The Anatomy of a Book Signing


This post was written by guest contributor Danielle Bileski Leonard, author of the children’s chapter book Danny in a Newfangled World. She is a freelance writer and blogger whose ramblings about raising kids in the digital age can be found on her blog


Over the past year, I have set up dozens of book signing events for my children’s chapter book, Danny in a Newfangled World, and have learned a great many lessons about this unique sales gig. For newbie writers looking to share their literary masterpiece through real face-to-face interaction, you should go into it understanding that the book signing experience can be both humbling and rewarding. If you are ready to take the leap into the brave world of book signings, here are some tips to prepare you:

You Are Not a Celebrity (Yet)

Don’t expect to be treated like a celebrity. Chances are likely that, as an unknown author, you will be lucky to experience a small trickle of interested customers, not an eager line-up of hard-core fans. You are not Suzanne Collins. While some of my signings were successful (selling up to 50 books), others were dismal (signing a measly two or three books over three hours).

I soon realized, however, that even the events with low book sales had value because they boosted my book’s visibility in the marketplace. Even if an interested parent did not buy my book during my signing, the next time she perused the store’s shelves (or Amazon) looking for a birthday present for her son, she may remember me and purchase it then.

Become a Salesperson

Cue the groan… I know authors cringe at the thought of breaking out of their reclusive persona, but this change in personality is essential if you hope to sell to someone other than your Aunt Mildred and her dog. I shake my head when I come across an author sitting timidly behind her table of books, afraid to make eye contact with passersby. I can immediately tell that she won’t sell more than a couple of books. I’m always right.

Despite the stereotypes you have developed about slickster salesmen, you don’t need to be overly aggressive to sell your books. I hated sales as much as anyone else before I self-published my book. However, I decided early in the book signing game that if I was going to spend hours of my personal time standing in a bookstore, I wanted to make good use of it; and that meant risking rejection.

But don’t despair. By rejection, I simply mean that the more customers you draw to your table, the more likely you’ll hear ‘no thanks.’ The upside is that you are also more likely to make a sale. That’s the irony of sales: with every rejection comes a greater likelihood that the next customer will buy. I know – it sucks. But it works.

Stand Up and Smile

Here is my secret to selling books– Stand. Smile. Say hello.

That’s pretty much it. You do that, and you’re ahead of most authors I see at book signings. I always stand in front of, or behind, my table of books and say hello to each customer who walks near my table. I do not wait until they look at me. Nor should you. In fact, recognize that most people will look the other way. Who can blame them? Everywhere we go, we are solicited by someone trying to sell us something. To them, you’re just another dude trying to take money out of their wallets.

I’ve learned however, that few people will ignore a pleasant hello and a smile. Once they have turned toward me to respond to my pleasantries, I will quickly introduce myself as a local author. At this point, they are just as likely to wave me off, as they are to visit my table for more information. Let’s say the customer approaches your table. Bingo!

You Got Two Minutes. Go!

I am always prepared with my elevator pitch. If you don’t have a two-minute pitch for your book, craft one before your first book signing. Then practice it out loud dozens of times until it comes naturally to you. A customer is not going to stand around listening to an author blather on for ten minutes about her book without starting to resent that he stopped in the first place.

Take two minutes of your customer’s time: that’s it. Some customers will grab your book right away, others will linger to chat some more, and others will politely say thank you, and not buy. Don’t feel offended. Your book is one of thousands available out there. You are not going to make a sale every time you reach out to a customer.

Finding the Right Venue

The bulk of my signings have been inside Canada’s largest bookstore chain, Chapters-Indigo. I’ve been fortunate enough to have my books for sale in many of their bricks and mortar stores. In my experience, small independent stores are not inclined to welcome unknown authors to sign. So, I recommend shooting for the big guys as they are more likely to have the retail space and are always looking for ways to add excitement to their customers’ shopping experience. Fortunately for Canadian authors, Chapters-Indigo is extremely supportive of local authors. That being said, every author should do his or her own research to find the stores most amenable signings.

If your attempts to find a supportive bookstore fall flat, do not despair. Other venues are out there. Start your search by considering your book’s market. I’ve attended several Holiday fairs over the Christmas season at local churches and schools that have been among my most successful gigs. Because I market to young middle-grade readers, I know that these venues would be filled with young families and/or grandparents looking for unique gifts. Further, I know that this type of customer is more eager than the average shopper to support local talent.

Set the Right Price

At bookstore signings, you typically have no control over price. The store creates a contract that describes the proportion of sales attributed to you. Usually around 60% of the book’s price goes back to you in the form of a cheque.

If you are selling at a fair, or local event, I’d recommend lowering your book’s sticker price. You get to pocket 100% of the cash you earn on every sale, anyways, and everybody likes getting a deal. Keep in mind that if one of your goals is simply to get the book in as many hands as possible to increase potential word-of-mouth sales, it’s better to sell a lot at a lower price than a few at a higher price. If your book is stocked at a well-known bookstore, let your customers know that you are selling the book for 25% or 50% off the retail price at so-and-so store. In fact, make a sign! Whenever I use this tactic, my sales increase.

How much you reduce your sticker price depends on the type of fair you attend. I’ve sold at Christmas fairs where I’ve lowered my price only slightly because competition with other books is almost non-existent. However, when signing and selling at book fairs, I’ve had to drastically lower my price. I was a vendor at the extremely well-attended Toronto Word on the Street Festival and, frankly, the competition was fierce. Thousands of visitors come, but there are also hundreds of writers selling “signed by author” books and deals. The big publishers, who also attend these events, slash their books’ prices by as much as 70%. You’d best do some similar slashing if you hope sell more than a handful, yourself.

Book signings are challenging for most authors, regardless of whether they are self-published, or not. Unless you’re John Grisham or some celebrity who has written a cheesy memoir, you will probably spend more time alone than surrounded by fans.

So, is it worth all this? Absolutely! This may be your only opportunity to meet and chat with your readers. I’ve met hundreds of boys and girls whose eyes light up when they discover my book is about a boy who gets sucked inside his computer. And, to be honest, they do make me feel like a celebrity! And, you’ll get to feel that way, too. So, stop sitting around, get out there, and sign some books.

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