I grew up in the country and spent a lot of time hunting. Hunting for food is akin to hunting for fans to like and buy your book. The difference, of course, is that you aren’t going to cook and eat your fans. Or you shouldn’t anyway.
Authors may write books to see that smile on their readers’ faces, but at the end of the day, writing is a business. You have to sell your books, if for nothing else than to justify the time you spent arguing with your editor over that stupid comma. And no matter how popular you are, you still have to meet your existing fans as well as find those new ones. This means you have to talk to people, face to face. One of the best ways to do that is at a Book Signing.
I’ve done a handful or so book signings, and each one is just as exciting as the first, and as I learn what works and what doesn’t, each one has been more successful than the previous one.
Stalking Your Prey or Venue
Just like looking for that big buck or that warren of rabbits, you’ve got to stalk the right places. Everyone thinks that bookstores are the best venue. That is not necessarily so. Unless you have advertised relentlessly, do not expect many walk-up sales. If there are twenty people in that bookstore, be truthful and ask yourself how many of them are actually in your target audience. There are way more genres represented in a bookstore than there are on your signing table.
Instead, think of holding a signing where your genre is represented exclusively. If you are selling a commercial fiction romance, you probably won’t sell many at a paranormal convention. Consider a swanky restaurant instead. If anything says romance, it’s a candlelit dinner. Be sure you get permission from the manager before you set up a table. I held a book release signing at a restaurant and did better than I expected.
Camouflage or Dress for the Job You Want
Your signing table or booth is your hunting blind. This is where you sit back and wait for your fans to wander by. I can’t say this enough: it should be appropriate for the venue. Don’t hang shrunken heads in that swanky restaurant, and don’t wear a suit and tie to an outdoors paranormal convention. Dress up that booth, and yourself, with implements of the genre you write about. Table cloths, stands to hold your books upright, and a professionally-made roll-up banner are worth the investment.
Ammunition or Book Supply
You should never go hunting without an ample supply of ammunition. We all know what ammunition means in the normal sense, but what is an author’s ammunition? Why, words, of course. And those words are in your book. You should always have a supply of books on your table. Even if you are in a bookstore that sells your books, keep some there with you. Asking that new fan to find your book on the bookshelf so you can sign it is poor form.
Game Bag or The Cash Box
Hunters have something in which to tote home their kills. Fisherman have a stringer or an ice box. Writers have a cash bag and a banking account. You should always have twenty dollars in ones and fives. But remember: not all customers carry cash. Get yourself a PayPal account and a Square Reader to accept electronic payments.
Bait or Freebies
Hunters sometimes bait their area in hope of luring their prey. You should do the same thing. Sweets like peppermint and chocolate, free pens with your name and website on them, and bookmarks are things you can give fans as well as people who don’t buy anything right then. People like free stuff, and free stuff that keeps you on their mind means a potential sale.
You can get 2,000 two-sided bookmarks for $75, delivered, online. That’s less than four cents apiece. I put a slimmed down version of my book cover on one side, and my business card on the other.
Snacks or Well, Snacks
If you have to man your booth for more than a couple of hours, you’ll want some kind of protein to keep you active. Don’t forget water, either.
Driving the Game or Have You Talked to My Writer Friend?
Some of my favorite hunting was when there were a few of us. One or two would rattle the bushes and drive the game towards the rest of the group. The same holds true during book signings. If you have a writer friend who’s in the same genre, attending conventions together and working the same booth, or working booths next to each other, is a good way to drive business back and forth. When someone is finished at my booth, whether they bought a book or not, I always introduce them to my writer friend. A personal introduction is a great way to build rapport between you, your writer friend, and the fans.
Keep a checklist handy of everything you want to take with you to your signings. The night before, make sure you have all of these in a couple of clear plastic totes. I can be ready for a book signing within two hours if I follow my list.
Speaking of my list, here it is. Some things make sense. Some things were learned about the hard way.
- Books to sell
- Pens to autograph books sold
- Square Reader for taking credit card purchases
- Cell Phone or Tablet for use with Square Reader
- Wolf Ring to camouflage as a werewolf author
- Wolf Necklace to camouflage as a werewolf author
- Werewolf Teeth for use with fans who want pictures with me. Yes, fans like pictures with the author of the book they just bought. Don’t be too shy about asking them if they want a picture.
- Roll-Up Banner. You can get small, table-top versions for $100 or large, floor mounted ones for twice that. If you’ve got a good cover, put it on the banner. I’ve attracted more readers with my banner than not.
- Cash Bag with Cash
- Book Stands
- Spare batteries for any battery-powered devices you have (like your cell phone)
- Two Chairs
- Two tables (one large, one small)
- Table Decorations
- Bluetooth speaker for mood music
- Tie wraps
- Trash bag for trash
Outside signings need a few other things.
- Easy-Up. You can get a 10’x10’ sun shade at Wal-Mart for $40.
- Sand Bag/Weights to hold the Easy-Up to the ground if you’re not on grass or dirt
- Coat or light jacket
- Light plastic sheet to cover your booth when it rains
- Easy up hooks to hang things on
- Bungy cords
- Aspirin (or equivalent). There’s nothing worse than trying to be nice while your head is pounding.
- Spill-proof coffee mug. Yes. I spilled coffee on six books. That was an expensive mistake.
Sure, book signings take time away from writing, but if you don’t want to meet your fans or sell your work, you may be in the wrong business. I love to meet people and find book signings are great way to do that.
Good Luck and Happy Hunting!