Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How to Have an Excellent Book Signing

Book signings are on of those things that authors are supposed to do. One of the notions is that by doing book signings an author will sell more books. I’m not sure where this notion came from, but the evidence doesn’t appear to support that. Stick an unknown author behind a table at a bookstore and he might sell one or two books that he wouldn’t have otherwise sold. Follow the advice of some people for the author to go around the store begging people to buy his book and he might sell more, but he probably won’t get many repeat customers.

As a reader, I’ve attended a few book signings. Dan Quayle showed up on campus one time when I was in college. I paid for his book and stood in line with hundreds of other people waiting for him to sign their books. I then went and listened to him speak. I’ve also gone to book signings to support fellow authors. What I have never done is purchase a book by an author I didn’t know because the author was having a book signing.

So let’s get one thing clear. Book signings are not about selling your current book, but about establishing reader loyalty so that they will purchase your book and recommend you as an author to their friends. If someone shows up at your table and wants you to sign their book he is your fan to lose. With that in mind, here is a laundry list of things that you can do to have better book signings:

Pick a convenient location.
If you know who your readers are, try to find a location for the signing that is convenient for them. It might be good to have a book signing in the town where the book is set. If you are writing about a particular subject, set up a booth at a convention on the subject. If you’ve polled your readers and you know that many of them are coming from a particular area of the country or a particular part of town, look for a location in that area.

Publish the location to your fans.
A bookstore may publicize your book signing to their customers. They may have a mailing list that they can send information to, but their efforts won’t do as much good as you publicizing your book signing to the readers of your blog and sending information to people who have signed up for your mailing list. If your fans don’t know about it, few people will show up.

Ask people at the signing why they are interested in the book.
You’re in friendly territory. If someone is willing to get in the car and drive over to your book signing to meet you, he thinks a lot of you or your book. At the least, this will give you an ego boost, but it is also you opportunity to learn what your readers would like to see in future books. It also encourages them to put their thoughts into words so that when they have the opportunity to tell people about your book in the future they have already developed a thought pattern that will allow them to talk about your book.

Make friends with the children.
If a parent shows up at your table with a child in tow, greet the parent, but make friends with the child. You might even have a little something extra ready to give the children that show up, like candy or some kind of toy that they can take home with them. Parents will remember you by how well you treat their children.

People don’t show up at a book signing just to get a book signed. They don’t show up hoping that the writer will impart some wisdom that he didn’t put in his book. What they really want to do is to develop a relationship with the author. Realistically, that relationship may not amount to much, but when they go away they want to know that no only do they know you but that you know them. The only way that is going to happen is if you listen. Listening requires that you shut up, rather than rambling on. Also, given the respect that readers have for writers, a person showing up at your table is likely to be more nervous about speaking to you than you are to them. Be prepared to ask some questions. Here are some examples:

  • Do you live around here?

  • Have you read any of my books before?

  • What got you interested in my book?

  • What kind of books do you like to read?

  • Did you have any trouble getting here?

There are many other things you might ask, but the point is to break the ice. Then keep them talking, if you have time. Ask enough questions to keep them going, but don’t worry about saying much unless they ask you a question, in which case you should answer the question as best you can.

Don’t argue.
If someone feels the need to express a view different from the one you have in your book, don’t get angry. Take the time to listen to what they have to say and ask questions that will help you understand their point of view better. If you have considered their point of view before, explain the pros and cons that you see in it (in that order), if you can do so without upsetting the person. If you haven’t considered the position before, don’t reject it outright, instead tell the person that you would like to look into it when you have time, ask for the person’s e-mail address so that you can ask him additional questions concerning his point of view at a later time.

Be mindful of the people in line.
If you are fortunate enough to have several people waiting in line for you to sign their book, it is your responsibility to keep the line moving. Listen to people, but don’t let one person dominate the event. If a person appears to want to stick around longer than he should, thank him for coming and express your need to continue signing books. If he doesn’t go away, go ahead and greet the next person. Trying to give your attention to two people at once is not ideal, but it is better than people growing tired of waiting for the line to move and deciding to leave.

Welcome photo opportunities.
Before anyone arrives, spot out a location near your table that has a good backdrop for pictures. If you have a sign with the cover of your book on it that would be a good thing to have in any pictures someone might want to take. If you can, have some one ready to take snap the picture for your guests. Short of that, have a spot ready for them to set their camera on so they can use the timed feature. If you see someone with a camera in hand, point to it and ask if they wanted to take a picture. They may show up with that intention but be a little shy about asking or they may have forgotten they have a camera with them. So don’t make them ask. After the picture is taken, tell them you would like a copy or to tag you on Facebook. Well know authors could end up with more photos of themselves than they know what to do with, but this goes back to building that relationship and a little free advertising.