Author signings are good marketing

How to sell books!

Regardless of how your book is published, remember this above all else: Bookstores don’t sell books, authors do!

Children’s author Mary Manz Simon once said, “There is no substitute for the face-to-face interaction that comes from visiting stores and greeting an audience.” She called the process of meeting her readers and bantering with them about her books an “author’s gratification.”

Author signings work great as a promotion of your work in both a party or festive atmosphere and in educational seminar settings. They may be put on by a club or association, church, community, friends, the local bookstore, or even Barnes & Noble.

The key to a successful author signings and selling opportunity is lots of publicity. Make sure newspapers, bulletins, and newsletters get the date and pertinent information well in advance of their press deadline. Send postcards or call your friends in the area to help stack the deck in your favour. Never rely completely on the bookstore or a group’s publicity efforts.

It takes lots of teamwork and planning to pull off a successful book signing. Location and timing are important considerations. Does your book have a tie-in to newsworthy events, holidays, or other local happenings? Take advantage!

In many locations, a book reading or a free seminar is much easier to promote than a book signing. A reading or seminar presents a greater opportunity for media exposure on the day before the event, and for you to present substantial material that will grab your audience and can turn the merely curious into eager buyers.

Author signings or book promotion events should take place along with an aggressive media campaign. Major publishers pick up the tab for book dealers who host big name author signings. So guess what—if you initiate the contact for a book signing, the book dealer (bookstore owner) may expect you to carry the brunt of the expense and the promotional responsibility. The bookstore will probably develop some kind of a promotional piece, but the rest may be up to you. Be prepared to be asked to pay for your book signing event, including publicizing it, paying your own transportation, meals and motel if necessary.

It is not uncommon for these signings to end up very small, with only a couple of dozen copies sold. Autograph parties enable you to make friends, but don’t look for a big return in sales. Don’t be disappointed, just expect it. The nature of the beast is that normal signings average ten, twenty, sometimes thirty books. Rare, indeed, are they big occasions where an author is selling hundreds or thousands of books. That just happens to the hottest big name authors with best-selling books.

However, book signing is a building block in your successful marketing structure. Any book signing serves as a distribution function. Ultimately, distribution is the most crucial element to the success of a book. In an area where you can reach them by car, it’s always wise economically to arrange as many signings as you can. That way, if you don’t get the media attention to draw a big crowd, you will not be out mega bucks in travel and lodging

Other steps you can take toward greater success

I. Targeted mailings with follow-up phone calls and emails are essential to ensuring a well-attended event.

2. Double check with the store manager several times before your scheduled event to see how publicity, excitement, and pre-sales are going. Design a flyer (bag stuffer) announcing the upcoming signing and send copies to the bookstore manager. Have store clerks insert the flyers into each purchase bag for at least two full weeks and weekends in advance of your signing.

3. Create some bright, eye-catching posters featuring a copy of your book cover and announcing the date and time of your author signing. Encourage the store manager to display them in several prominent places: front windows, near cash registers, and on any community bulletin boards that may be near lounge areas.

4. Get the local paper to do an author interview and/or book review, to be published the week before any in-store author signings. Also make sure the area papers receive an interesting press release announcing your reading and/or signing. Check early with your newspaper for specifics on deadlines, a specific editor to submit to, and any publication requirements.

5. Even better foot traffic is guaranteed when you can get a local radio interview or talk show date. If you can’t secure an interview, then at least make sure an announcement is made on the community events calendar the week prior to your event. Deadlines for submitting these announcements are normally at least two weeks prior to the event, and sometimes sooner. Call the station and secure length and submission requirements.

You can promote author signings through bag stuffers, church flyers, community bulletin boards, postcard mailers, autograph stickers, and other promotional pieces, but remember: the more media attention you attract, the better the odds that you won’t be embarrassed or bored at your book signing.

Bookstore managers are not publicists and often do not have either the time nor the ability to create the publicity splash that you need. Go the extra mile to help ensure a quality event.

As an author, you must be prepared to do your part on the big day in terms of personal interaction with customers. Depending on the store and the situation, you may be expected not only to do a signing, but also to give a reading or speaking presentation. Be prepared to mix and mingle with people.

Experienced authors of many book signings recommend that you can be better prepared for your moment in the spotlight by taking along an autograph party kit containing things you might need in a pinch: your personal favourite signing pen, business cards, scissors, thumb tacks, scotch tape, press releases, flyers, tissues, cough drops, water bottle, bowl of peppermints or Hershey kisses, enlarged book cover posters, bookmarks, postcards, and a wire or plastic book stand that your featured book will fit.

Being a good author doesn’t make you a good people person, so be rested up and gregarious. Most people don’t care as much about obtaining an autograph as they do about gaining insight into the author of the books they are reading. Any little extra down-home touches or information that you can provide for guests at the signing can change a generic book party into a major event.

Immediately after bookstore author signings, be sure to send the store owner and store manager a thank-you note for their helpful support of your new book and your successful author signing.


Every author soon learns that without aggressive promotion, books sold on consignment in bookstores may end up gathering dust; unsold copies will eventually have to be picked up. The best method for motivating bookstores to actively stock your books is through customer pressure. Get your friends, relatives, and fans into the stores to request your book. That will help create demand!

As a customer walks by the shelf in the bookstore, does your book have a title and a front cover that screams “Grab me!”? “Read me!”?

Unless you can convince bookstore owners/buyers that they have a vast audience of potential readers who want to have your book, you may have a hard time getting it onto their shelves. Your title and subtitle, your cover, your theme, and your promise must all make readers want to grab your book and skim through the pages to see what you’ve created. And it takes a good deal of self-promotion to get those readers into the store looking for your book in the first place.

Bookstore owners are not necessarily persuaded by distributors, wholesalers, publishers, or even authors to stock books for a long time. If a book is not selling, its shelf life is quite short – three to six months. They can’t afford to have dead books on their shelves. You are the one who must make readers buy your book.

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The best bookstore outlet for self-publishers is the independent, non-chain store. Buyers at the independents don’t have to abide by corporate rules, and they can be more receptive to local authors. When you first set out to make cold sales calls on bookstores, it may seem a little overwhelming, but don’t let that stop you.

Remember, you believe in your product and you believe in your message! Your talks with bookstore buyers will probably go quite smoothly. You will show them your book and let them feel it as you describe its best features for your intended readers.

Have a sixty-second “handle” ready to roll off your tongue the moment you’re asked, “Well, so what’s this book all about?” In sixty seconds they should know the theme and benefits of carrying your book. That’s all the time you may have before a customer or a phone call interrupts your sales pitch. You not only want them to carry your book, but also to host at least one, if not periodic author signings.

Stress the advantages and benefits of your book over the competition if you’ve written on a topic that seems to be particularly crowded with writers. If there are special features that tie in to your locale or target audience, be ready to offer proof to back up your claims.

Then be ready to give them an offer they can’t refuse: a special discount price for a cash sale of two to five trial copies. Work out what is appropriate for your product and the size/type of store you are presenting it to.

Bookstores are used to ordering books at 40-60 percent discounts and not paying until the book actually sells (or they return it to you). It may take some fancy talking to get payment up front, but that should always be your goal. Placing books on consignment is the second best way to go.

Remember, your presentation should be very short and to the point. Storekeepers are very busy people and not particularly fond of unannounced book peddlers. However, if you can keep them talking and interested, and asking you questions about your book, you just may have them hooked and be able to nail down a signing event.

But don’t be afraid to be quiet. Books require silence for quick reads and perusals. After all, your bookstore owner/manager has his shelves full of hundreds, even thousands of books. He is probably a speed reader and a quick assessor of whether or not your product is something that will sell well in his store. But he needs a few moments to look it over and come to a decision. Silence can be golden!

You may not always be fortunate enough to find the person who has the final say or purchasing power in the store when you make your first call. Be prepared to leave a media kit or brochure, business card and any other pertinent material specifically for bookstores – with all the appropriate ordering information!

And be sure to get the correct name and spelling of the person to whom you should be talking. If you don’t hear back within a week, make a follow-up call.

You can also do a lot of networking with booksellers from around the country by attending booksellers’ conventions. Unless you are with a distributor or major publisher, you will not be allowed to “sell” books on the exhibition floor, but there is certainly nothing to keep you from networking and exchanging business cards (and handing out brochures) with all of the booksellers you meet. Adding their names and addresses to your database will give your mailing list extra potential.

Be sure to send a follow-up PR postcard or other mailing soon after the convention; it could mean a signing event is just around the corner.