If you’re signed with a publisher, don’t worry. They’ll make all of the arrangements for you. The real ones will, anyway. If not, what are they doing to earn their percentage of your royalties? Anything?
If you’re among the self-published, fear not. You can organize a book signing tour, large or small, on your own. It’ll take time and planning, might be frustrating or seem overwhelming, but it can be done. All you need is a plan, some patience, a notebook to keep track of everything, and a lot of determination.
When embarking on the journey of arranging a book signing tour for yourself, the first thing you need to do is take a realistic look at the size of the book signing tour you want to put together. Will you be signing books at a couple of local bookstores? Or will you embark upon a tour spanning the whole country? Newer authors with limited resources and experience will probably want to start small.
Newer authors are eager to see their books in print. They’ve written a book and they want to hurry to send their books quickly to print. That’s normal and natural. But don’t get ahead of yourself. If you throw your book out into the world without a promotional plan, it’ll sit there gathering dust and generating sales from among your friends and family, and that’s it.
There’s a reason that publishers set publication dates of their titles months in advance. They need time to make a plan, and so do you. Be patient.
Why set your release date months ahead of time? There are several reasons.
First, because magazines and reviewers need that much time to read and review your book. Reviews are important, as any writer knows. They tell a potential reader at a glance that discerning literary readers have had your work in their hands, and enjoyed it enough to review it. In short, it tells the reader that your book is good.
There are shady small and indie publishers out there that make up their own reviews and slap a bunch of ’em on everything. “Five stars!” from some reviewer that nobody has ever heard of smacks of rookie wishful thinking, and is worse than having no reviews at all. Don’t do it. Just don’t.
I’ll go into further detail about reviews in another post; this one is about signings. I bring it up as part of what you can (and should) be doing with that four month delay between your book’s completion and its release date.
The magic number is four. That’s how many months in advance most reviewers (real ones) need to review your book and get back to you.
That’s also how far in advance radio stations (real ones) book their air time. Morning shows have nothing but air to fill, and they’re happy to fill part of it with you telling the world about your book the same day you’ll be having your book signing. Where you’re going to be, and what time you’ll be there. The catch is that you have to arrange for it months in advance. That’s just how they do it.
That’s where planning comes in.
But before you can promote an event, you have to have one.
There are several types of locations to consider when planning a book signing:
National chains. Don’t automatically assume that the bigger stores won’t have you. Once upon a time, Barnes & Noble wouldn’t deign to allow a self-published writer set up a book signing in their stores. But lately, they seem to realize the ever-increasing self-publishing community. The literary world is an ever-changing place.
Local book stores. Much more likely to showcase a local author, local bookstores might also be willing to stock your books in-store after the event.
Before you pick up the phone and start to call around, there are some details you’ll want to have handy.
Every store is different and might have different requirements for authors that want to schedule a book signing. Some will want you to bring your own physical copies of your book with you, and take any copies that don’t sell with you when you leave.
Some of them might only consider allowing a local self-published author to arrange a book signing if the book is available to order through traditional distributors like Ingram and Baker & Taylor. And, importantly, they might need to know what will happen with any books that don’t sell. They don’t want to be stuck with a carton of books. So you’ll have to be prepared to take away any books that don’t sell. If you bring ’em with you, that won’t be a problem. You just take ’em back out with you. But if the store ordered those books online to prepare for your event, you might be required to buy them back. So if the store wants to order them, discuss with them a realistic number of books that you’re prepared to buy back if they don’t sell.
Don’t approach book stores like they’re doing you a favor. Don’t beg them to let you have a book signing. Speak and act like a professional author. That’s what you’ll be, after all. Make sure they know that you have something to bring to the table, too: promotion. Tell them that you’ll be promoting the event both on the radio and in print. That means that not just your name is going to be promoted; their store’s will, too. The fact that you’re bringing promotion to their store could make the difference between them setting up an event for your or turning you away.
A small detail you need to keep in mind when preparing to call around to book stores is that the person that answers the phone isn’t the person that arranges for book signings. Don’t lay the whole deal on them. Ask to speak to the manager, then approach them about setting up a book signing event in their store.
Like with everything else, contacting book stores should be prepared for. Before you Google phone numbers and start making calls, know in advance the issues you want to address, and anticipate what they might want to know.
1. You want to set up a book signing in about four months.
2. You’re prepared to make sure they’re not stuck with books to return if they order them.
3. If they want you to bring books with you, you’re prepared to do that.
4. You’re going to be promoting the signing on the radio and in print. (Have the radio station that does the morning show’s call numbers and the names of newspapers ready to tell them, if they ask, and tell them that’s who you plan to promote on, in or with.)
5. If you have promotional materials like posters, be sure they know that you’re willing to drop those off in advance of the event.
6. Be ready to think on your feet. They might bring up some other detail we haven’t thought of yet. There’s no telling.
7. Hope for a book signing, but be prepared for rejection. They could tell you right out of the gate that they’re not interested. Sorry. Or they might let you talk for half an hour and THEN tell you no. Don’t get pissed off and yell at them. They’re the same people you’re going to want to talk to next time you’ve got a book that comes out. Make sure the impression you want to leave is one of pleasant professionalism, not animosity.
Chances are good that you’ll have at least one signing to prepare for. Celebrate. And then prepare.
Now that you’ve got your event(s) planned out, this is when you arrange for that promotion. Get the number for the morning show’s radio station and call the programming manager. Tell them you’re an author with a book signing to promote and you’d love to have a chat with their morning DJ about it on that date. They’ll tell you what their policies are, if they can give you time, whether you have to go into the studio or if you can do it over the phone. It’s a pretty straightforward process, and they’ll let you know what it is.
Same thing with the newspapers. Get in touch with the entertainment sections of the big newspaper that covers the major metropolitan area of the biggest city near you as well as your small hometown paper and tell them the same thing. You’ve published a book and you’re available to do an interview about the book and upcoming dates you have to promote it. Ads are expensive, but interviews are free. Something to keep in mind.
You should probably have a print-ready picture of yourself handy to provide them with that can accompany the article. Preferably a photo of you looking like an author. Maybe holding a copy of your current book.
They might be willing to feature you, or they might not. Again, don’t be upset with them if they don’t. It’s not personal. They don’t even know you. The important thing to remember is that these are the same papers you’ll be talking to next time you publish a book. You don’t want them to remember you being a jerk.
With the signings set up and promotion planned for, you can concentrate on the event itself.
At a book signing, you won’t just be sitting at a table autographing books. Most book signings include a reading and some discussion.
For the reading, pick a page or a passage that shows off your flair for writing and encapsulates the whole meaning of the book, but doesn’t contain spoilers or any graphic material.
When your reading is done, allow for a question and answer period. Be prepared to answer questions about anything from where you grew up and what inspired you to write your books to what THEY can do to write a book. As a published writer at a book signing, you’re probably going to get that last one a lot. Just look at all the questions you had while you were getting to the point where you are now.
By all means, answer whatever questions you feel comfortable with. But remember, you’re not obligated to tell them everything. They don’t need to know where you grew up, where you live, who you date or what you ate for lunch. So think of a polite way to beg out of any questions that step out of bounds.
When it comes to that last question, remember that you’re there to talk about your book, not teach a publishing class. Unless that’s what your book is about, in which case, you can just direct them to read it.
Have an answer ready for when they ask you how they can become a writer. Some stock answers can include:
“You don’t become a writer, you’re born one. So if writing a book is something you’re passionate about, go ahead and do it.”
“If you want to write a book, don’t let anything stop you.”
Or, if they want to know how to publish a book rather than how to write one:
“There are lots of different ways to publish a book. You can approach agents and publishing companies, or you can publish independently, Only you can decide what’s going to be best for you.” Something like that.
It’s your event. You run it. Don’t let the audience run over you. Practice in the mirror or get friends and family to run through a mock signing with you so that you can get a feel for it.
Most of all, have fun. This is what you’ve worked for. Enjoy it.
Here’s a checklist.
Publish your book and set a release date four months away. Don’t make it public yet.
Send out ARCs (advance reading copies) and press releases for (real) reviews. (we’ll talk more about reviews, advance copies and press releases later.)
Google the bookstores in the areas where you want to have your book signings and call them. Pick the stores you want to approach, and call them.
Schedule book signings.
Call the local radio stations to get on the morning shows for those days.
Contact your local newspapers and see if they’ll interview you.
Don’t forget to notify your public of your event via social media.
As the date gets closer:
Add (real) reviews to your book cover or inside the front page.
Put up fliers.
Invite somebody from your hometown newspaper to cover your event. You might end up with an article and a picture in the paper. It could happen.
Tell your friends.
Remind your social media audience.
Get your materials ready. Box up your books and swag (if you’re taking any), dress like an author, and put your game face on. It’s go time.
Breathe deep and get ready to meet your new public.
This probably doesn’t cover everything. In every process, there are bound to be variables. There are almost certainly things I’m not thinking of. If anybody out there has more ideas to add to the topic of arranging for book signings, feel free to include them in the comments.
Mostly, this is to let you know that there are things you can do regarding book signings to promote your work. Being an author is work, and not just the work it takes to write a book. You’ve got to promote it, too, and that takes some effort. But in the end, it will pay off. With this book and the next, and the one after that, everything you do adds up to your body of work and helps bring you readers for your material. Work it. Own it. Have fun with it.
Above all, don’t quit.