Friday, November 15, 2013

Writing: Book Signings

Every author must face the question of book signings--should we strive to schedule them, avoid them like the plague, ignore them? We can get all kinds of advice from fellow authors, but rarely do we hear from the bookstore staff about these events. I've asked my friend, Ben Zajdel, to speak from his experience working in bookstores for eight years.
Here's a surprising observation: book signings aren't about selling books. Having worked in bookstores for years, I've found that signings are about marketing. They’re about developing relationships with your readers and especially the bookstore employees. It’s important not to judge the event based on the amount of books sold, but on the depth of the relationships forged during it.

With that in mind, here are some ways you can make your book signing successful:

Be prepared. Whether it’s your personal assistant, agent, or yourself doing the planning, schedule the signing at least a month in advance, if not two. Check with the bookstore periodically to make sure they have ordered books for the signing. Let them know how to reach you if they have any questions. Bring your own copies in case there is some sort of shipping error or other mistake.

Don’t sign books unless you’re asked to do so. I’ve heard some authors advise others to sign as many books as possible so that bookstores aren’t able to return those books to the publisher. Not only is this tantamount to vandalism, it’s also not true. I’ve often returned signed books to publishers with no problem. Whenever an author has signed multiple books without asking, all it did was sour my relationship with the author.

Be friendly and engaging with the staff. Treat bookstore employees as partners. Employees are often asked by shoppers for recommendations, so make sure your book is one that gets mentioned. Explain to the employees the unique selling points of your book, which authors are similar, and who your intended audience is. If you’re polite, informative, and friendly, it can go a long way to selling your books.

Don’t just sit there. The most successful signings I’ve seen have been with authors who got up and talked with shoppers. You don’t have to be pushy, but just let them know about your book and why they might be interested in buying it. This is the perfect time for your elevator speech, a short description of your book and why it’s special. If your book isn’t for them, just thank them for listening and let them shop around.

Bring candy. I know it sounds simple and childish, but having a bowl of chocolate at your signing table at least gives people an incentive to wander over and see what you’re all about. Offer some to the bookstore employees, and you’ll win them over, too.

Bottom line: Book signings aren’t meant to sell books. They are essentially guerrilla marketing. They give your readers a chance to interact with you in person rather than on paper. They help you develop relationships with bookstore employees, who can become some of your best sales partners. If you approach them as a chance to deepen relationships, it can always be a success.

Ben Zajdel is the author of Leaving Darkness, a novel about love, violence, and redemption.
Using his experience, Ben focuses on helping authors develop relationships with local bookstores and explaining how those relationships can help improve authors' sales.
He is also the host of the Studio 29 Podcast, where he interviews interesting people from all walks of life.
Ben graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas with a degree in Historical Studies. He lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, two kids, and a lazy dog named Willie. You can keep up with him at his website or on Twitter @benzajdel.

Thanks, Ben. Folks, do you agree with what's been said? Anything to add from your experience from either side of the table? 
Important Announcements: Let me remind my readers once more that subscribers to my newsletter will be able to enter a contest to win a signed copy of any one of my novels, to give as a Christmas present or for their own use. If you've not already signed up to receive the newsletter, please go here to do so before it goes out on November 17.

There's another chance to win a copy of Heart Failure at the blog of Sue Harrison. I urge you to go there and leave a comment.

Later today, author David Kentner in the UK will post an interview with me on his blog. Hope you'll drop by.

And finally, I'm honored that Romantic Times Book Reviews has nominated my novel, Stress Test, for the Reader's Choice Award in inspirational mystery/suspense. 


Terri Tiffany said...

Great post and timely for me. I used to own a bookstore and can see it from the other side. I think if we think of it as marketing and not selling it would be much better.

Richard Mabry said...

Tiffany, Good point. I've been guilty, especially with my first signings, of sitting at a table and waiting for the world to come to me. What it boils down to is acquainting readers with you--not necessarily your writing--one person at a time.
Thanks so much for your comment.

Richard Mabry said...

Sorry, Terri--got your first and last names confused.

Anonymous said...

Great post and I'm looking forward to reading your next book.

Janet said...

I'd love to win Heart Failure; I've loved your previous books!

Richard Mabry said...

Connie, thanks. I hope you enjoy Heart Failure.

Janet, as the announcement says, this contest will be open to subscribers to my newsletter. That went out on Saturday--hope you had already signed up for it.