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Book Marketing Essentials: Book Signing and Bookstore Outreach Tips

Book signings, especially in your local market, can be a great way to create awareness about your book, interact with the public and enhance your book publicity efforts. While bookstores and publishers can be helpful partners in setting up a successful event, authors typically need to take initiative..

Types of Book Signing Locations

  • Chain Bookstore – Barnes & Noble, Books a Million, Indigo, Waterstones, etc.
  • Independent Bookstores – these are non-chain stores, single unique bookstores, owned by one person, not a corporation
  • Libraries – ask your local library about event and book signing opportunities
  • Other – signings can also take place at non-traditional spaces including yoga studios, fitness clubs, specialty stores – the venue should usually relate to the theme of the book

IMPORTANT: Stores will be much more likely if you make your signing interactive or include a talk, reading or presentation. An author just sitting behind a table (unless they’re very well known) is not what stores typically want.

Planning Your Signing

  • Book Returnability–historically, most stores will only schedule events with authors who have books marked as returnable. This means that when a store orders a specified number of books from their warehouse/distributor, any books that don’t sell during the event can be returned to the warehouse/distributor free of charge and the bookstore is not liable for them. All of the chain stores and some independent stores require that the author’s books be “returnable.” If they aren’t, sometimes bookstores may be open to having you take part in a local author signing, where the author brings in 10-15 local authors and do one big signing. NOTE: if you aren’t sure about your book’s returnability policy, check with your publisher and/or distributor.
  • Author supplies books–if your book is not returnable, a bookstore may be open to having you supply your own books to the event on a consignment basis. You are responsible for any books that don’t sell and the bookstore will take a percentage of every book sold during the signing; it is usually 20% but can vary store to store.
  • Contacting the store–each store has a designated person who schedules their events. At B&N, for example, their title is the Community Relations Manager (CRM). When you call, ask to speak to the person who handles the store’s events. Let them know you are an author interested in a signing (make sure to highlight that you are local, or what your local connection or audience draw is) and offer brief information about the book and if you expect to bring a following of local fans. Ask if the person would be interested in having you email, mail or visit with further information (offering book press release or copy of the book).

Contacting the Store

  • Bookstores schedule their events anywhere from two to six months in advance, so if you are looking to schedule during a certain time (when the book is coming out or a holiday, for example) keep this in mind. Ideally, you should contact the store about carrying your book before asking to host a signing.
  • Bookstores, unlike the media, usually prefer to do signings with fiction books as these types of books tend to draw in more customers. Children’s books tend to do well with signings, and can be an integral part of children’s and YA Book promotion. However, depending on the venue, a business book signing could work well, and also serve to augment business book marketing.
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  • Most bookstores want to do events for books within the month of their release, whenever possible. If you’ve missed this timeframe, get creative! Look for potential timely hooks like a holiday tie-in or Mother’s or Father’s Day, a historical anniversary (with a book set during this time), National Dog Adoption Day (when a dog is featured in the book or it’s an author’s favorite charity), etc.
  • If this is a bookstore in your hometown or nearest city, especially an independent store, the day you come in to pitch a book signing should not be the first time the store staff sees you. Supporting your local bookstores, attending other author events and buying their books, asking the staff about their recommendations and chatting with them about the books, writing, and the world of publishing in general are all ways to make a bookstore or bookseller more likely to promote your book when the time comes. Authentic support is a two-way street.
  • Unless an author has an established track record in the local market of book sales and event attendance, a store may require the author to prove why hosting an event is worth the bookstore’s time and resources.
  • Tips to convince a bookstore you are serious include sharing:
    • plans to bring friends, family, and colleagues,
    • marketing plan for the event,
    • social media follower numbers, and
    • any sales figures available for your books in the region, etc.

Confirming the Signing

Once you have set a date with a store, make sure you have the following information:

  • Time and length of event.
  • Will they provide posters before/during the event?
  • Discuss store location and set up—listen to them as they are experts on their store and traffic flow.
  • If you will just be holding a signing or also giving a talk, Q&A or discussion.
  • What, if any, publicity the store will be doing for the event (many stores will put the event in their newsletter or sometimes contact local media).
  • How many books the store will be ordering in or how many copies you will need to provide.
  • If the author is providing books, what percentage the store will be owed.

Publicity for Event

While a bookstore or venue will usually provide some marketing support, authors need to take the lead on attracting audiences.

Contact friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, and fellow writers to let them know the details of the event including if there is a prize, talk, reading, etc. You can do this by email, through your social media posts, and old fashioned post cards.

To open it up to broader audiences, once an event is confirmed by the store, approximately four weeks before the event, start doing pre-publicity for the event. This includes contacting local media for print calendar mentions, feature stories/articles, event listing sites and interviews. The types of outlets you should target include:

  • Calendar editors – contact local newspaper calendar editors to run information on the event in an upcoming issue. They typically need info submitted three weeks before the event.
  • Event listing sites – there are a number of city specific event listing sites, like Patch.com, which will let you post info about the author’s upcoming event for free. You can do a simple Google search for “CITY event listing” or “CITY calendar listing” and should be able to find a number of sites you can post your event on.

The Day of the Event

  • Arrive early. Make sure the set up is correct.
  • Bring posters, flyers, bookmarks or other promotional material if you have it
  • Bring a nice pen (or two)! Test it first to make sure it flows nicely.
  • Introduce yourself to the staff. They will become ambassadors for your signing!
  • Invite friends, family, and coworkers to come to the signing.
  • If you have a family member, friend or colleague to help you, station them at the front of the store with a flyer, bookmark, etc. to greet people as they come in.
  • Ask the store to make announcements about the signing before and every 15 minutes or so during the event.
  • Interact with readers. Thank them for coming/buying your book. Ask them about favorite books. Ask each person who they’d like the book addressed to as it could be a gift.
  • If it makes sense, have a sign up sheet for them to email you news about your book, topic, next project, etc.

After the Event  

  • Thank the entire staff from the bookstore that helped you.
  • Following up with a hand written thank you note to those who helped you plan or worked with you throughout the event is ideal.
  • Offer to leave signed copies of your book with the store.
  • Getting to know the staff is a nice way for them to feel connected to you and potentially recommend your book to future book browsers.

Remember book signings can be a great way to augment your book publicity efforts, and, just as importantly, they can be a lot of fun!

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