Drugs, and Other Necessities of a Book Signing

Near the end of my second book signing, my host produced a bottle of Tylenol from a drawer, which instantly made me think: “Ah – that’s what I forgot to bring!”

I’ve done three signings now, none of them at a library or bookstore (the library experience comes at the end of January). They’re living proof that you can have a book signing anywhere:

The first was at an outdoor town-wide event called First Friday, where the Courthouse square was turned into a giant monopoly board and I signed books while life sized game pieces moved around in front of me. Fifteen copies sold.

The second was at a bed and breakfast a block from the courthouse, during the town’s annual Christmas celebration. There was room for me in the Inn, but it was also one of the places on the Christmas House Walk, which meant a constant parade of people touring the place who were puzzled to discover me and another writer at the dining room table. Eleven copies sold.

For the third I ventured to a neighboring town, where a working farm/animal rescue facility/general store played host. It was the first place where the majority of local people didn’t know me, and it was also in a brand-new business on a county road, a mile from town limits … in the hay loft of a barn-turned gift shop. Two copies sold. A failure? No – a good experience, with great people who showed me every courtesy.

In all three cases no one died, nothing caught fire, and I made more than I spent … not to mention I got my name out there. Every writer has a horror story about book signings. If you’re newly published, as I am, or if you haven’t published yet (hang in there!) your horror story will come.

But if something bad is to happen, don’t let it be something you caused.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at one thing you can control: What you bring with you. If you’re anything like me, when you finally get that printed book in your hand you’ll still be in some disbelief, and probably didn’t spend much time before then seriously considering promotion. Social networking aside, getting out there in person is still one of the best ways to push your book, so let’s be a Boy (or Girl) Scout and make sure you have everything you might need.

I invested in two clear plastic totes: One to hold the big stuff, and a smaller one that fit inside it and contained such crass items as change. You could argue that they should be opaque, to avoid turning off readers and attracting muggers. In fact, you could argue for many additions to this list, and that’s one reason I made it: To provoke discussion over what others bring to their signings.

Let’s take a look at my list:

Books. Yeah, obvious, right? But authors who go to bookstores sometimes assume the stores will have plenty of copies – after all, they’re hosting you, It ain’t necessarily so; have copies of your own, and if you think you don’t need them leave them in your car trunk. Better too many than too few.

I was convinced I wouldn’t sell many copies at my second signing – after all, it was only a block from the first, and I’d already picked the low fruit: Relatives, coworkers and friends. When I counted my 14 copies, I wasn’t at all concerned. An hour into the book signing, when I’d already passed out half of them, I started to sweat.

A table and chairs. Your host will probably provide those: Make sure. Also, don’t sit behind the table the whole time – be prepared to stand and greet.

Signs. My publisher sent me a small paperboard poster with the front cover of Storm Chaser, which I put on a little easel on the table. I also had two signs printed on regular paper: One basically says “get your copy here”, along with a price, while the other has a brief synopsis of the plot so I don’t have to explain it to every passerby.

Pens. Not just one – therein lays disaster. Make it a sharp point felt type pen, which works much better for signing a book. Don’t be cheap: Writers will be expected to have good pens. The pipe and black turtleneck are optional.

Display stand. Maybe one for your little poster and one for a copy of the book. Be visible.

Notebook. Why? You’re a writer, man – have a notebook! You might need to jot down any number of things, from a new contact in the business, to a possibility for a new signing, to a story idea. At my first signing a woman approached me who later displayed Storm Chaser in her antique shop.

Business cards/bookmarks. Have as much of your contact information on them as possible: At least your name and your website, and the name of your book if the material is book specific. I went with business cards.

Giveaway stuff. Since my second and third signings were at Christmas time, I wrote a Christmas themed short story featuring some of the characters from Storm Chaser, printed it up, and handed it out. The story is set before the book – don’t spoil someone who might be interested, but hasn’t yet read the main product. More typical giveaway stuff includes cookies, mints, or little trinkets like pens that will, of course, have your information on them.

On a related note, if you have any kind of snacks provide napkins, and maybe a few wet wipes. You don’t want the merchandise damaged.

A bottle of water. No, don’t spike it; but be prepared to answer questions about your book and the writing process, not to mention you’ll probably have a case of dry-mouth.

A calculator/change. My book was priced at $14.95; people kept handing me twenties. Have ones, fives and tens on hand, as well as some coins. The calculator? If you’re like me, you write because you hate to count.

Pain reliever. I don’t do well with noise or crowds … if all goes well and I have a really successful night, I’ll need ibuprofen. If all doesn’t go well, I’ll probably need it more.

Scotch tape. It’s the book signer’s duct tape: You never know what you might need to display or hold up.

A camera. Put up photos of your signings at your website, on social networks, in the newspaper, on the door of your car … okay, let’s not go overboard.

Let me stress: During a book signing never look bored, and never get caught reading a paperback or updating your Facebook – you’re there to work. If there are no customers, check out other products and strike up conversations with employees.

Decent clothes. Just in case you don’t think of it. Do you write in old sweats, or a bathrobe? Don’t let anyone know that. Don’t dress formally – you want to bring people in, not make them think you’re their banker – but dress nicely. Remember, all black is a cliché!

Oh, who am I kidding? I wore all black.

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About markrhunter

My debut novel, Storm Chaser, a contemporary romantic comedy set in rural Indiana, was released by Whiskey Creek Press in June, 2011. Since then I've also published its sequel, "The Notorious Ian Grant"; a related collection of short stories, "Storm Chaser Shorts"; a YA humor-adventure, "The No-Campfire Girls"; and two local history books, "Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights" and "Images of America: Albion and Noble County". My humor column, “Slightly Off the Mark,” has been published for over twenty years. I live in a small northeast Indiana town with my wife, our dog Bae, and a cowardly ball python named Lucius. I have two daughters and twin two-year-old grandsons, and I'm employed as a dispatcher for the Noble County Sheriff’s Department—a day job that I ironically work at night. I'm safety officer, instructor, and public information officer for the Albion Volunteer Fire Department, and when not writing I laugh hysterically at the notion of having spare time.

20 thoughts on “Drugs, and Other Necessities of a Book Signing

    • Alas, small publishers apparently don’t offer that kind of support, other than the cover art; and of course self-publishers would be in the same boat.

  1. Good luck Mark! I know it is a lot of hard work. I like the short story idea you created with the Christmas theme. You are full of great ideas! Take care!

  2. Great post, Mark! A lot of good things to remember. On your note about bringing your own books, that’s a really good idea. I just want to point out to writers that at bookstores, make sure you check with the bookstore owner on how they want to handle additional books if they run out. Most bookstores purchase their books at wholesale prices from a distributor. Some bookstores are okay with it if the author sells their own stock. My local bookstore preferred me to “loan” them the books, then they would re-order from their distributor and replace whatever copies they took from my stock. It was kind of complicated because my publisher’s contract with its distributor, IPG, forbade them and their writers to sell books directly to bookstores, so I couldn’t just sell books from my stock to the bookstore. And if I sold the extra copies to customers, the bookstore hosting my event wouldn’t get any proceeds of the sale. Also, if you sell your own stock, some states (such as California where I live) require you to have a Seller’s Permit which you have to apply for through the State Board of Equalization. Phew! And we thought writing was the hard part.

    • Thanks, Natasha. I figured things would be more complicated at a bookstore — that’s one area in which I don’t have any experience, yet. They do have to look after their bottom line, after all.

  3. Great post, Mark. I’m always up for a list. I don’t need it yet, but when (if) I do, I’ll be wearing a color-coordinated outfit, probably purple. Good luck with your future signings.

  4. You’ve thought of everything, Mark except bringing a pressie for the store staff – a box of chocolates, biscuits (cookies in USA) – to say thank you for having your signing there!

    Good luck, you’ve done so very well, mate 🙂

    Diana

  5. It’s exciting to hear from one who is published and pays it forward for those of us who aspire to the same. Thanks, Mark, for the encouragement. Good luck at the bookstores!

  6. Hey Mark, I saw the link to this post on a LinkedIn group, & glad I followed up. I found your list to be refreshingly honest, and certainly helpful. Best to you,

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