So You Want to Have a Book Signing, Part 1

My photographer (also known as my husband) and I had our first signing for the new book, Destination: Creativity, Saturday at our local farmers’ market. I’ve done a bunch of these over the years, at all kinds of places, and so although I’m not An Official Expert at setting up book signings, I do have some ideas about what separates the good ones from the bad ones.

Think you can’t have a bad book signing? Then you’ve never sat in a corner at a big box book store, with a metal chair and a little folding table and a cup of lukewarm complementary tea, trying to look welcoming and enthusiastic for two hours while people squeeze past you to order a latte or pick up a copy of People magazine. Yes, indeed: there are signings where nothing gets signed, where no books are sold, where nobody even asks about the stack of books on your table or notices your cheery smile. These experiences are to be avoided at all costs because, no matter that you could argue that “any publicity is good publicity,” nothing makes you feel just the teensiest bit depressed more quickly than having your and your fabulous, new-to-the-world book ignored in such a tangible way.

It’s not your fault, of course. Big box book stores are, well, big box stores. They’re not really geared to the towns they’re in, like indie bookstores where people already know and love you. If you’ve imagined having a book tour across the US, with stops in every major city and lines stretching around the block filled with people clutching money and the special pen they want you to use to sign the multiple copies of your book they’re going to buy for everyone on their Christmas list, then you’d better 1) become a celebrity really fast or 2) run for president and say something scandalous or 3) do something really scandalous or 4) commit a really high-profile (also scandalous) crime. In lieu of that, you need to do some planning to have book signings that are fun and successful and leave you ready to do more.

Our friend Joyce sets up community events for the local Barnes and Noble, and I do a signing there for every book. She always has a table set up in a high-traffic area, and she brings coffee and stops to chat, and we always have a great time. She does it right, and I love being there. I don’t, however, sell very many books there. When I was apologizing to her, saying I was sorry I hadn’t been able to sell more of the stack they’d ordered, she told me an amazing thing: of all the book signings set up at stores all across the country, the average number of books sold is: two.

That’s right: two books. That means that while Mitt Romney had lines stretching out of the local store and down the strip mall to Best Buy on the day he came to town, there are plenty of actual writers who don’t sell a single book at their own signings. It’s great if you can get the exposure by having a signing, with the store providing a nice poster and some advance advertising, but you should know ahead of time that you probably won’t be swamped with hordes of breathless fans.

It is part of your agreement with your publisher, however, that you will help market your book. If you get a chance to do a signing, it’s not really fair for you to turn it down. So, to make the process more enjoyable all around, here are some of the things I’ve learned over the years of doing this.

~~Location, location, location. While it might seem that having signings at the big chain stores means you have officially arrived, it really doesn’t. You can usually set one up if you’re willing to take whatever available time slot they have. I once did a signing at a Barnes and Noble in El Paso on a weekday evening.  I would not recommend this. I had a great time because the fabulous Danita came to keep us company, and we had a wonderful conversation. I did not, however, sell a lot of books, and if it hadn’t been for Danita, The EGE and I would have been very lonely, indeed. The woman who had set up the signing was gone for day when we arrived, and nobody had prepared for us, and nobody really knew we were coming.

In setting up signings, think about where in your town you’d be a good fit. Is there an indie bookstore? (We have none here, alas.) Is there a contemporary cooperative gallery that sells your work? (We no longer have one of these, either, but it would have been an excellent venue for me.) Is there a rubber stamp store? Some of my favorite signings have been at Stamp Antonio, in San Antonio, Frenzy Stamper in Scottsdale, Arizona, and The Ink Pad in New York City. The people who shop at these stores and take workshops there are the people who are going to like my books.The stores are independently owned, and the owners are fabulous hosts. They sent out invitations and provided snacks and made me feel like a queen (see part 2 for suggestions on how you’ll repay that hospitality).

These are the kinds of things you need to think about: if you write books about making jewelry, you’ll think about stores that host workshops in jewelry making, your local bead store, maybe the local community college if they have jewelry-making classes and some kind of art walk or gallery night. Art retreats with vendor events are good places for signings, as well, although your booth may be overlooked in the shopping frenzy.

If you have a local community of artists who would be interested in your book, having a friend host a signing party is a fabulous idea. You don’t want it to be a high-pressure, if-you-come-you-must-buy affair, where people feel guilty for not buying a book and so just stay home; so think about having it in conjunction with a showing of your work, or some fun demos, or just a really laid-back cocktail party. Last weekend we went to an art show at the home of some local artists. They opened their home for a friend’s work, hanging it in every room except the bedrooms (and keeping those doors shut so their guests felt free to wander through the rest of the house) and provided lots of gourmet finger food, wine, and beer. If you’ve got fabulous  friends like that and a local community of mixed-media artists, this might work for you. (I was seriously envious of this event.)

If you do set up signings at big chain stores, think about locations where you already have a community or can connect with local people. Is there a local quilt group? Encaustic association? Mixed media art group? Find out who might come out on a Saturday afternoon to meet you and get a signed copy of your book. If you have multiple locations of a chain to choose from, think about which one would be easier for your contacts to get to. People will be more likely to show up if they don’t have to drive across town during rush hour.  And if you have a choice in scheduling, think about that, too–pick a time that’s convenient for the people you want to invite.

Next time, in Part 2, we’ll talk more about what you can do to have fabulous book signings, wherever you are.

Ricë also blogs at Notes from the Voodoo Cafe.


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