29Diapers.com, Ann Arbor, baby discounts, baby half off, baby sale, Barnes & Noble, book signing, how to host a book signing, how to host a free talk, Laura K. Cowan, local author, National Authors Day, public speaking
I hosted my first talk and book signing last night at the Ann Arbor Barnes & Noble as part of their National Authors Day, and it was a resounding success! I had 2-3 dozen attendees to my talk while the five other authors on the floor had maybe one person to talk to at a time. This was no accident. I’m glad I read up on how to host a good book signing before the event, because several key tips made all the difference, and I wanted to share those, plus what I learned from doing the signing, with you:
1) Arrange to speak as well as sign books. I billed my event as a free talk as well as a book signing. Not only did this attract dozens of people who wanted to hear what I had to say before buying a book, but it meant that the bookstore prepared for the event by giving me a table 3 times the size of the other tables on the floor, brought balloons to identify the table as the location of the talk, and agreed to set up chairs for my event. Now, they didn’t actually set up the chairs, but this ended up being a great thing because so many people showed up (right after the event planner apologetically told me that traffic was nearly dead that day and she didn’t expect anyone to come) that they moved my table to the other side of the floor where there was enough space for everyone. How cool to be able to say in my post-book signing press release, “Local author Laura K. Cowan’s book signing such a draw for Barnes & Noble’s National Authors Day that event had to be moved to location with more space”!
2) Never sit down. This is one of the tips I picked up from Jump Start Your Book Sales, and I’m so glad I read it because I always imagined authors at book signings sitting behind the table signing books. The table is really a barrier between the host and the attendees, so I didn’t even put a chair behind the table to tempt myself. I stood in front of my table and greeted people, offered them a brochure, asked them if they had any questions, told them about the giveaway I was doing for a cloth diaper and invited them to put their name in the box, and so on. The other reason this was a great move is that I’m a little shy and it would be hard for me to approach people and stay in the groove of being sociable if I were sitting behind a table looking authorly (no, that’s not a real word, but it should be).
3) Promote your own event. I’ve been told before that neither bookstores nor publishers put much effort into promoting book signings sometimes, so it’s important for the author to be involved in promoting their own event. Well, in my case my print-on-demand publisher won’t be doing any promotional work for me, and I could tell from my interaction with the event planner that the bookstore wouldn’t be doing much of anything either. She encouraged us authors to email our contact lists and invite them to the event, so we would have a good start to some traffic for the event. Yikes. When I got to the event, there was one sign in the atrium that said “National Authors Day” with the covers of five books, none of them mine, below the text. Double yikes. If I hadn’t promoted my own event, no one would have come at all. So what did I do? I posted or distributed 150 flyers; I got a local natural childbirth education center to email their customer list about the event; I sent out press releases to the local media (I ended up with one article in my local “paper,” AnnArbor.com, which was reprinted on the front page of their Sunday print edition) and obstetricians at the local hospitals and called the TV and radio stations; I blogged about the event on my cloth diapering blog 29Diapers.com and posted about the event on Facebook and Twitter using both my personal accounts and my 29 Diapers fan accounts; I told EVERYONE who seemed remotely interested about the event; and I cross-promoted the event with my Christmas giveaway event on 29Diapers.com via press release and blog posts, billing the book signing as a virtual book signing as well as a talk, so my more remote readers could “attend” as well if they were interested. It takes a lot of work to gather 3 dozen people to a no-name new author’s book signing.
4) Rinse and repeat. I have learned from planning other events that most people who say they’ll come will not, for one reason or another, so I didn’t stop promoting my event until the day before, when I took a short break to rest before I had to be on-stage. Sure enough, dozens of people who promised to come had surprise funerals, worked late, didn’t feel well, forgot–my book signing was not on the top of everyone’s priority list.
5) Book signings are not for selling books. No, really. Book signings are famously bad for selling any real quantity of books. My sales goals are modest since I’m just starting out, so I was happy with my small returns, but I actually did the event to help me get my foot in the door for other speaking engagements and signings. Being able to say I had a successful book signing with Barnes & Noble when talking to someone who has the power to let me use their facility for a class or book signing is a gold key that opens doors to more opportunities. I also did it because I wanted a local debut for the book with some visibility that I could use to not only build a loyal local fan base (who doesn’t love to be part of a “local author makes good” story?) but also as material to send out more press releases after the event and keep myself in contact with the media, who will mostly ignore me until I have half a dozen worthwhile news stories I’ve sent them.
Do you have more tips for me to use for my next event? I’d love to hear your feedback on these tips in comments. Thanks for reading!