By Rachael Phillips
In this day of cyber marketing, some rate book signings right up there with smoke signals. But my target market, women, want more than just eye contact with a computer. So I held signings for my first published fiction, as I did for my nonfiction books. From these, I culled suggestions I hope will be useful.
First and foremost: Bring chocolate. If customers are seeking emergency exits in order to avoid you, offer these treats and watch them smile. (Think of this as your chocolate ministry.)
Almost as important: Bring books. At my first signing, I naively assumed the bookstore would order my books. They did--too late--and forgot to inform me of this little glitch. Meeting an author with no books does not thrill the public.
Team up with other authors. More authors = more attendees. Most writers are friendly people with many contacts. Also, as serious students of human nature, they know sufficient family dirt to blackmail numerous relatives to attend and buy.
Besides, there is safety in numbers. Your survival chances will increase if readers storm the store because someone mistook you for Karen Kingsbury.
On the other hand, if bookstore clerks expire from boredom, authors can comfort each other, trade books to up sales numbers, and eat all the chocolate.
Note: Do not accept unknown signing partners. I once spent two eternal hours with an assigned author whose cheery personality rivaled that of a cement block.
Do not schedule a signing where you know no one (unless you really are Karen Kingsbury). Also, get acquainted with bookstore personnel, including owners, sales clerks, and janitors, beforehand. Extend appreciation and small gifts, and they will lead customers to you and your books.
Publicize until even you are sick of you. Flyers, mailings, posters, press releases, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, tap dancing--whatever it takes.
Connect with an event. It there is no event, manufacture one. My most successful signing involved reading my humor columns at a coffeehouse next door to the bookstore. Offer helpful hints or demonstrations that connect with your book. Push free drawings. Sell and sign books at family reunions and gatherings. (Exception: funerals.)
Give input on your signing location. Big crowds, good publicity, nice weather--all in vain if you and your books are locked in the furnace room. A group of quarantined authors and I generated near-zero traffic at a large event, and the cooperating Christian bookstore put us on their blacklist, to be revoked only by the Rapture.
Avoid the prison visit look. Bring a table cloth, flower arrangement, nostalgic memorabilia, or travel posters of your novel's setting. For my Christmas novella, I fa-la-laed with a holiday tablecloth, angel, and faux evergreen boughs. Put prizes and free materials on prominent, colorful display. And, if really desperate for sales, you can always exhibit photos of your children gnawing crusts of bread.
Smile, smile, smile. You smiled six hours for your wedding photos. You can do it now. Have your picture taken with other smiling authors/visitors for your website, blog, and Facebook page.
Send the bookstore a thank-you note. Yes, you supported this business. But they will continue to keep your name out there--if you and your rowdy literary friends didn't trash the place.
Do not get discouraged. Even Erma Bombeck's signings sometimes bombed. At one, only desperate patrons who couldn't find the restroom approached her. The sole customer she attracted wanted to buy the table at which she sat. Still, Erma did good.
Do you have signing stories/tips that might aid in author survival? (Or suggestions for effective medications?)