Friday, August 17, 2012

Book Signings-More Than Signing Books

When I set up my table for my very first book signing, I had a simple card table with three piles of books and a favorite pen. I was in my home town, signing books at the fitness center where I work out. I had a pretty good group of friends for a fan base who thought it was cool that someone they knew had written a book. Consequently, the reality of my first book signing was pretty close to my fantasy. People lined up and I spent two busy hours signing my appreciation above my name.
Bridgewater Book Fest 2011

However, my next book signing, outside a book store in the mall on the Friday night before Christmas, was the total opposite of my experience the month before. I sold two books and one of them was to my son, who stopped by to support his mom (awww, love ya). You can imagine there was lots of foot traffic, but everyone seemed to have a great fascination for the ceiling just as they passed by my table stacked with books.

Depressed, I went home and when my family asked how many books I sold, I found consolation in a pint of cookie dough ice cream.  With no idea what I’d done wrong I searched the loops and discussion groups to seek tips from other authors.

What I discovered was that book signings are not about signing books.  They are about becoming visible, meeting people and listening to their stories.  Even with more people scrolling the internet for books, the number one reason people buy a particular book is word-of-mouth. The second is that they are familiar with the author, which was the lesson I’d learned from my two books signings.

To do this I sought ways to engage these people with a fondness for ceilings and clouds (I go to craft shows and outdoor markets), so they wouldn’t feel pressured to purchase a book.

This has been a kind of evolution for me and the more I do this the more it may change, but this is what I have right now.
I always use a table cloth, even for small tables at libraries or indie book stores. I also create levels using small items underneath the table cloth to give the table some dimension and make it more visually interesting.  I also have some doilies for contrast and simple stands for my books.

I’ve been told writers are more approachable if they are standing. I tend to do this a lot anyway as my folding camp chair sags in the middle and I look ridiculous trying to haul myself out of it.

The promotional items I usually have out are pens, postcards and brochures. They are tri-fold with blurbs and cover art of all my books, with my website, QR code, and places my books can be purchased. I’ve found people will usually take those after I’ve chatted with them a bit.

Candy in a bowl works well too. Lots of times kids will come along and ask if they can have a piece, and I usually say, “If it’s okay with your parents.” They come back a moment later with said parent in tow and if I have more than one kind of candy I can usually say something to mom or grandma while the kids are choosing.

My daughter’s boyfriend gave me a nice leather journal for Christmas one year and I use it as a guest book. I’ll ask people if they would like to sign, (just first names and where they came from) and most will. When they do, I can start a conversation, non-book related, and they may linger or just take a brochure or pen. When I get home I count up the number of people who stopped by my table and took info. Even if they don’t buy then, lots of people have e-readers and they like the postcards and brochures to look up the books on line.

I also have small plastic bags with my name and website. People at festivals and craft shows many times walk by hold all sorts of things in their hands. If it looks like it will fit, I’ll ask if they would like a bag. Then I’ll ask if they would like to sign my guest book.

Sometimes people will wander by and if their eyes scan the table I’ll ask if they like to write. Lots of people have aspirations and I try to have information on the writer’s organization I belong to.

At my last event the promoters wanted the crafters to demonstrate their craft. Fellow author Alana Lorens/Lyndi Alexander had invited me to join her at this all day event, so we put together the evolution of a novel, going from conception of characters, through rough draft and research, to the finished work and beyond, to promotional items and book trailers. She even had a second lap top with her on which she was creating her next story. It was eye-catching from a distance and drew lots of people to the table.

Aside from the books we signed, we were also invited by a woman from the Arts Council to teach a writing workshop they were putting together.

So you never know what can happen when you put yourself out there. I don’t always sell a lot of books, but hopefully people will learn who I am and when they see my name on Amazon they might be inclined to buy a short story or book. If they like it, they might tell their friends and family.

What have been your experiences with book signings? Any tips you’d like to share? My presentation is always changing and I love new suggestions.


Tina Donahue said...

I had to smile at your post, Kathy. Reminds me of my book signings. During my last one at Barnes & Noble, an elderly woman came up to my table, pointed down and said, "My feet are really red. What do you think that means?" I politely told her I wasn't a nurse, had no idea, and that maybe she should call her doctor. She left without once taking a look at my books on the table.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi All,
Glad to be here today. Unfortunately, I have to leave in a few for a twelve hour shift. I'll be home late tonight and will stop by to reply to your posts. Feel free to leave your book signing stories and suggestions. See you all later. :)

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Tina,
Wow, funny story! :) I've had people ask me odd questions, but none so odd as that. Hopefully other folks took your promo items and bought your books. I did a signing at B&N once, but only sold two.

Maddy said...

I am nowhere near that stage yet [but it pays to look ahead right?]

Those are all great ideas and I imagine it puts less pressure on you the author too - you're not there to sell books, it's more of a social gathering and networking opportunity to meet people - I like that much better.

Andrea Downing said...

This is a timely blog for me as I have my first signing coming up in a few weeks. Nervous as all get-out but thanks for some new ideas...

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Those are great ideas, Kathy. I admire your courage in having a book signing. I would dread it like the Black Plague. I would rather hide behind the bookshelves. I did hear something I thought was very interesting though in a CRW meeting. An inventive author who wrote nautical tales, would dress up like a sea captain to attend his signings. He moved around the store greeting people and, of course, they asked why he was dressed like that and then the book promo would begin. I thought that was clever.
A very informative blog, Kayhy. Thank you.

ltrout said...

So far, I've only had two signings and they were both with family and friends. I have another on the 25th at a local bookstore but I've sent notices to a lot of former co-workers who have assured me they'll be there. Which means it will be a decent signing. After that, I know it'll get harder. I use a table cloth, have a couple stands for my books, have some pretty balloon holders (sans balloons) to give the table some color and some sparkley confetti to sprinkle on the table. Oh yeah, and I wear a big smile. :-) We'll see how far that goes when I set up in a mall. hehe

Alana Lorens said...

I absolutely agree, Kathy, that having a plan and a display other than a stack of books will draw people in. I enjoyed the heck out of our joint event in July, and I'd do it again anywhere. We really had the process from A to Z, and so could cross-connect with a lot of people at different places in their own reading/writing journey.

Fiona McGier said...

I've done a couple of book signings as well as given talks on getting published at local libraries. What I've found is that the minute you say you write romance, even if you never say erotic, people immediately change the subject, or outright blurt out, "Who reads THAT kind of stuff?"

When I try to explain that romance readers are voracious and probably the most responsible for the success of e-readers and eBooks, they look even more bored and walk away. Sigh. America still hasn't gotten over its Puritanical background, because I'm sure quite a lot of those people either read sexy stuff, or view porn, but no one will admit it in public in front of strangers.

Just wondering if anyone else has had the same kind of reaction. And for the record, I live in a western suburb of Chicago, in a mostly conservative area.

Debra St. John said...

Like you, I've had mixed results with signings. (I love how you described the 'cloud' people.) I've signed at a lot of craft fairs and discovered it's really not the right market for books.

Although, I usually do these fairs with a couple of my local author friends, and we have a great time chatting and brainstorming together all day.

But I agree...sometimes it's more about getting your name out than selling armloads of books...although wouldn't that be nice all the time, too?!

LisaRayns said...

Thanks for sharing your experience and tips.

Lilly Gayle said...

Great tips! My best book signings have been the two held at a gift shop in my hometown. My worst--at a mall. I got a lot of ceiling starers too. lol!

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Maddy,
Yes, it does take some, not all, of the pressure off. It's like all social networking, you have to decide for yourself what works for you as you balance your budget and time.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Andrea,
Good luck with your book signing! I always get nervous. I worry I won't sell anything. I worry I'll be too pushy. I worry I'll spell people's names wrong, or worse, my own.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Sarah,
I would much rather be hiding with you behind the bookshelves. I am not a people person. And at first I was more my natural self. Gradually, this book signing, public persona evolved. I get into character once my table is set up and breathe a sigh of releif when it comes down.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Itrout,
Sounds like you've got your table well in hand, happy and reflective of your personality. Sounds great. Maybe having a group of people you know come to your signing will draw others out of curiosity. Like an ice cream stand in the summer. It looks dead when there are no cars in the parking lot, then as soon as one car pulls in the place gets packed. Lots of luck to you.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Alana,
Thanks for inviting me. All day events are lonely when you're by yourself and we did chat with lots of people.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Fiona,
People always snub romance in public, but the percentage of romance novel sold in book stores and on line disprove that. And look at Fifty Shades of Grey. Those people are actually closet romance lovers. If you can get them to learn your name, next time they are surfing at 2am maybe they'll buy your book.
And I live in a pretty conservative farm town which is 60%old-order Amish. You're not alone. Just keep doing what you're doing.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Debra,
Thanks for stopping by. Yes, it is less depressing to share these saleless events with a friend. I'm hopeful that at the craft shows people are sometimes shopping for unique gifts for family and friends. I've sold a few where someone will say, so and so reads this kind of stuff, maybe I'll buy it for them. When I sign the book I often wonder if it's really for them.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Lisa,
Thanks for stopping by. I hope you found some of the tips helpful.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Lilly,
I'm glad I'm not alone in my dismal failure at the mall. That home town fan base is a great nucleus to have. We just have to encourage them to tell their friends and families about our books.