Book Signings: Profitable Lessons Learned at the Mall

Beth Fowler headshotI was looking forward to my first book signing. Sales were gonna skyrocket…along with my royalties.

During the two-hour autographing gig at the bookstore, I was asked for directions to the restrooms, for a date and if I’d been on TV. Book sales? Look in the dictionary under “embarrassment.” The entry reads “emotional state suffered by authors who, after unsuccessful book signings, must lug stacks of unsold books home, esp. under the watchful eyes of mall security.”

To spare yourself similar embarrassment, employ these battle-tested tactics for a book-signing victory.

Launch a publicity blitz. I assumed the manager (a pro in the book vending biz with a massive national chain store budget to spend) would publicize the book signing. She didn’t. To avoid disappointment, invite friends, family, editors, librarians, writers’ groups, clubs, your hairdresser, and former high school English teacher. Post press releases on the bookstore’s and your websites. Send releases to local papers, magazines, radio and community TV stations. Plaster notices on college, grocery store, café and other bulletin boards. And do that all again in the virtual world.

Arrange a “double header.” Combine the book signing with a free complementary attraction. At my second signing a blues duo performed cool tunes. Serving up a cookbook? Demonstrate garnish-making with rutabaga. Pushing an exercise manual? Offer free pulse rate monitoring. Or be the warm-up author for a Big Name the way lesser known bands front for Dawes.

Set out props & don a costume. Second time ‘round, I wore a camouflage jacket, hung posters of Japan, and designed a window display to draw people close enough to read the title, Ken’s War, I was promoting. The window dressing was on show two weeks before the signing as well as during.

Hand out handouts. In keeping with the theme, I gave out green tea, bamboo chopsticks and a humorous quiz about culture shock to passersby who, in most cases, then stopped to chat. Some window shoppers were inspired to pay money for books written by the generous author handing out freebies.

Be extroverted, yet subtle. I avoid eye contact with salespeople unless I’ve already decided to buy the widget they’re selling. When I was wearing seller’s shoes, I had to devise a way to establish eye contact without coming on too strong. (“Hey, you! Wanna buy a book?”) I engaged people with classic icebreakers having nothing to do with the book. After people defrosted, they’d say, “Did you write this book?” or “My daughter writes, too,” or “I don’t have time to read,” in which case I’d ask what bookworms they did know. Finding common ground paves the road to sales.

Ask the store to purchase your books. Even though selling my books direct to the public would’ve meant higher royalties per book for me; I preferred having the manager purchase books from my publisher. Managers are more motivated to promote sales to avoid having unsold stock after the book signing. Some stores, however, will only sell books available through their distribution channels, cutting out some small and indie presses. How you negotiate this angle depends on your royalty terms, whether unsold books are returnable to the distributor, if the book is POD (print-on-demand), store policy and other factors.

Smile. Junior dribbles chocolate on your books. The U.S. Navy recruiter fishes off your pier. A scarecrow panhandles for coins. Smile, smile, smile and…

Veer from discourses on religion, sex, politics and stem cells unless your book is about the controversial subject.

Sell other stuff. With the manager’s permission, while holding the book signing for the YA novel, I displayed and sold copies of a previously published book. In addition to selling books from their oeuvres, writers can sell articles and pamphlets. They can advertise availability to present workshops and speeches, ghostwrite, write résumés and so forth.

All the best at your next book signing.



 ken's war coverWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.





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