Learning a few tips on the book signing trail.

The busy three signings in four days is done, and I’m back at home after driving nearly 300 miles. I thought I would share a few of the things that I have learnt over the last few weeks on the signings trail. When first starting out it is difficult to know what to expect. I have never been to another author’s signing to get a book signed, so cannot claim to have seen what goes on first hand until now. Writing is a solitary business, and there is no ‘manual’ or little club where authors chat at length to be able to get an impression in advance.

1.) Take some books with you. Especially if your publisher is a small press who is not yet on a general stock with Waterstones. For some reason books can and do get lost somewhere in the system and fail to arrive at the bookshop you are supposed to be signing at. I have a box of 44 in the boot of the car whenever I’m off to a signing. My publisher said it was a good idea, and on several occasions it certainl;y was. Even if the actual stock has arrived, sometimes you can sell out and it’s nice to sell a few extra whilst you are there. Any of your stock you use the bookshop will replenish once their actual stock comes through.

2.) You will be mistaken for shop staff frequently. Up until I started the signing tour I had completely missed the significance of the scene at the start of the film “1408” based on a Stephen King short story. There the author is asked about the whereabouts in the shop of another author’s books. I reckon that for every one person who asks about my book, another three ask me where they can find the cookery section or a book about X. Just smile and point them on to the actual staff or be clever and point out what they want if you know where it happens to be. Even with a big stand with posters and your books on they will do this. Hell, I wasn’t even wearing the same colour clothes as the bookshop staff’s uniforms.

3.) Smile and be nice. Say hello to people who go past, and if they hesitate and look to the books, tell them the genre and that you are an author on a book signing. You will snare a great many people this way who will take a look and maybe even buy a copy. If you sit and say nothing I guarantee that almost all will pass you by (or ask where the newest Harry Potter tome can be found). As a start out author you will get most of your books purchased by this pro-active effort. Whatever you do, don’t do the hard sell because it will annoy people and get you no extra sales. It will also even put off some people that were wavering and they will pass you by.

4.) Don’t stereotype. Regardless of the genre you write in, its readers do not all look the same or how you imagine. I get a lot of books signed because some-one is buying a present for a niece or nephew. I also had a famous Sci-fi artist from 2000AD buy a book, and he looked like my Grandfather – or about as far removed from an avid sci-fi reader as I could imagine. He was a very nice bloke too. Say hello and smile to everyone, because you never know who the people are who would like a copy of your book.

5.) Nothing gets people interested more than other people at your table talking about your book or getting one signed. Feel free to chat; not even necessarily about your book. A lot of people are interested in the writing process or even books you like to read yourself. Just keep an eye out for other people hovering behind them who might be coming closer to see what’s getting people’s interest up.

6.) When you sign your book, don’t sign it like you would sign a cheque or a delivery slip. People want a signature that looks like your name, and not like some-one used the first page of the book to test a biro was working. My author signature looks like my name written in a fast artsy style, but it is still readable as my name. My signature, on the other hand, looks like some-one testing a pen. It probably also pays not to hand out an example of the signature that gets access all areas on your bank account and life.

7.) Unless specifically asked to dedicate the book to X, don’t. There is a small minority of people who will get a book signed then hide it elsewhere in the shop without any intention of buying it. If all the book says is “best wishes” then your name, the book is still saleable. There is also less chance of you misspelling a name, then having to do another one to correct it. It’s also handy to have a pad to be able to confirm spellings with people. You would be amazed to how many names your brain suddenly decides “I can give you three different ways of spelling that”. The pad also allows you to keep a discrete tally of how many books you have shifted.

8.) Don’t read a book or get lost in writing your next one whilst you are there. If you look engrossed in something or disinterested in the signing, people won’t disturb you and won’t ask for a copy of your book.

9.) At the end of the gig, politely offer to sign any remaining stock copies of your book. There’s a few reasons for this. A lot of shops sell books “signed by the author” and it gives them something marketable. People who didn’t make it to your signing on the day can still get a signed copy of your book. On the day you will find a lot of people may look, ask questions and chat but not actually commit and buy. In the days after I do a signing a lot of shops report an increase in sales of my book as some of these people come back to buy. People often don’t like to commit in the moment. Other people also don’t like to make a decision whilst they feel you are watching them. I suppose it can be intimidating. That’s one of the reasons I always slip a couple of copies into the appropriate book section so that people can look at the book at their own pace where I can’t see them. The other reason to sign books is that (as was explained to me at a multi-author signing event by an older hand) ever copy signed is a sale – the shop can’t actually return it for a credit. Don’t just sign every copy willy-nilly. Ask first otherwise you will not be asked back and may get into trouble. But if they give permission, then go for it!

10.) Time of year and repeat visits can be critical, especially for a newer unknown author. Part of the process is actually about raising the profile of your book. If people see the cover of your book, the next time they will see it as familiar and are more likely to buy. People like familiarity. A repeat visit can generate a lot more sales simply because some of the same people are passing through and saw you before. Sending posters in advance of events for the bookshop to put up to advertise your book and the event can help in this area too. In the immediate weeks before Christmas, there will be hoards of people, but they will be busier buying “The Christmas bumper book of crud” than regular books. Sales of regular lines in bookshops suffer at Christmas losing out to the seasonal stuff.

11.) The media is your friend. Send information and features to local newspapers in the run up to signings. Often they will be only too glad of some material of local relevance to fill the pages. It also gives you a nice smug feeling to know that a few thousand people are seeing the front cover of your book in the local papers. Also trail the signing events online, but don’t do it to the point of appearing to spam sites as this will put people off.

I think that covers the main points. I’m sure I’ve missed something, and there will almost certainly be other things that I learn in the coming weeks. So far I know that it is a steep learning curve, but it’s a great deal of fun and it beats having a real job. I also get the satisfaction of seeing my books actually sell and knowing each of those is a book that won’t get returned to the publisher through Sale or Return.