To Sign or Not To Sign

on March 16, 2006

I’m outgoing. An extrovert, you might say. I love talking with people, in person, on the phone, on-line–doesn’t matter. I need that human connection, especially now since as a full-time writer, I spend so much time in my head (which can be a very scary place!)

I think book signings are a good thing, within reason. Like with all promotion, if it takes away from your writing time, you have to evaluate whether you’re getting a huge benefit from it. But if you can fit in a few signings, there are good reasons to do so.

First, some definitions:

LAUNCH PARTY: This is the big party you give yourself when your book launches, invite all your friends and family, and hope to sell a hundred books. I spent a lot more money on my launch party than I made with the hundred-plus books I sold, but the truth is, it was worth it. I got my name out there, I thanked people for their support, and I had fun. I deserved to have a little fun after working so hard. Got a little press, too, which was a nice bonus!

BOOK SIGNING: Either alone or with a group of authors, this is where you have a scheduled signing in a store that (hopefully) the bookstore has been advertising in their newsletter, on their display, and by word of mouth. I had a book signing at my local Borders and they promoted it for a full month. We had a great showing and sold forty-some books. A lot of people that came were from my RWA chapter who couldn’t make my launch party, and I really appreciated that!

SIGNING STOCK: You go into a store, either pre-arranged or cold calling, and ask to sign your stock. You should come prepared with your autographed copy stickers, your favorite pen, a thick skin, a big smile, and the ability to chat or shut up, depending on the clerk you’re dealing with.

I’ve already told you about my launch party–Borders handled the off-site sales (I never recommend that authors sell their books themselves.)

After my solo signing at the Borders store the Saturday after my launch party, I had two other panel signings. One went incredibly well at the Antioch Barnes & Noble. I didn’t sell tons of books, but more than twenty (I think 22, but I forget). What worked there was that the manager had set up a Q&A with chairs and because I was with four other authors, we had a panel discussion that lasted about 30 minutes where we talked a little about ourselves and our books, but opened it up to questions pretty quickly. I love questions.

That signing was followed by another group signing that . . . wasn’t as good. The manager hadn’t promoted it and the walk-through traffic was non-existent. I sold 8 or 9 books, I don’t remember.

I’ve done four stock signings. I called ahead for each of them because I don’t like to drop in unannounced. They all went well and the staff was courteous, but some staff is definitely friendlier than others. You just go with the flow, take your cues from the manager or community liaison you’re dealing with, and head on out.

There’s plenty of advice out there in cyberspace about what to do and not do at book signings, so I don’t need to go into it. In general: be nice, be polite, smile, and be willing to talk about your book if people ask, but don’t bore people. Oh, and another thing, if you read from your book KEEP IT SHORT!

But the most important reason TO sign is building relationships with booksellers. If they like you, they’ll bend over backwards to handsell your book. They may keep your books longer on the shelves or face out. They’ll order more when your next book comes out. Most booksellers love books and love authors. So meet as many as you can and, if there’s a dud every once in awhile who thinks that your sweet romance or violent murder mystery is unworthy of their time, walk away with a smile and cross that jerk off your list next time around. And, when you’re a bestselling author and they ask you to sign in their store, you can tell them (politely, of course) that you’re so sorry, but your schedule is already full–and then go sign at their competitor’s store.

MJ Rose over at her blog has a great conversation with booksellers going about buzz and handselling. Check it out here.