Congratulations on your success in publishing a book! This article is geared towards authors who are ready to launch their first (or next) book and would like to set up a signing event.
Setting up book signings are a critical part of your marketing, publicity, and sales planning. The events are the main talking points that you'll want to use on your press release, promote on social media, use in your newsletter, and place as a focal point on your website. These events will help you sell books, and give you something to talk about with local media. They will also increase your social media footprint when the venues share information about your signing events.
Best practices and basics:
- Set up a series of signing events close to each other. This gives the media an interesting talking point to market, gives your audience more than one opportunity to meet you in person in case they have schedule conflicts, and increases your sales potential.
- Print marketing materials well in advance of connecting with the stores. If you are printing business cards, bookmarks, recipe cards, stickers, or any marketing materials to hand out at your signing, go ahead and have everything printed so you can bring a sample packet by your preferred venues.
- Make a list of local media outlets you would like to have interview you and help promote the signing events: radio, TV, and print. Prepare a press release to send to your list after your signing events have been secured. Plan to spend time doing follow up phone calls and emails to secure your spot. If you have hired a publicist or marketing specialist they may be doing this part on your behalf.
- Start practicing your speech for signing events well in advance. You'll want to talk for 15-20 minutes and then allow time for questions. Make sure this is the best plan with your venue when you secure an event date and adjust accordingly. Practice outloud with people listening. Practice in the car with no one listening. Write a bullet-point list of your talking points and take this with you to your event.
- List several venues that will be good locations for sales for your book. Consider your topic, time of year, and other things going on with that venue in case you can collaborate with an already-active date for extra traffic.
- List optimal times to have a launch party or signing event at your favorite venues.
- Make sure you know how bookstores and venues can order your book. If you're part of the Ingram system, all they will need is your ISBN number. If you are hoping the bookstore will buy directly from you, make sure you can clearly communicate your process for them to buy your books. Most stores will want a 40-55% discount off the cover price, while other stores will want to offer you space to sell your books on consignment. In the consignment model, you will provide your books to the store at your cost. They will display your books and only pay you once the books have sold. When they pay you, you will typically only split the profit 50/50. Sometimes this is worth it if the store has good traffic and the placement of your book and the store helps market your book and brand. However, in my experience, books on consignment often get wear and tear and then returned in a state where you can no longer sell the merchandise as new. I avoid consignment deals when possible because the profit margin isn't very good if I'm supplying my own books up front. But sometimes the location is worth it and I chalk up any losses of books not sold or profit-losses as a marketing expense.
- Follow all of your favorite venues on their social media accounts: facebook, twitter, instagram, and linkedin. Like some of their posts, sign up for their newsletter, and start to be a name they will recognize.
- Connect with the venues. Call or go by in person with a copy of your book and marketing materials to determine who the store-buyer is. Find out if there is a separate event coordinator. Let them know you are a local author who would like to set up a signing event to help increase traffic to their store with your newest launch. Be sure you have materials you can leave for the buyer such as a one-sheet with instructions for how to order your book, an image of the front cover, a short author biography, and a short description of the book. Your publisher may provide this for you, or you can create this yourself.
Once you've connected with some venues and have selected dates together, you'll need to discuss marketing, sales, and set up.
Marketing: Be direct with your contact at the venue and ask about their plans to help market your signing. Here are some questions you can ask along with some ideas for discussion with your store contact.
- Will the store set up a facebook event for this on your social media?
- Will the store tweet about this event and post on instagram?
- Is there a store calendar online that they could market your event?
- Is there a store newsletter they could send out to their subscribers to promote your event?
- Are there any special activities going on in the store that day or other author signings you could help cross-promote?
- Will there be anything 'extra' to help draw an audience you could both promote? Such as food, music, a special guest, a holiday, etc.
- Are they able to help connect you with any local media that has covered events there before?
- Discuss your photography/videography plans. Make sure it's ok with them if you bring a photographer, or have a friend photograph the event on their phone. Be aware of any photography policies they have. If they have a staff photographer onsite, ask what their policies are for you to be able to use their photos of the event. Your mutual goal is to promote their store, and your book with the ultimate goal of book sales.
- Ask them what their most successful events have looked like and see what strategies you can learn/pull from to make your event a positive experience for the store. What time of day has worked best? Weekend vs weekday? Let them help you; rely on their experience.
- Talk about your plans to send out a press release to local media groups.
Sales: There are two main models for sales at book signing events.
- In one model, the bookstore will purchase your books in advance, sell the books, and keep the profit. You'll receive your royalty from your publisher later on. Or, if you are selling your books to the store, you'll receive your profit immediately. If you're selling to the store, you'll want to discuss their return policy in case you need to accept any returns.
- For major bookstores, they will always purchase your books ahead of time through your publisher, Ingram, or you. They will want to order your 6-60 of your books 4-6 weeks in advance. These are just suggestions; be sure you're able to provide books within their timeline.
- In this model, you may still want to bring extra books to have in your car in case the store sells out (a great problem to have!). Let the store contact know that you have back up stock ready and discuss a sales plan in case this happens. Some stores will want to buy your inventory from you, others will want you to handle your own sales.
- In the second model, you will bring your own books and be responsible for sales. This model is more common with smaller boutiques, farmers markets, and special events. Be sure to have books ordered and on hand well in advance of your event. Do not wait until the last minute to order books, and do not schedule an event too close to a launch date to account for shipping delays and human error.
- With this second model, you'll need to be able to accept various forms of payment. If you're wanting to accept credit cards, you can sign up for Square or your preferred platform to receive credit cards. Make sure the venue has wifi and connect to it before your event to ensure all sales go smoothly.
- Bring cash to be able to give people proper change without having to rely on the venue for change.
- Price your books in whole dollar amounts with tax included to make it easy on yourself when you're having to give out change. You don't want to be digging around for dimes with a big line of people waiting on you to sign their copies.
- Bring an extra volunteer to help you receive payments so you can focus on signing books and connecting with your audience.
- Keep good records of your sales so you know how to report the taxes from your sales. Individual state tax laws vary.
- If you have access to bags for customers, bring them. Buyers who are getting several books will appreciate a way to carry their merchandise.
Set up: Arrive early the day of your event.
- If your name is on the billboard, take some pictures and post them on your social media - tell everyone how excited you are to see them at the event and remind them of the time and location.
- Discuss with the venue ahead of time what they will be providing. Most bookstores will have a table with chairs, proper microphone, and bottled water. But some venues won't have any of this and you'll need to bring your own items. Adding a vase of fresh flowers and a table cloth to your signing table is a nice touch when possible.
- Bring extra sharpies or ink pens - don't assume the store will have this covered.
- Set out all your extra marketing pieces - you are more approachable when you have freebies.
- Practice your signature and have a few go-to sentences or key phrases to write in addition to your name. For example, with The Terlingua Chili Cookbook, I always write "Viva Terlingua!" Then sign my name and draw a small cactus plant with my signature.
- Some customers will want to tell you who to dedicate the book to - always double check that you have the spelling of the names right. Otherwise, you'll have to buy their book with the incorrect name on it.
- Have a plan for what to wear. What will photograph well given the setting, time of day, colors in the background? Wear solid colors - no patterns. Be you - and wear the most authentic clothes you have that you feel professional and confident in. This will help when you're speaking.
- Have a friend take some pictures of you in action, or hire a professional photographer. Make sure the event is documented with photos so you have items to post. This is gold for your sales and publicity.
- Bring your bullet-point list of talking points and take a few moments to pause before you speak to silently rehearse what you'll be saying.
- Connect with the person who will be introducing you to the audience. Do they need intro information or have you already provided this? Have something written about yourself as an introduction that you can hand to them so they are not scrambling to write something down last minute. Be sure you have a few minutes to connect with them so they get to know your vibe and are comfortable introducing you. Be sure they know how to pronounce your name correctly. If you have a quirky last name like me, you can use this as a talking point. "It's Harelik, like garlic."
- Know your elevator pitch for your book and your business. Be ready to network and market with individuals after the signing is over. Have business cards on hand.
After the event is over:
- Leave some of your marketing materials with the store so they can promote the 'leftover' books for you.
- Don't forget to thank the store manager and all your contacts at the venue. Handwritten cards, social media posts, positive reviews of their store online are all great options to help you say thanks. In some cases I have sent flowers to the store when we've worked hard to produce a beautiful event. This really leaves an impression and helps you stand out as a great person to work with for future events.
- Keep marketing the event. Let people know how much fun you had through social media posts and newsletter recaps. Keep giving the venue positive shout-outs, and tag them when possible.
- Do your accounting and book-keeping/inventory updates immediately.
- Take yourself out for a treat on a job well done! It's always important to celebrate these milestones in your publishing career.