Are you a traditionally published celebrity author planning a book-signing in a mega bookstore? I described just such an event in my last post — “How to (Almost) Get Thrown Out of Barnes & Noble.” It was about attending the Regis Philbin signing for his new book, How I Got This Way (HarperCollins, Ent.) If you’re an author in this kind of scenario, you’re probably not going to need my tips. Chances are you’ll get all the necessary prep work done for you — by your publisher, by your publicist, by your “people” and by the book store itself. They’ll even make sure copies of your book are in stock.
The rest of us, however, the smaller potatoes, have to do most of the footwork for book-signings on our own, including getting the gigs — which will usually be in small, independent bookstores.
Before I continue, a little backstory. When I became my own “indie” publishing company (Timberlake Press), I published Charlie & Me, a memoir by Harriett Bronson, first wife of the late actor Charles Bronson. Her book tells of their 16-year marriage, high-profile divorce, and her life post divorce as the “Ex Mrs. Famous” who reinvents herself as a radio talk show host.
On January 6th, just weeks after the Regis Philbin book signing, Harriett and I had our own little book-signing at Book Soup on Sunset in West Hollywood. It’s a gemütlich (one of my favorite words) little place — warm, cozy, congenial, pleasant, and full of interesting things. Book Soup is how I’d like my living room to look. Such bookstores are gems and, sadly, too many are disappearing. Hopefully, this one will stick around for a long time.
This was our first book-signing for Charlie & Me (unless you count the one we did at an old-folks home where three people showed up in wheelchairs and fell asleep). The signing went well. I talked a little about publishing, made a plea to support small bookstores, and introduced Harriett. Harriett spoke about her book and admitted that even though she’d been a radio talk show host, speaking in front of real human beings terrified her. When it was all over she had a moment of clarity: Some of her fear about public speaking had gone away. It had been a “growth” experience for her, which often happens to “indie” authors doing book-signings for the first time. It stretches them and makes them stronger. It’s a gift.
So for all you therapist writers and other new authors out there planning to brave your own DIY book-signings, here are a few tips to make things easier:
- While you’re still writing your book, attend at least ten different kinds of book-signings, from mega stores to gemütlich shops to specialty stores. Note what you like and don’t like. If you can afford it, buy a book. Remember, support the bookstore. They are precious!
- When your book is published (or before), return to these same bookstores and inquire if you can do a book-signing there. You’ll feel more comfortable approaching them since you’ve already been there and bought a book. Some may actually say yes!
- If a bookstore says yes, immediately order your books — at least 25-40 of them. Find out what financial arrangements the bookstore requires. Some may want 40% to 50% of sales. The author will be stuck with what doesn’t sell, so go right out and arrange for another book-signing since you’ve already got the books! Consider doing signings in other venues — libraries, stores, organizations.
- Visit the bookstore in advance, see the book-signing area, take some pictures, ask if you’ll have a table or a lectern, find out if they have a microphone. If they don’t, bring your own – or prepare to shout.
- Start publicizing your book-signing. Don’t ask people to come to a “book signing.” That makes them feel pressured to buy your book. Instead, offer them a little presentation, a mini-lecture or mini-class, a Q & A and refreshments. After our Book Soup event, people hung around the refreshment area and talked, which turned out to be the most fun part of the evening.
- Get a poster made for the book store window. A printer can enlarge one of your flyers to 16 x 20 inches and mount it on cardboard or Styrofoam so it won’t bend over. Ours was in the Book Soup window for over a week. There’s heavy pedestrian traffic in that spot — i.e., good marketing.
- Find out what publicity the store does for author events. Many have a newsletter, a website and an email list and heavily advertise upcoming book-signings. Appreciate that this means thousands of eyes will see information about your book, which is really valuable publicity. In addition, send out an announcement to your own personal email list. If you’re a therapist and you’ve written a book in your field, you probably have contacts that are already interested in your topic. Other people you know may show up just to support you. Harriett’s dental hygienist popped in just to say hello and buy a book on her way home from work — which reminds me of the story of a now-famous mystery writer who says that nobody showed up for her first book-signing until the very end of the evening when a woman arrived and asked if she could have a cookie.
- People love handouts (as well as cookies!). Give them something to take home with them. We printed 100 “one-sheets” (an overview of the book) plus 100 bookmarks which had the book cover on one side and the author’s picture on the other — along with “blurbs,” snippets of reviews, plus contact and purchase information. The bookstore let us leave some bookmarks behind to keep by the register for customers to pick up. (The staff at Book Soup was the best.)
- Again, unless you’re a major celeb like Regis Philbin, don’t expect a big fuss, big lines or big sales. It’s not going to happen. You’ll learn from each signing how to do it better and how to sell more books in the future.
- When it’s all over, thank everybody and help clean up. We had plastic water bottles to gather up, crumbs from goodies, scrunched up napkins and small plastic cups with wine left in them sitting on top of books — so be very careful not to spill on the merchandise.
- Finally, write a thank you note. Keep the relationship friendly. You may publish a second book and want to go back there.
Copyright (c) Sylvia Cary