I learned this the hard way during my own book signing years ago. Though I had sent marketing materials in advance, the store manager hadn't put any of them out. No posters, no bag-stuffers, nothing. Needless to say, I learned the hard way that book signings are more than events: there needs to be a strategy behind them. As an author, you should be prepared to get up and talk to people. Don’t just sit there and sign—we should all be so lucky that the lines for our book are so long that we barely have time to jot down our signature in our book and move to the next fan. Generally, though, this isn't the case.
The Buddy System
Some authors like to have another person there signing with them to drive additional interest to the event. I've done it both ways, and they each have their merits. First of all, the buddy system will probably bring in more people since you are essentially doubling your publicizing efforts (or, at least you should be). You can turn a simple book signing into an event. One of you can be having a book discussion or workshop, while the other author is signing. It’s a great way to draw and keep a crowd. Also, often it’s easier to get publicity when there’s more than one author present. This type of book signing works well for unknown authors—if, say, you have a specific program or want to have a book signing that lasts all day. In fact, many bookstores now offer a night that celebrates new authors, so ask them if they do this. Often you’ll find that they will pull together as many as seven authors. While this may seem like a lot, it’s really a fantastic way to drive a larger crowd to the event.
No Sitting on the Job
As I mentioned previously, don’t just sit there and smile. Get up, move around, and engage people in conversation. Would you believe I’ve been told that some shoppers are actually intimidated to just walk up and talk to an author? But, if you speak to them first, you’re breaking the ice and, maybe, making a sale. Take your focus off of yourself and your stack of books and put it on the people in the store. As with anything in marketing you’re really selling yourself. Get up from your chair to greet people as they enter the store. I usually have a small flyer made up with the cover of my book and a blurb about it, and I tell people I’m signing books today. Smile and talk to them and hand them a book. If you tell them about your novel, be sure you have your short and punchy elevator pitch ready. The last thing you want to do is take up a ton of their time when they are there to shop. Get them excited about it—let your passion shine through. Passion is a very contagious thing.
Go See What the Competition is Doing
Have you ever visited someone else’s book signing? I did because I wanted to see what it was about, to see what other authors did. Some of your best ideas or taboos will come from watching other people. I remember the first one I went to. I entered the store and there she was, the smiling author, pen ready and stack of books looming over the table. I wondered if I were just a customer that happened into the store what would make me walk up to her unless my specific purpose had been to attend this signing? Then, I wondered what I could do to draw that traffic. Face it: no matter how much publicizing you do, unless you've got a spot on Good Morning America to talk up your signing, most of your foot traffic will probably just be shoppers. If you’re really lucky, you’ll see some frantic people in search of last-minute gifts, and autographed books make great presents!
If your book involves anything that you can tie in with a theme or a prop, all the better. I went to a book signing for an author who specialized in period romance. This particular novel was set during the 1600s and she dressed in a gown fitting to the time. She also had a castle backdrop that a neighbor painted for her. Her neighbor was an aspiring artist, so not only was she doing the author a favor but the neighbor got to showcase her work as well. People really love this kind of thing. I mean anyone can sit at a table and smile, but sitting there (or likely standing) in a corset for four hours takes real passion. Give some thought to what you can do to develop a theme or prop for your signing. If the store will let you, you should bring in food, too. This is especially great if it ties into your signing. And you don’t necessarily have to show up in costume, but try to do what you can to set yourself apart from the rest.
A Few Final Notes on Book Signings
Be cautious of pay periods when scheduling a date for your signing. For example, I will always try to schedule mine around the 15th or 30th of the month. I live in a Navy town and, since they never fail to get paid on those dates, it really helps to boost my sales. Also, check to see if the store has a newsletter. If it does, offer to write a short article on your book or discussion topic that will draw more attention to your signing. Keep the article interesting and helpful without giving away everything you plan to share with your guests. Or, if your book is fiction, share an interesting excerpt from it. Sometimes bookstore newsletters are printed by their corporate offices, but generally they print them in-house and they are always in need of “filler” items.
Also, contact your local TV stations and speak to the producer. Call the day before (if your signing is on Sunday call them on Friday) and let him know you've sent a press release regarding your signing (you have, haven’t you?). If they need a sixty-second filler, you can offer their viewers some helpful tips on XYZ. Or, if your book is fiction, play up the “local author makes big” angle. Local stations love that. Speaking of media, if you can get yourself booked on a radio show the day before or preferably the morning of your signing you’ll really help to boost interest. If you get some on-air time, consider giving away a few of your books during the show. And remember to tie your book and event into something topical and relevant!
Finally, have fun! It's your big day and you've earned every glorious minute of it!
Reprinted from "The Book Marketing Expert newsletter," a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com