After years of hard work, you’ve finally published your book. Great job! Your next step? To schedule a book signing at some of your local bookstores to help promote your book. It’ll be easy and bring in a lot of new readers and sales, right?
Unfortunately, this is what a lot of new and inexperienced authors believe. From self-published to small press, I get calls from local authors more often than you might think, and quite usually the conversation stops after I ask them a few questions — to which they don’t have the answers. What’s more, they often have no idea what I’m talking about. The number of folks that don’t do their research is staggering, and it’s also rather dismaying. There are a lot of things you should know before you even contact a bookstore about a signing.
1.) Is your book returnable?
If you know absolutely nothing about what it means for a book to be returnable, you might want to check out this post. In a nutshell, it refers to the fact that a book can leave the bookstore and go back to a warehouse or publisher. If your book is classified as non-returnable, which is true for most print-on-demand titles and self-published titles, your chance of a signing goes down drastically. Don’t know if your book is returnable or not? You can always contact your publisher for that information. Booksellers will also be able to find out, though as the author, we tend to expect that’s something you should know about your own book.
Some bookstores will do a signing on consignment, returnable or not. Consignment is an agreement in which the store stocks a book and pays the vendor only if it is sold. Larger stores aren’t the biggest fan of this since all the money for books goes through the guys upstairs when it comes to buying and returning. Smaller bookstores are more likely to do consignment, but you’ll still have to check with each one individually and ask.
2.) Booksellers are your friends
Just because you’ve published a book does not entitle you to be rude, condescending, or act as though booksellers are your servants (yes, people do act like this). Rather, it’s almost the opposite. Booksellers are the people who will help push your book. They are the ones in contact with customers on a daily basis, from open to close, and if a bookseller likes your book enough, he or she will try to handsell it. One bookseller can handsell 100 copies of a single title within a year. Sometimes more, if they enjoy the book enough. Barnes & Noble literally has a 100 Club in which they celebrate booksellers who sell 100 copies of a title.
Booksellers don’t have to do anything for you. They are not obligated to get your book into stores or be your research outlet. But if you’re polite, enthusiastic, and on top of your author game, we’ll do everything in our power to make your signing pleasant and tell people about your book after you leave.
3.) Market. Market. MARKET.
If you’ve managed to land a book signing, then there is still a very important thing that you need to remember. Brace yourself, because it’s not going to sound pretty. Ready?
No one cares.
It’s true. Yes, you may have friends, family, and co-workers who are thrilled about your signing, but when it comes to the general public, they don’t really care. People will see an author they don’t know with a book they’ve never heard of, and they usually aren’t interested. The problem is that a lot of authors assume book signings mean magical book sales. That because you have a big sign in the window people will be excited about seeing a real, live author and getting a book signed. This is not how it works.
That’s what makes marketing the most important thing you can do once you have a signing in place. You’ve created a product, and now you need to get out there and convince people to buy that product. Bookstores can only do so much, from flyers to email lists. It’s up to you to tell the world about your book. I get customers all the time who say, “I heard about this book on the radio,” or “I saw this book on the morning show,” or they’ll hand me a clipping from a newspaper or a magazine with the book in it. You need to get your name out there. This is what will bring people into the store to pick up your book.
4.) Engage with customers
Once you’re in the store at your table, if you sit there like a bump on a log and wait for people to come to you, you’re not going to sell anything. Say hello. Think of a way to engage them so they’ll at least take a peek if they’re not there for your book specifically (because remember, most of them won’t be). If you can come up with something as simple as a gimmick to draw them in, go for it.
Maria V. Snyder, the author of Poison Study (Study Series), hands out little pieces of chocolate because her protagonist is a poison taster (it also relates to her book in other ways that readers can find out later). I’ve had children’s author Dan Killeen call over every customer who entered with a child and made adorable drawings for them of dinosaurs. We sold out of his books.
So do your research. Have everything ready for when the big day comes. Market. Call radio stations. Send releases and announcements to magazines and newspapers. Contact local news stations to see if they’ll do a quick piece about you. Talk to customers when you’re there. Be polite. Smile. Anything. Everything. You have to be the one to make your book signing a success. Because if you don’t care enough about your book to talk about it, who will?