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The Joys and Hazards of Book Signings
by Cheryl Sloan Wray

I awoke that morning with excitement. Butterflies twittered in my stomach as I eagerly prepared for the day’s Big Event.

What could create such nervous energy? A first date? A job interview? My daughter’s first day of kindergarten?

The excitement I felt stemmed from the book signing I’d be participating in that afternoon. It was the first signing for my latest book, Faith Stories, an inspirational book I co-authored with my mother in 2000. We were scheduled to arrive at the bookstore at 1 o’clock and were a little unsure about what to expect. Would we have droves of customers lined up at our table? Would anyone stop by to visit with us?

The day’s activities actually reinforced some feelings I already had about book signings. I had done past signings for my book, Magazine Writing: A Beginner’s Guide, and had accompanied at least two writer friends to their own book signings. Now I knew that there was one constant when it came to book signings: there is no constant.

Some book signings are highly successful while others are washouts. There is much joy in doing book signings, but there are also a number of hazards.

Some of things I have learned about book signings—including the one my mother and I did that day—include the following:

(1) Make sure the bookstore is prepared for you. It may sound like a given, but you need to be sure the bookstore knows you’re coming. Talk to the person in charge of your publisher’s promotions and find out what the bookstore has done for your signing. It should have posters publicizing your event; it also needs to have a table set up appropriately for your signing. (If you’re in charge of your own promotion, make sure you talk to the bookstore manager about such arrangements.)

(2) Do your own publicity. Don’t assume that the bookstore will do all the promotion you need. For my recent book signing, I sent press releases to the local newspaper, sent out announcements on postcards to friends, and sent email notices to contacts online. (As it turned out, 90% of the books we sold that day were to friends who had been told beforehand of the signing.)

(3) Look open and friendly. For some reason, customers often look uncomfortable when seeing an author doing a book signing. You can almost read their minds ("Am I supposed to go over and talk to them?"). By being friendly and approachable—by saying hello to customers as they walk by, by making eye contact—you will have better luck at having them stop and look at your book. I always also include some sort of item that I can hand out to customers who are just browsing, but may consider buying my book later on (at a Christmastime book signing, I handed out candy canes with ordering information about my book wrapped around them); people always like getting something for free,

(4) Sign any remaining books. The best book signing we did for Faith Stories involved a bookstore manager who was a real salesman. He told us to sign all of the remaining 30 books and he’d advertised them as autographed copies. Before you leave your book signing, ask the manager if you can sign the remaining copies. (Bookstores can’t return signed copies, so you’re guaranteed to sell all of the books to that store.)

(5) Keep in touch with the bookstore. Tell the bookstore manager that you’d be willing to return for another book signing and follow up regularly by making sure they still have your book in stock. And what happened at the book signing I mentioned earlier? We sold fifteen books in two hours. It wasn’t a blockbuster-selling event, but we also sent home bookmarks with ordering information on them to at least 50 customers and met a lot of nice people. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon!

© Copyright 2001, Cheryl Sloan Wray

Cheryl Sloan Wray is a freelancer writer with more than 1000 articles to her credit. She is also the author of Writing for Magazines (McGraw-Hill), a popular guide for freelancers.

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