A book signing event can be exciting and chaotic for a participating author. You may be alone in a bookstore, or in a small event with a few authors, or be one of two hundred crowded into a hotel ballroom. How do you stand out from the crowd?
Start with imagining your assigned table as a storefront window enticing passersby. You need to have your message/name visible from across the room. You need to have your product (books) displayed in a pleasing and informative way.
Once you draw them closer to your table, you need to create an atmosphere around your table that is warm and inviting and helpful. Having that atmosphere match the mood of your books is a plus. Never be an “in your face” salesperson. Ask questions of anyone who approaches your table and just start a conversation. I promise you this soft approach will make them curious about your books.
Here are the basic steps you will need for every book signing event.
You can’t sell books if you don’t have any handy.
Order copies of your books at least a month or more ahead of time. If you want to set up a pre-order form linked to your website or with the company putting on the event, make sure you do it a couple months ahead and set an end date so you have time to order the books for them to pick up at your table. Another reason you will need a cushion of time to order your books: unexpected complications. What if your books show up on your doorstep damaged? It has happened. You need time to re-order them.
You can’t sell your books if you can’t get them to your table.
You will need something to transport your books and your displays from your car. Do not depend on the venue to provide handcarts or assistants. Be self-contained. I use a fold up fabric wagon. It is sturdy and easy to maneuver. I can fit everything I need in it. Once I unload it, it neatly folds up and is hidden under my table.
Table coverings are essential.
Tablecloths cover up ugly tables and it helps hide your stuff. Again, be self-contained. Don’t depend on the venue to provide a tablecloth, bring your own. Practice using your cloth on a real table to make sure it falls down to the floor in front and hides all your junk. I noticed at the last book signing event I went to, I could see storage boxes, wrapping, etc. peeking out from pretty tablecloths and it just killed the mood the author was trying to project. If you end up with a smaller table, you can always fold it under. Pick a color that will enhance your books and your brand. Yes, YOU are a brand (more of about that in another article). Plan to eventually have one that displays your name or your logo on the front, or have a custom made table runner that will hang down in front. Be sure you can read it from across the room.
Make your books easy to see.
Don’t load up your table with every copy of your book that you brought with you. That sends all sorts of messages to possible customers and not all of them are good. You want to project quality not quantity. Put out a few copies and replenish each one that sells. Don’t overwhelm the readers with clutter. Create displays at different eye levels. Invest in nice and sturdy book holders. You can stack a few books then top it with the display book. I invite Readers to lift up that copy and look through it. If you have numerous books, group them together in a series.
Have information part of your display.
You may have to leave your table, or you may be caught up in conversation with someone. You don’t want to loose a possible buyer who has just drifted by. Set up easily to read “teaser” displays that will explain in a glance what your books are about. You can use stand up “menu holders” for this, or a banner hanging behind your table. I have seen some beautiful and eye-catching hanging banners.
Always show your prices. Many people find it awkward to ask what something costs. You don’t want to waste a conversation starter answering over and over what your books cost. Let people know what is free on your table for them to take, and what they have to pay for. Have the give-aways way up front. Sadly there are always a few bad apples that will swipe small stuff when no one is looking. Have it be the freebies.
Stay in touch.
Make sure EVERY thing you put out has a way to connect with you. Include contact information on all your give-aways and displays. If you don’t have your website, QR code, or e-mail visible, that is a lost chance to increase sales. Leave business cards/free bookmarks on the table where they can be easily collected up.
You can offer a newsletter/e-mail sign up. This is a great way to reach out to readers and to those curious about your stories. Be very clear they are signing up for future e-mail alerts and can opt out if they want. Some authors offer a give-away for signing up or put the name into a drawing.
Be prepared to find yourself showing up in social media.
As you know, everyone loves to post photos of what they are doing and who they are with. Be ready for that and use it to your marketing advantage. Always be gracious when someone asks to take a selfie with you, because you really don’t know who the person is and what their influence is. Before the picture is taken, grab a book and hold it up so your name is showing. See if you can get your banner in the background. Speaking of banners, also be prepared for your table to be featured in someone’s post. Would your contact info be readable on that banner or your table display?
Make checking out easy.
If you can arrange to have a helper with you, that is the best scenario. Have them handle the final sale so you can keep talking to your Readers. Few people carry cash. Be prepared by setting up alternative ways for them to pay you through an on-line app or a credit card reader. Be sure you test your internet access before the event starts. No one likes to wait while you figure that out. If you can afford it, offer them nice looking shopping bags that of course have your name/logo on it. Be sure and tuck a business card into it.
Keep track of important data.
Make sure you note every book/item sold. This may sound obvious, but if your table gets busy, you will get distracted and miss how many sales you have had. What ever system works for you, from a notebook that you jot down the book sold and with what as it happens, or you have a more sophisticated system, practice and use it.
I also like to keep track of reactions and comments from those who drop by. It can be very informative and surprising. The best way to handle all this is to have an assistant with you so you are free to converse with the Readers.
Smile and say “Thanks!”
After the event jump right on your social media platforms and thank everyone for stopping by and their purchases, even if you didn’t do well. Always project an upbeat attitude. Participating in author signing events and getting the word out about your books is a long process. Until your fans are rushing to buy out your books, act like they are in your attitude.
Last but not least: HAVE FUN!
No only likes to approach an author who is looking down at their phone. Look up. Smile. Ask questions to start a conversation. Be full of positive energy and show everyone how much you love being the writer of your stories.
This list is just to get you started and spark your imagination toward other ideas on how to show the world your unique self.
To learn more, attend a few Author Signing events as a participant and observe other author tables. Note what tables are attracting attention. Is it because of their display, or the personality of the author, or both? Approach authors and note how they engage you in conversation. Was it positive or lacking? Not everyone is outgoing, but you can tell when people are being genuine. Would this particular event match your books? If not, keep looking around for one that would.
In summary, be positive, genuine, and friendly in the way you present yourself and your table display. We all love to make money, but an Author Signing Event is primarily a way for you to meet and greet Readers and introduce new Readers to you and your stories. Keep that as your focus and purchases will follow.
For more author tips, check out the other topics in my Writing Workshop series found in my blog articles.
Above I mentioned You are your own brand. Learn more here: Writing Workshop: Let’s Talk About Branding: https://archeratwood.com/archeratwoodthewritingworkshop/writing-workshop-lets-talk-about-branding/
Other Topics include:
Writing Workshop: How to Use Resources to Make Your Characters More Believable
Writing Workshop: How to Be a Better Writer: Observe and Record
Writing Workshop: Write so Everyone Can Read It: Part One
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