Book Signings: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

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My first book, BLOOD MOON, has been out for six months. Since the release date on June 22, 2013, including my launch party, I’ve done 20 signings/events. I know I still have a lot to learn, but here are a few things I’ve learned and experienced so far. Some great, some good, some bad and some even ugly.

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THE GOOD

1. The best part of events is meeting readers, who just happen to be the coolest people in the world. I’ve met some fabulous people. For example, a 12 year old girl named Isabelle, who read the book in 2 days and her favorite character is Archard. This makes her the coolest 12 year old ever. 🙂 At one Barnes & Noble signing I met a young woman who was a real Wiccan and she was so excited about a novel based on her beliefs. Writers, who are always readers, frequent signings and I’ve met a lot. We always share our common struggles in publishing and writing; it’s an instant bond to meet another writer.

2. I love seeing my story through other people’s eyes. It’s truly a thrill to discuss my work with readers. I visited a couple book clubs, groups of smart, book-savvy women, and these readers have helped me become a better writer. Thank you for that.

3. Hanging out with other authors is another great perk of these events. I have this whole new circle of friends that I didn’t have last year. We sit together at signings and conferences talking about our achievements, our failures, our grievances, laughing and having a blast.  I’ve learned so much from these people that helps me be a better writer and author. More thanks!

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THE BAD

1. Book signings are hard.  The first few I did alone, sitting at a table by the door of a Barnes & Noble, were terrifying. I’m an introvert. The prospect of trying to talk to strangers, to get them excited about a new book no one cares about, was enough to make me want to crawl under my bed and never come out. A signing at a B & N is usually about 3 – 4 hours and the author sits at a table with a stack of books, praying customers will stop by to talk and maybe (maybe!) buy the book. Those first few dragged on endlessly, as I sat self-conscious and nervous. I’m much better now. I realized a simple “hi” and a sincere smile can sell books or, at least, result in a nice conversation, a “hello” back. Books signing are not about selling stacks of books. They are about connecting with people, with readers and about building your brand and reputation.

2. Book signings don’t sell a lot of books. Unless you are a BIG name author, very few people will venture out to one of your signings, especially for your first book. Other than my launch party, I’ve sold between 2-15 books at all my events. Even at well established venues and events, attendance and book sales are small. With the ease of access to authors through the Internet and social media, readers don’t venture out to events as much as they did in the past. I was even surprised at the low attendance of an author panel I did at the Viridian in West Valley with Jessica Day George and Bree Despain, both well known, veteran authors. The audience included Bree’s husband, sister and a friend, two librarians from the West Jordan library and the center director. I only sold two books that night, Bree and Jessica doing the same, but it was so much fun to talk with that group.

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AND THE UGLY

1. I have been ignorantly compared to Stephenie Meyer  a ridiculous amount of times. New flash! Stephenie Meyer didn’t invent the paranormal genre and she didn’t even write it well. One older gentleman asked me, “You trying to be that Stephenie Meyer?” I smiled politely and said, “Not even a little. I hope my writing and books are nothing like hers.”

2. At one of my first Barnes & Noble signings, an old man, with the hard eyes of a long life, and an intimidating aura, stopped at my table and immediately proceeded to attack me. He picked up a copy of BLOOD MOON and said, “Give it to me in 25 words.” I started, a little thrown off, and after I’d say a few words he stopped me and said, “Too many words.” I said, “Well, I write novels,” trying to be friendly and ease the tension. He scowled at me. I tried to tell him more about the story. “Well, that’s never been done before,” he said sarcastically. By the time he finally set my book down and walked away I was shaky inside and wanted to pack up and leave. Being in the public eye, putting your work out to the world, brings critics, even preemptive, unfair, mean judgements. It’s a part of being an author. It’s never easy to take or hear, but I’ve learned to brush things like this aside.  Jessamyn West once said, “Talent is helpful in writing, but GUTS are absolutely essential.”

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A FEW OTHER THINGS I’VE LEARNED

1. At first, I spent money on cookies, candy and treats, thinking it might draw people to my table. I’ve found that a friendly hello and smile are just as effective and cost nothing. For my first B & N signing, I bought a couple dozen Paradise Bakery cookies. It was about $30. When My husband saw the cookies, practical as always, he said, “You’ll have to sell 30 books just to pay for those.” It was a reality-slap. I learned to be more careful and more conservative about spending money to sell books.

2. Use archival quality pens, in an ink color other than black. I use red/black, Uniball Vision Elite. Write a personal message, sign it and date it. I learned these tips from book collectors and dealers.

3. Always take time to sincerely thank the host of the signing or event. Thank you cards and small gifts such as treats for the staff are appropriate and always appreciated. Bookstore people will sell your book to readers if they have a reason to, if they like you and want to help you. (Adrienne Monson gave me this idea when she baked a cake for the B & N staff for her first signing and they gushed about how nice that was and how Adrienne could come back any time.)

4. When possible, join up with other authors for signings. Not only is it more effective in selling, but a lot more enjoyable for you as an author. It’s also great networking. Ask questions, learn from those other authors.

5. Give those who buy your book a bookmark and/or business card with your social media links and email. Tell each one that you would love to hear what they think, that they can email or contact you with their thoughts. (I learned this from Eric Bishop, my favorite cowboy.) Someone buying your book is spending money and time on it, let them know that their time and money matter. It’s a great way to make loyal readers.

6. Presentation matters. Make your table or singing area eye catching – a poster, a sign, nicely stacked books. Dress nicely, too. Smile and make eye contact. I learned this from years in TV and throwing a lot of parties. Presentation matters!

7. This one is BIG! Have a killer “grab.” A grab sells your book in a few short sentences. People don’t want to stand around for ten minutes while you give an in-depth plot summary. Get to the point quickly and enticingly. My agent, Fran, once told me, “Make your book sound like the best piece of chocolate cake.” If you don’t, readers will find something else to “eat.” I’m still working on perfecting my grab, but when I spit out a good one, sells happen more often.

AUTHORS – Share your wisdom. What other tips/advice do you have?

READERS – What tips and advice do you have for authors? What do you like to see/do at signings?

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6 thoughts on “Book Signings: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

  1. Teri, I LOVED this article and was relieved to see that I wasn’t the only one who dreaded book signings, nor was the only one disappointed in the book sales generated from them. But you’re right, it’s more about making good, quality contact and conversation with others. I could relate to everything you said. And as for that jerk of an old man, he was probably just jealous that you had a published work and that his 20 unfinished manuscripts were still collecting dust in a corner because he never had the guts to put them out there. I’m proud of you, Teri!

  2. So interesting to hear it from the authors perspective. I always like talking to authors when they have their tables up at stores. Sometimes I talk to them just to support them and more often then not, they are interesting people and I make a note to get their book when I can. AND I loved talking to you about your book. It really enriched the reading experience (plus when I was driving through Fairfield I found the little school where you had a party and now I want to host a party there too)! And your description of the mean guy reminded me of serving a mission. That shaky, terrible feeling and I were well acquainted.

  3. Pingback: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Teacher Edition | The Prospect

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