Lessons From A Book Signing

So, you may not know this, but I actually write books. 😉 I know, shocking… I’ve been a writer for a long time, published for the last 9 years, but this year marks the first time I have ever stepped out into the world of author events as an attending author. I just came back from my very first group signing in Indianapolis, IN, and wanted to share with you how it went and some lessons I learned from the experience.

The nerve wracking “before”

It all began two weeks ago when I got a notification on my phone that a major runway at my take-off airport was closing down for repairs. The airline told me there would be significant delays and/or cancellations and advised me to fly a day earlier or later if my plans were flexible. The story was picked up by the local news which reported on Monday that there had been “dozens” of cancellations already that day.

Cue bone-deep panic. My plans were not at all flexible. There was only one direct flight out per day, and I couldn’t get the extra day off work, or the extra night at the hotel. If my flight got cancelled, I’d be screwed. Hell, if my luggage got lost, I’d be screwed, since I was bringing all my books for the signing with me. I spent a week stressing over it so much that by Thursday (the day before I was scheduled to fly) I existed in a state of constant anxiety over it. I checked and re-check everything. I packed as many books as I could fit into my carry-on, just in case my luggage got lost. I set multiple alarms and scheduled my ride to the airport so I’d get there super early.

Then I got the official seating chart for the event and discovered that I would be sitting with my back to the main entrance, and I didn’t have a two-sided banner. This might have been a small issue for some, but it was a big deal to me, so I ended up ordering a rush printed second banner at a local printer so I could double up and be visible from both sides.

Happily, my flight was on time, and the only hiccup I had was that I’d left my lip balm at home. I arrived in Indianapolis a half-hour early, with all my luggage accounted for, and checked in at the hotel. Did not sleep a wink that night, but I was on-site, so all was good.

Also happily, it turned out I misread the seating chart and was actually facing the entrance. But I still used both banners, just because I could. I regret nothing, except that I could have gotten that second banner much cheaper if I had bought it along with my first, rather than doing it last minute. But that’s done now. Moving on!

The Setup 

I will say the wait was the absolute worst. I made it a point to wake up early and have a huge breakfast because I knew I would not be leaving my table once I got there. Our set up time started at 9am and the doors officially opened at noon and closed at 5pm.

I had my table layout all planned out, but ended up changing it because of some silly technical difficulties. The plastic stands I got for my bookmarks were too unstable, so I nixed them and just laid out the bookmarks flat. My business cards are unique in that they are half matte and half raised gloss finish. Turns out, that gloss tends to stick to itself so my stack of business cards became a solid, inseparable brick. I had to separate them by hand and lay them out in a long row so they could be grabbed easily.

A last-minute addition to my table was a tablet that played my book trailer videos on loop (or so I thought). I checked it throughout the event to see if it was working, and laughed because each time I checked I caught it at a specific moment in the video. Yeah, turned out that was because for some crazy reason, the loop function got stuck on only the last 40 seconds of the 7.5 minute video.

Also on my table was a stack of two-sided book lists with all the covers on one side and an actual list on the other. The list included all my titles and ISBNs for all the formats they’re available in, as well as genres and tropes for each series. I handed these out to everyone who had me sign something for them, if they didn’t grab one on their own.

Lastly, I had a clipboard with a newsletter sign up sheet. I offered a free audiobook to everyone who signed up for my newsletter at the event. I ended up with 27 sign ups, which I think was a little over 10% capture rate. Not bad!

The Event

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I was super nervous, but I took it as a learning experience so, no matter what happened (or didn’t happen) I was going to be happy with the outcome, learn from it, and move on to the next.

If I remember correctly, there were about 250 attendees and 70 or so authors at the event. I shared the table with another author who, it turns out, was also a book signing virgin like me! We had a fairly steady stream of people come by. Many had seating charts, tote bags, and other things for us to sign, so we weren’t just sitting there twiddling our thumbs. I had 7 people pre-order books from me and all except one of them came to pick them up. Aside from that, I had a few people buy books on the spot (I forget how many, it’s becoming one big blur) and one of them was the author at the next table over who couldn’t resist picking up a copy of Wolfen. I think that might have been my favorite moment of the whole day.

On the whole, I did not sell out. But I definitely made an impression and I left the event with only half of what I’d brought in, and it would have been much less, if I hadn’t made a couple of mistakes.

Speaking of…

Lessons Learned

If you don’t plan on selling it or giving it out, don’t drag it along. 

I had brought a full set of my paperbacks as a display piece. They were an unnecessary weight I could have spared myself. My half table was such a small space I could only stand them up with their spines showing, which was useless. Besides, I already had all the book covers on my book lists.

If you bring it, sell it or give it out.

Very early on, I had someone stop by asking about a series of books I didn’t have in stock. Except I did, because I’d brought a backup copy for all my early pre-orders in case my luggage got lost. I totally forgot about it in the moment and let the reader walk away. I am still kicking myself for that. I ended up hauling that extra set back home.

Plan your inventory prudently.

One piece of advice I heard was to wait for pre-orders to come in and then double what those are as your inventory. That’s tough when you have a long backlist and not a lot of table space. Or when you get no pre-orders at all. Another piece of advice I heard was to bring 8-10 copies of each book. That seemed like a bit much to me. Some people say shorter novellas sell better, others that readers prefer full-length books. Several said to bring more of book 1 in the series.

What I can tell you is that when I put out a last minute notice about extra sets of a series of novellas, I got as many pre-orders in that one day as I got the previous 2 months. No idea why. But since the lost sale at the event was for this series, I think I should have stocked those. I sold 3 copies of book 1 of a series, and only 1 of book 2, so the part about bringing more copies of the first book actually checks out. As for novellas vs. full length book, I brought 4 copies of my longest book (almost 600 pages) and 3 of them sold at the event when no one had pre-ordered it. The companion novella that went with it only sold 1 copy. The 3 series starters were also full-length novels, but most of the pre-orders were for novellas, so the length of the book didn’t appear to make much of a difference.

Check your setup.

The damn trailer video is still pissing me off two days later. I spent 3 weeks working on it and was so excited to have something unique to draw attention to my station, and then I went and got it stuck on a tiny fraction which made it a moot point. I had 2 hours prior to the start of the event in which I had nothing to do. I could have taken 15 minutes to watch it loop and make sure it was working correctly.

Go big or don’t bother.

I still think the book trailers were a good idea. But the problem (besides the loop glitch) was that the tablet screen was too small to make an impression. I was thinking, if I do it again, I should bring my laptop and have it playing on that. The 14″ screen should show much better. But it does mean more weight to carry to and from the event. And if it gets damaged or stolen, I might cry.

Bring an assistant.

Luckily, I had one. My dad was a last minute addition to my plans, partly because he was so excited for my first ever author signing, and partly because he’d done something similar to this himself and knew I would need help. He wasn’t wrong. Even with only half a table, I still had a lot of stuff to carry, set out, and break down again. Having him with me meant I could bring my books along, rather than ship them ahead and pay a storage fee to the hotel. He gave me feedback on how everything looked, what I was missing, what I should be doing and wasn’t. Also, having a friendly face next to me helped relieve at least a little anxiety.

Be ready for various payment methods.

Most of the purchases I processed were with a credit card, and all of those were chip cards. Which makes me glad I ordered a chip reader in addition to my swipey credit card reader before the event. I don’t even know if the new chip cards have a magnetic strip anymore. But the reader I got worked brilliantly, and it made each transaction a breeze. I also had a supply of small bills for cash purchases. I didn’t need as much as I had, but I was glad to have it, just in case.

Beta test pricing.

Okay, so this wasn’t so much a mistake as it was a trial run which didn’t pan out as I’d hoped. I had really cool stainless steel dog tags made for these signings. They are book-specific, with a neat design, and a bit of heft to them. I’d done them before as giveaways and they were such a big hit I thought I would sell them this time around. Turned out, I set the price much too high. I only sold one. But I will say that one was very determined to buy. Had cash ready and waited for me to finish talking with someone else so she could get it.

The other thing I was hoping to sell were foldable tote bags. In retrospect, those would have worked much better as giveaways, and I did give one to everyone who bought anything from me, but I could have just handed them out at random. I brought way too many of them back home.

Extrovert like you’re being paid to do it.

I will admit this is not my strong suit. I’m not used to being the one to initiate conversation, and you kind of have to when you’re at an event like this. Since I have no basis for comparison, I can’t say I screwed up, but I definitely could have done better to engage the people who browsed by my table. I just don’t know yet how to strike the proper balance between making conversation and making a sales pitch.

It’s not a profit center, it’s a marketing event.

The most helpful thing my assistant (or, as I like to call him, Dad) said to me is that it’s not so important how many books you sell, but how many people leave your table knowing your name. If you’re doing an event like this, especially one you have to travel to, you can pretty much count on taking a financial hit. No matter how thrifty you are with your travel and setup, it’s still a big cost just to attend. Odds are, you will not sell out. Hell, odds are, you will not sell much at all. Go into it with that assumption and then ask yourself, “What should my main goal be?”

The main goal is to get your name out there. So, more than huge stacks of books, you need things people will want to take. Things that will remind them of you and your books. Things they won’t just throw away the moment they leave. If you’re handing out printed things like bookmarks or business cards, don’t cheap out. Make them count. Make them so beautiful and unique people will want to take them. Definitely have a printed book list. Mine were a big hit and the readers who took them were really appreciative and impressed.

And don’t forget newsletter sign ups! Offer an incentive like a free ebook or audiobook, and get those email addresses. That’s your golden ticket right there.

Give yourself time to throttle down.

This also wasn’t a mistake on my part but more of an “it is what it is” sort of deal. I had originally planned to fly back home the day after the event in the late afternoon. I’d planned for this by adding a late check-out to my hotel reservation. Unfortunately, my flight was cancelled and rescheduled for 6am that morning instead. I had no other choice but to take it, so I rushed through packing everything right after the event and going to bed early so I could wake up at 3am and go to the airport heading home. I was already exhausted from stressing over the event and the lack of sleep and crazy travel times didn’t help matters. I crashed hard when I got home and was still tired the next day at work. Next time, I think I’ll stay a bit longer, maybe take in the sights while I’m there, so it’s not such a big shock to my system.

What’s Next

My second book signing will be the Sweet as a Peach event in Cumming, GA on October 5, which is less than 3 weeks from now! If you’re in the area, come by and say hello, you can check for yourself what my setup looks like and whether I’ve improved on the last time. 😉 Also, if you are coming and planning to buy books from me… you know what I’m gonna say, right?…. Please use this handy dandy pre-order form to reserve your copy by September 17. I will not be stocking all of my backlist and the books I will have in stock will be limited quantities.

Hope to see ya there!

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