The people were touched that a professional writer (me) would take the time and interest to talk to them about their hobbies and their hopes and dreams. I was always encouraging, letting them know if they wanted to write, all they needed was perseverance. The rest would come.

Now, here is what I was told by the staff of this big bookstore. If I sold more than five books, I could consider myself lucky (yeah, well, it takes more than luck), and this was in a big city environment. They said that even some known authors didn’t sell much more than 10 or 15 books. I was blown away. There went my dream of big bucks at the signing table. Oh well, I wasn’t writing for the money anyhow.

And that’s what you have to remember. You aren’t really there to sell books. Remember I said at the beginning that you are going to have to be a marketer extraordinaire? But not for selling books…for selling yourself. For your first book, especially if it is self-published, you are going to have to get people talking about you and getting to know your name.

That’s why your business cards (don’t forget to hand them out), printed bookmarks if you have them, flyers and brochures are such great tools for getting your name known. People love to get things free, and readers generally keep bookmarks. They will have your name and the name of your book in front of them for a long time.

Well, where is the fun part, you might ask? I found it in talking to the readers. I love readers. Without readers, where would we writers be? I love them because they love what we do as a whole. If they like us, they back us, support us, cheer us on. And when they find a writer they can talk to, some of them pour their hearts out.

Sure, there are some who want to put their tippy coffee cup on your book table (ask them not to) or whose grubby hands gleefully page through a pristine copy of your book (nothing you can do about that unless they are rough with it) or even take your time talking to you and then walk away without buying anything. That’s okay. They probably have your business card, and more importantly they have walked away with a good impression of you. And you go away with happy memories of the great people you have met.

Just as an example. I explained what Witchcanery was about to a lady who loved fantasy. Her eyes grew bigger and bigger as I was talking. When I finished, she said to me very firmly, “I’ll buy the book on one condition.”

 “What’s that?” I asked.

 “You promise to write a sequel to it.”

P.S. At my first book signing, I sold 11 books. Only once in the many subsequent book signings did I fall under five books and that was because the book table was hidden away behind tall book shelves. One Christmas week I sold 27 books. I am telling you this to let you know that you can be a first-timer and still sell books. Also keep in mind that it’s not the number of books you sell, but the number of people you talk to. If writing is your passion, don’t let anything persuade you to let it go or discourage you!

Book Signings Can Be Fun…Even If You’ve Never Done One (Part 1 – the Set-Up)


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. 

Booksigning Table

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
Scotch tape
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
Your posters
* 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.

Display Stand

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.