As an independent bookstore
owner, I have seen a wide range of outcomes when hosting book-signing events.
Some events that I expect to be a great success end up flopping, and some for
which I anticipate a mediocre turnout surprise me by doing quite well.
If I could offer you just one key
to success, it would be publicity. Without a mention in local media prior to
your event, you can rely only on luck. Heavy foot traffic can help, but even the
busiest store won’t ensure sales unless you’ve generated some publicity for
Case in point: We recently hosted
an event for an author shortly after the local newspaper ran a nice article
about him and his book. We had a fabulous turnout, and the author reported that
he sold more books at our little store than he did at the big chain store. The
difference? He had media coverage before he showed up at our store.
Here’s how to improve your success
rate at book-signing events.
Do . . .
· . . . seek media coverage prior to
the event by contacting local editors, reporters, columnists, and radio show
producers. A story in the newspaper or on the radio can boost attendance
· . . . send posters and bookmarks
to the store at least two weeks before the event.
· . . . ask whether the store will
hand out bag-stuffers—small flyers that promote the event. If so, get some
printed and drop them off at least two weeks in advance so they can be
distributed with everything purchased at the store.
· . . . find out what kind of
promotion the store will do (probably not much). If necessary, take it upon
yourself to get your event listed in community calendars in the local papers
and on www.craigslist.org.
· . . . tell everyone you know about
your event and encourage them to attend and invite their friends. If you have a
lot of people around you in the store, others will come over to find out what
all the fuss is about.
· . . . use props or
gimmicks—anything you can bring to capture the attention of passers-by. Even a
bowl of candy can draw people to you.
· . . . offer to give a talk or a
presentation instead of just sitting there and signing books.
· . . . set up an eye-catching sign.
It could feature a picture of your book, other relevant artwork, a quiz or
interesting pertinent statistics. Again, anything to capture interest.
· . . . smile! This is basic, but
easily forgotten, especially if you’re nervous. Sometimes a friendly smile and
“Hello” is all it takes to start a conversation with a shy person that then
leads to a purchase.
· . . . be ready to talk about your
book. Prepare short presentations on five to ten key selling points to share
when people inquire.
· . . . get up from your chair. You
are not chained to that table! If you’re sitting there all alone, get up and
walk around. Make friendly conversation with the bookstore staff and customers.
· . . . keep a sign-up sheet at your
table or bring along a jar to collect business cards. Later, you can add the
contact information to your database and follow up by sending your newsletter,
your e-zine, or a personal message of thanks for attending your event. You can
even offer a prize drawing for business cards, with the prize an autographed
copy of your book or a special report.
· . . . stand out from the crowd by
sending the store manager or owner a thank-you note after your event.
Don’t . . .
· . . . just sit there like a bump
on a log. Be engaging and friendly.
· . . . wait for customers to come
to you. You can go to them, or simply smile and welcome them as they come into
· . . . disrespect the store staff.
These people will have a hand in selling your books—or burying them on
low-lying shelves—after you leave.
· . . . use a hard sell. Nobody
likes the message “Buy this, or feel guilty.” If someone says your genre
doesn’t appeal, point out that such-and-such a holiday is approaching and the
book makes a great holiday gift. Ask, “Do you have a relative or friend who
might like a copy?”
· . . . expect the store to rally an
audience for you. Some stores may list events in their newsletters and/or in
community calendars, but they aren’t going to be your personal publicity
agents. Do the legwork, and don’t be too disappointed if you don’t have a
One more Do is worth keeping in
mind: Do remember that bookstores are truly the worst place to sell books.
Book-signing events bring other
benefits. Think of them as tools for publicity (getting your name out there)
and for networking opportunities. You never know who is going to show up and
what alliances will be formed. Set your expectations realistically, and try to
learn something from every event. If you sell a lot of books, first pat
yourself on the back, and then figure out how to repeat the success at other
Stephanie Chandler is the
owner of Book Lovers Bookstore (www.BookLoversCafe.com) in Sacramento, CA. She
is also the author of The
Business Startup Checklist and Planning Guide (Aventine) and <span
class=8StoneSans>From Entrepreneur to
Infopreneur: Make Money with Books, E-books and Information Products
(Wiley, coming December 2006). Her Web site—www.BusinessInfoGuide.com—offers
access to hundreds of resources for authors and entrepreneurs.