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.