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How to Make your Book Signing a Sellout

Everyone loves a successful book signing! When I had my very first book signing it was a total flop! Well, maybe not totally, the bookstore did order six books and I did sell two of them! But success comes after failure only if you try again.

So what went wrong? I asked myself. Several things went wrong. First, I didn't invite anyone to come to the book signing; I didn't have any promotional material with me; I barely spoke to the customers because I "foolishly" thought they would all run up to my table to see what the book and author were all about, and the worst thing I did, was to stay sitting behind that little table for the whole two hours! Wrong -- wrong -- wrong.

Today, because of that failure, I have not had a book signing anywhere that has not been a complete sell-out!

So, how did I go from being a complete flop to becoming a complete success?

Here's how: Where I live in Arizona, all of the Barnes and Noble Bookstores are independently run, whereas Border's Bookstores are centralized. That means that each Barnes and Noble bookstore decides independently on who, what, when and where and if they will authorize book signings. In this case, it is important to get to know the "store" and the manager at each store. Establish a rapport with him or her, and give them a little background about yourself and your book. Don't be afraid to ask if you can have a book signing at their store, or to emphasize the fact that you are a local author.

Because Border's Bookstores are centralized, that means that the Regional Manager decides on all of the book signings for all of the stores. Here is where you really want to establish a rapport. I made it a point to do so with our Regional Manager and since then, she willingly books me at any of the Border's bookstores that I want. One consideration in choosing a store is demographics. Apparently, each bookstore sells a particular type of genre more than others. For example, where I live, the community is very family-oriented, so books on fantasy, child rearing, and especially children's books are hot items. A few miles further south, there is a university town... and believe it or not, romance books are a hot item at that store!

Although The Regional Manager books all of the book signings for all the stores, each Border's Bookstore handles the mechanics of the book signing independently. Here again, it is important to get to know the store and the Store Manager because that means they give you a better location, more traffic gets directed to you, and more announcements are made about you over their loudspeaker.

Next, prepare... prepare... prepare. I can't say enough about this. We are published authors, which connotes "professionals"... Prepare for your book signing just as a professional would:

  • Always check with the store before contacting any media. It has been my experience that they do a great job with the media and advertisements. If you want to send a press release to a local paper, ask them who to contact. They are very nice about giving you that information, or they will tell you that they are going to do it.
  • Make invitations and give them to all of your friends, acquaintances, and family members, and e-mail everyone you know who would be interested. I also give them to my dentist, doctor, people I know at the local grocery store, and people I know at church.
  • Have a framed 8x11 or 11x17 picture of your cover on an easel for display.
  • Prepare flyers... not just black and white blurbs about your book, but jazz it up and make it look professional. Include a short "eye-catcher" blurb about your book, a list of one liner endorsements, a short bio about yourself and the availability of your book. Be sure to always include your web page on every piece of paper that you have for handouts.
  • Always have bookmarks to give the customer with every book you sign.
  • Have a candy dish at your table filled with candy. However, always ask the store manager if it is alright. This is important because some store managers don't like food in their store. I've never been turned down; however, I do always buy the individually wrapped mints.
  • People love "free-bies." Here is a list of what I take to every book signing:  

1.     Framed Book Cover on a stand. Not all bookstores have signs printed for your book signing.

2.     A transparent bookstand to show off the books. They show off the book better as opposed to just having the books lying on the table.

3.     Postcards to hand out -- with your book cover and a short blurb, availability and web page.

4.     Flyers printed on colored stock so that they stand out. Ask the store manager if you can put a few up on their windows. I've never been turned down. After all, they want to sell books too.

5.     Brochures. This is up to you. I have brochures with me, but I don't put them out because of the expense. However, every now and then I do run into a librarian or a school book buyer and I do give one to them.

6.     Business Cards -- have them in a nice business card holder next to your book cover -- make sure your cards list your web page.

7.     Pens with your book title and web page printed on them -- this tip I picked up at a book conference. When a customer buys my book, I sign it with one of my pens and then I give them the pen along with the book.

8.     Bookmarks -- This is a must. Every book should include a bookmark. Have them made with a small picture of your book cover, a list of very short two or three word endorsements and your web page.

9.     A tablecloth -- It has been my experience that some book stores have already set the table with a table cloth and some don't. I always carry one with me just in case.

This may seem like a lot, but believe me, when it is laid out on the table, it isn't much. Keep in mind we are professionals, so everything you do, think like a professional.

Last but certainly not least... never sit at your table. Don't be shy; greet the customers as they walk by, smile, introduce yourself, hand them a flyer, and tell them that you are a local author who is having a book signing today on behalf of (name of bookstore). Tell them a little about your book.

If you are like me, book signings are a lot of work, but they are also a lot of fun! You meet a lot of very interesting people, and even if they don't buy your book, they walk away with a flyer or a postcard and they will either read it or check your web page.

More importantly, when you are done, always thank the store manager and the staff who participated in your book signing. Never leave without a thank you and a handshake.

Since I have practiced this... I have been invited back several times to most of the bookstores in my area, and now they order a minimum of about 25 books, and I always sell-out!

Good Luck and Happy Book Signing.

Copyright © 2011 Judy Azar LeBlanc