Good and Bad Book Signings

As a new feature, ArkansasWriters is inviting Arkansas authors to share what they’ve learned about promoting their books. In this first guest post, Arkansas author Barbara Youree shares some of her experiences with book signings.

Have you ever been invited to sell and sign your books? You purchase several copies of your book, buy a colorful table covering, have a large poster made to set on a tripod, add decorative devices that relate to your work, and buy a bowl of candies to hand out. At the end of five or more hours smiling and chatting with prospective buyers, you pack it all up, drag the stuff to your car, sigh and think, Well, maybe next time I’ll sell a book. Just need more paraphernalia.

Maybe not.

Maybe what you need is better planning on the part of the hosting entity.

Libraries and book stores are the usual venues for book signings. Writers in Northwest Arkansas are blessed with three supportive libraries and several independent bookstores that sponsor frequent signings and other authors’ events. As with all human endeavors, some are more successful than others.

First, let’s look at an ideal book signing.

My biggest success took place at a large city library. The event had been well advertised. When my two co-authors and I entered the library, we immediately noticed in the entryway a huge poster on the wall announcing the event. The auditorium soon filled to around 300 people. The bookstore that handled the selling had brought only 50 books—apparently unaware that the library had billed the event as an important one. Following our presentation, the book immediately sold out, leaving a long line of disappointed readers.

I’ll admit that was the biggest turnout for any of my signings, but an audience of 300 is not required for a successful author event.

On another occasion, I drove from one end of the state to the other in a snowstorm for a solo presentation at a public library. Afterwards, I boasted to all my friends, “Every person there, bought a book!” After the oh’s and ah’s from my listeners, I admit that only seven people braved the snowstorm to attend. I left happy just the same. The event had been widely advertised. The librarian introduced me with flattering remarks and indicated she was pleased I had come to share my book. Building up the author to the audience greatly contributes to an enthusiastic reception.

What these two events have in common is that both were widely advertised well ahead of the scheduled date.

In addition to individual signings, I have participated in successful events involving several authors. The best have been limited to five or six carefully chosen speakers who take turns to speak for about thirty minutes each. Immediately following each presentation, the speaker’s books are made available for purchase. Best to strike while the iron is hot!

From a writer’s perspective, a successful book signing is one that prioritizes the author’s desire to sell books and makes it as easy as possible to do so. Some libraries and other sponsors understand this. Others do not.

Some libraries put on “authors’ events” that are for authors in name only. These are the events at which disheartened writers sit around for hours talking to each other and going home with all the books they brought with them.

One NW Arkansas public library recently invited numerous area authors to participate in an event intended to showcase their work. Dozens of writers were invited, but only ten of them—the first ten to respond—were allowed to talk about their books. Each of the ten had fifteen minutes to tell readers about their books. They could not, however, offer their books for sale until 4 p.m. The Saturday event began at 1 p.m. By the time the speakers and other invited writers were permitted to sell their books, the readers who had heard the presentations had gone home.

Another recent event invited authors and provided tables with assigned seating. Two well known local writers were seated at the front where entering patrons could see them at once. All others writers were hidden in an area behind the stacks. I counted fewer than ten browsers who wandered into the less-visible area during the entire allotted time.

So, what can libraries, bookstores, and other writerly entities do to put on authors’ events that really work for authors?

  1. Publicize the event well in advance.
  2. Give each writer involved in the event the opportunity to talk about the featured book/s.
  3. Make the books available for sale immediately following the author’s presentation.

Additionally, the author must also come totally prepared with a work he/she is proud of and can present with entertainment and exuberance, leaving the potential buyers with an eagerness to read on.

That is the kind of cooperation that brings winning results.

Barbara Youree loves to write and has dabbled in most genres (children, YA, romance, narrative nonfiction, and poetry), but especially delights in writing historical fiction. Whether reading or writing, it's a great way to revel in past lore and events and at the same time enjoy a story, getting to know characters and customs of an earlier time. Recently she has finished her first endeavor in memoir, the most difficult, she believes. It's titled France My Way, Adventures from a Solo Traveler.