Are Book Signings Worth It?

A post about the myth of sitting behind the table.
Nov | 28 | 2012

I’ve done my fair share of book signings over the past four years. While it feels good to walk in, see your visage on a poster, and say “I’m the guy”, in reality book signings are almost always a complete waste of time. In fact, as I write this, I’m sitting at one. Sure, you get the occasional browser and curious patron, but the squeeze is rarely worth the juice–with one exception.

If you sign books after you’ve spoken, the vibe is totally different because people actually want to talk to you, albeit briefly. If you’ve just energized a couple hundred folks (or more), signings are amazing–especially if the event has purchased bulk copies of your book ahead of time. I probably signed 150 books a few weeks ago at the NMHC event in Dallas, TX. I could have stayed for much longer than the two hours I had blocked.

Talk to anyone, even eight-year old children.

In no particular order, here are some tips for book signings:

  • Bring something to read, a tablet, or a laptop—but look up on occasion lest you be considered an IT guy. Extension cords and chargers don’t hurt either.
  • Smile and engage passers-by. Many people are shy.
  • Talk to anyone, even eight-year old children.
  • Bring change or Square. Nothing is worse than not being able to sell a book to an interested person.
  • Bring plenty of copies. Better to have ’em and not need ’em than vice-versa.
  • Bring low expectations. If you think that there’ll be a line out the door, you’re going to be disappointed unless you’re a true rock star.

This post was inspired by my friend Scott Berkun.

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  1. Scott Berkun

    It’s a shock to most authors how ineffective these things are. But they never stop to ask the last time *they* went to a book signing. Being an author makes it all to easy to get lost inside one’s own ego.

    Most of the book signings we hear about are for extremely famous authors, and the TV news shows long lines out the door. These events are rare, but we hear about them more often. All of those people were fans the author brought with them. The bookstore is just the place they chose to appear. Few authors ever have this much fame.

    Book signing are worse too because bookstores in general are not doing well. Most people there are looking for something specific, something they like, and to see some random author with a random book, the odds of making a connection are slim.

    But every situation is different. Some book stores have fantastic fans and the managers of the store do a lot of little things to make sure the signings work. Readings tend to work better since people get something for free in exchange for maybe buying the book after, but its tough.

    Its a better bet for authors to do seek out, on their own, events that match the audience for the book. Writing a book about sports? See if the local sports bar will let you do a talk and signing there. Is your book about cooking? Maybe the local Whole Foods will work with you. Those are much better matches to a) get a crowd b) get sales, as b is only possible if you have a.

    Honestly it’s a better bet, all things in, to focus on promotion separate from sales. If you promise to give away 50 books for free, you’ll get more of a crowd, and more people blogging and tweeting about your book, which will likely generate more sales, than a stingy book signing where you give away nothing and sell maybe a handful of copies.

  2. Mark A. Cenicola

    True, you aren’t going to sell a lot of books at most random signings, but I usually find ancillary benefits to doing them. Not always, but sometimes there’re that one or two people who stop by that make the entire event worth the effort. I treat it like a random networking event.

    If you have something more important and need to make a decision between a book signing and something else, it’s usually a pretty easy decision.

  3. Phil Simon

    Thanks for the comments, guys. I agree that finding your niche is easier than one-size-fits-all (not really) book stores. And sometimes you strike up a conversation with someone who becomes a good friend, right Mark? 🙂

    • Mark A. Cenicola

      Random encounters with strangers is what makes the world go round.


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