How to Create a Successful Book Signing Event

Book signings can be a HUGE success, if done right. Smart Authors

The average book signing sells 4 books—yuk. You’ve got to do everything you can to get bodies there … warm and buying ones. It’s critical to know which book stores do a better job than others. Denver, Colorado’s Tattered Cover is superb … so is Seattle, Washington’s Elliott Bay and Portland, Oregon’s Powell’s. If one of the superstars of independent bookstores commits to you, they will do in-store publicity within their newsletter and most likely in the ads run in the Sunday newspaper. They are the exception.

Many of the chains do a decent job in providing a location within the store and putting it in the in-store newsletter. The rest is up to you.

For a complete listing of the top 50 bookstore chains, see Ward’s Business Directory of Private and Public Companies. This directory lists firms (and their addresses and telephone numbers) by their Standard Industrial Classification code (SIC). The SIC code for bookstores is 5942 and the NAICS code is 451211. Go to to find contact information for thousands of bookstores across North America.

As an author who has participated in more book signings than you have fingers and toes, here’s some Do’s and Don’ts that will make an event more successful for both you as the attendee, the author and the book store.

For the author/publisher:

  1. Do make sure that the bookstore has ordered a sufficient quantity of books. If you have multiple titles, encourage it to have those available. At a recent signing at the Tattered Cover, 75 copies of the main book were ordered with 5 to 10 each of my other key titles. At the signing, multiple copies were sold of each.
  2. Do bring extra books for signings that you can drive to. I was at one store that only had a few copies of my book. That’s a disaster in the making when you prep, get psyched up for and show up and find that there are only five books—five books don’t make much of an impression on anyone. Don’t be caught off-guard, carry inventory with you. Invoice the store after the event—you’ll get your check.
  3. Do be pro-active. Don’t expect people just to “show up”. You’ve got to be the key factor that they come. Send post cards, emails—anything to encourage them to come. As one friend said, “I got 5 emails from you…I figured I had to show up.”
  4. Do make it festive. I’ve brought balloons, cookies, colored napkins—even photos of a new granddaughter born the day of one signing. Remember, your book is a celebration. Don’t just sit behind a desk expecting the world to come to you. The only folks who get to truly sit are the literary celebs whose name alone brings in the crowds—you know … the ones that the book store says that tickets will be available starting at 5:30PM.
  5. Do think about give-aways. They could be several “ahas” said during the presentation, something to nibble on, or something you made up special for the occasion. Joan McWilliams, author of The Peace Finder, passed around a basket of origami peace cranes to everyone who attended her signing at the Tattered Cover in Denver. Sure enough, everywhere you looked in this huge store, someone was wearing Joan’s peace crane.
  6. Do give books away—to the media, reviewers, key people who can help build a book buzz, those who might hire you for a talk. Don’t give books to friends. I know, I know, it’s wonderful to give books to friends … but … much better for your friends to buy a book to support your sales. If you give books to friends, do it with “strings attached”—if you like it, buy another and pass it on.Out of the blue, I got a phone call from a manager who read a blurb in the company HR newsletter that mentioned my book and that I had spoken at one of their events the previous year. The manager wanted to know if I could come speak to her group in Dallas in January on the topic. Their funds were limited to $3,000 for a speaker plus expenses and they would like to get a copy of the book for everyone. I told them I was sure that I could arrange a discount with the publisher—would 20% work for her? Yes indeed—so $3,000 plus a guaranteed $2,100 in books sales—no returns and all expenses covered. A good day. Wouldn’t you like to know that sales are sales and there are no returns and no waiting to get a royalty check months later?
  7. If you read from your book, make sure you read a powerful section that leaves them wanting more, asking questions.
  8. Do a mini-work shop … lead with something from your book, than launch into a few points that include your point, a story or illustration to support it, your point again, then to the next point.
  9. Have visuals … graphs, photos, your picture, giant poster of your book cover.

For the attendee:

  1. Do go to other author events. It’s grand that you are there … but signings need more than bodies. Sure, 100 show up … but did books get sold? A book store will notice that there is anywhere from 20-100 extras in the store … but did they buy books … any books? Was the author effective in her presentation? If book sales are low in relation to the number who came to see or hear the author, it could be interpreted that the book sounds boring, the author is weak, etc. Definitely not a good thing.
  2. Do bring your friends with you—we authors love meeting new people.
  3. Do interact and ask questions if the opportunity arises.
  4. Do greet the author … please! But, don’t hang around just chatting … the exception would be if you have a bunch of books and he’s signing each one. Otherwise, the chatter takes him away from interacting with other possible buyers.
  5. Do study what works and what doesn’t so that you can use (or not use) when you have a signing. Note how the book table/display is set up, how the author interacts, and how the audience reacts. If the author engages total strangers, what techniques did she use? Did the author have a “mini-pitch” that could be said in 15 seconds or less?
  6. Do buy a book(s). That’s why authors want you to come to the event. Lots of them. It’s a win-win-win. Win for the author: book sold. Win for the book store: book sold. Win for you: minimal investment (an hour or less of your time) to see what you can do to enhance your book signing experiences when it’s your turn to come to bat. Don’t forget—what goes around, comes around.

Book signings can be a real challenge. As the author/publisher or attendee, you want them to be successful. It can be the highlight of your week.

© 2014 Judith Briles