Some authors and publishers are ambivalent about the value of book signings – or even dead against them. The über-famous know that people will buy the books anyway, so a signing is just a treat for the fans. For others it hardly seems worth sitting awkwardly in a shop for three hours being asked where the latest Jade Goody biography is.
For those of us, however, who are counting our sales in ones rather than thousands, there are many advantages to book signings, regardless of how many copies change hands on the day.
A signing is the perfect opportunity to send a press release to the local papers. “Book gets published” is not a story. “Book got published last year” is even less of one, so you need continuing excuses to contact the media, and that’s where local events come in. Quite often the paper will send a photographer, so you get some publicity after the signing too. Added to that, the photographer’s presence in the shop attracts customers’ attention and makes you look more famous and interesting than you actually are.
There are many online event listings sites, both local and national, to which you can add your event. Does anyone ever look at these? I don’t know, but they allow you to link to your website, thus boosting your search engine rankings.
If you live near enough, you can go round the town and ask shopkeepers to display posters about your signing. Many will do this for free. Include the book cover image and, even if people don’t come to the event, it will be vaguely familiar to them next time they see it.
Getting the book on the shelves
Even large publishers are apparently having difficulty these days persuading bookshops to stock all their books. For smaller publishers with little money for promotions, it’s even harder. Doing a signing means the shop has to get the book in, and will usually keep a few afterwards.
Being nice to the bookshop staff really goes without saying, as it’s nothing more than common courtesy, but it can also pay dividends later when they champion your work and recommend it to customers looking for something in that genre.
The opposite works against you, of course – if you waltz in and treat the first person you meet like scum because he/she isn’t the manager, then don’t expect any help. They get enough of that from the customers.
Giving out promotional materials
Producing some promotional stuff such as bookmarks or postcards does cost a bit of money, but is useful for two reasons a.) it’s much easier to approach someone and say “would you like a free bookmark?” than to say “wanna buy my book?” Only a really miserable sod will refuse a free bookmark. b.) if someone hangs on to the bookmark, it might prompt them to look up the book later. You can even offer to sign it, making it more likely that they’ll keep it in case you get famous and they can sell it on eBay.
Yes, real people. Not just characters you made up. They are out there somewhere and at a book signing you can even have a conversation with some of them.
Other unpredictable positive results
Any of this publicity can be spotted by festival organisers, local reading group members, WI programme co-ordinators, librarians – anyone who might be in need of a speaker and decide to invite you along. Then you get a chance to start all over again with publicity for your next event!