Book signing – what you need to know but were afraid to ask!!!

books[1]Okay…I’m jumping ahead here, but seeing as I just had my fourth book signing event on Saturday and have my next coming up this Saturday, I wanted to share the freaky experience of author book signing.

Think you’re ready people? I can guarantee you’re not!

Well, like many of us, my only ‘experience’ of book signing was watching it portrayed on TV and in film, i.e. a pretty exciting, thrilling glamorous thing, right? LOL!!!!!!  Oh dear… If you are a celebrity, you’ll have people thronging around you, lining up to get a glimpse of you and a signed copy of your latest tome. If you are a new writer…you’re a nobody. No lining people, unless it’s to the tills, no throngs.

Well, again, like every aspect of a writer’s journey, it will be unique to you. Some writer friends I know don’t do it all. Whether it’s because of time constraints or simply because they feel they can’t and don’t want to do the whole ‘selling’ thing, I don’t know. In fairness, it is an expensive venture, travelling, petrol, parking…it all adds up!

I must shout out though, to some brilliant surprises I had on my book launch at wonderful Octavia’s Bookshop, apart from selling out in an hour! Thank you to my gorgeous fellow fantasy writer, Lindsey J Parsons, turning up (a welcome distraction and lovely support) and my lovely and nutty mate Will Macmillan Jones who LOVES book signings – he has a natural confidence in talking to people and an ease when doing these events.

Octavia's Bookshop signing 2012Then there’s me…the nervous jelly in the corner. Cold sweats, lack of sleep, bitten nails, dodgy tummy, dry throat and well, a host of other nervous complaints. It IS hard and difficult but what nobody prepares you for, is that it is also one of the most totally bizarre experiences a human being is ever likely to find themselves in!

Exactly like walking down the street naked. That is how it feels…and no, I haven’t gone romping down the local lanes and roads starkers! But you feel utterly exposed and naked in a room of crowded strangers…yeap…prepare yourselves guys!

Firstly, you will have to decide on what approach suits you best. By now we all know the changed policy from Waterstone’s head office regarding signings, so NO pushy hard sell! It doesn’t work and it’s at least one of the reasons Waterstones cites for changing their policy, because they were getting complaints from customers who had literally been frog marched to the tills!

Remember you are selling your literary masterpiece, not a tin of beans. Nobody likes being hassled, especially if they’re in a bookshop quietly browsing…so back off. Always go with a relaxed soft sell approach.

That aside, you still need to decide how to do this. Do you stand and wander round the shop? Stay permanently seated at your table? Or a mixture of both? Sometimes the bookshop will tell you what they would like you to do, so you can just follow those guidelines.

My friends all do it slightly differently, which works for them. You’ll need to find out what works for YOU. For me…I just don’t have the confidence to wander, so I tend to stay permanently glued to my table and let people come up to me, or not.

Even though all the Waterstones staff I have met have been absolutely lovely, very friendly, welcoming, helpful and ply you with as much tea/coffee as you want, you will most likely be given a small round black table only a little bigger than a napkin, to display your books. So be prepared! 😉

You may be placed in the fantasy section, teen section, children’s section or by the doors, it totally depends on the store. If they are planning to place you right at the back, you can very sweetly ask if you could be moved. Remember they want you to be every bit as successful as you want to be. You sell a lot of books, it’s great for the store, great for you and most likely you’ll be asked back.

As far as symbiotic relationships go, it’s pretty good – they are the oak tree and you are the nourishing fungus at its roots! Ummm…now doesn’t that sound sexy?!

The next thing you need to be prepared for is…people. Lots of them, none of them, crowds jostling past you, ignoring you, bumping into you. People glancing at you and your book then thinking better of it, shy people wanting to approach but nervously edging past, brash people, “So, what’s it about?” You start your well rehearsed but genuine spiel, “Nah…not for me,” as they drop it on the pile with a clunk. You notice the smear of finger prints on the cover and quickly pop it to the bottom of the pile.

Also, depending on where you are stationed, be prepared for arses (asses for my lovely American friends) and lots of them as you see them leave the shop having NOT bought your book, or worse still, as they queue at the tills and the queue goes back to you. Suddenly you’re sitting in a forest of people’s legs, backs and arses, totally obscured! 😛

You’ll find yourself with a gentle fixed smile, trying not to look desperate as you shift your weight, stare aimlessly into middle distance or try to make eye contact and lightly engage passersby with a, “good morning,” you check your watch. Damn it! It’s 12:30pm. So you change tact to, “good afternoon”.

Or you start to play ‘spot the fantasy fan’ – a fun game which entails eyeing everyone coming into the shop and trying to place which section they’ll head for. Even though I’ve only done 4 signings so far (my amazing book launch at Octavia’s Bookshop and three lovely Waterstones branches to date, with more going right up to Christmas) I’m getting pretty good at this detective game.

But the frustration comes, if you see someone heading and then lingering in the fantasy section and before you can get a chance to talk to them, they’ve left the shop carrying a Robert Jordan, G.R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb, David Brett and walked straight past you without noticing…despite the 7ft banner next to you! You could try a net or lasso, but I wouldn’t recommend it! 😛

Then, you get the ones who have no intention of buying your book but haven’t had a decent conversation with anyone in a while and as you’re just sitting there doing nothing, how about a chat? You know what? Always be gracious and grateful…at the very least you are talking to someone and look busy – this is good! Unless of course they stop you from engaging with those who really are interested in buying your book. Tricky.

Then, you get the good stuff, the reason you are there, putting yourself through this…the interested person…what a thrill! The person or people who ask questions, are really engaged when you tell them about the story, who ask about when and why you started writing it, your inspirations and in my case, those who get totally enthralled with my illustrations.

Btw, it really really helps to have visual aids! I’m lucky, I have my own illustrations so I enlarge them, colour some of them, even laminate them and put them in this flick through book for people to…er…flick through! If you don’t have any visual aids – GET THEM!

Now don’t get me wrong, even though the experience can be akin to having root canal, which I have had, there is a genuinely awesome payoff – you get to be on the frontline, talking to people about your book, the characters, the plot, how you created it, what your influences are, and most amazingly, you get to sign a book and watch someone walk to the tills and buy it!!!!!!!!!!!

There really isn’t anything like it!

If I hadn’t been sitting in public, I would have welled up and cried, it’s that emotional. A really unforgettable and moving moment.

That’s why you do it, why you put yourself through the nervous emotional exhaustion of it, not to mention the difficulty of travelling there, finding somewhere to park, finding the store etc – because the payoff is SO sweet. Isn’t that what we all want? To feel that sensation – pride, accomplishment and sheer joy? It doesn’t happen often in life so try to embrace it when it does.

So the next time you’re in a bookshop, do spare a thought for the lonely author sitting or standing there, being brave or possibly nutty, and go and talk to them. Even if they’re selling a manual on how to clean the inner tubing from a bicycle wheel and you couldn’t be less interested in what they are selling and certainly don’t want to buy it…spare a thought for them and go a have a natter and a smile, you’ll really make their day! 😀 xx

P.S. Make sure you have a bottle of water with a good screw top, you’ll need it. In your nervousness, if you knock it over you’re not going to spoil your precious books. Oh…and make sure you have at least three pens, at least one is likely to fail on you! 😉

P.P.S. I must say a special mention to my pal Lucy for stopping by and saying hello yesterday while I was book signing in Waterstones Cribbs Causeway, thank you honey! AND a special mention to Bryony, the lovely lady I meet yesterday who was so interested in my book and who I had a fascinating chat with. I hope you keep going with your writing sweetie, and DO check out The Alliance of Worldbuilders on the HarperCollins writing site, Authonomy or on Facebook or on it’s own website we’d love to see you on there with the rest of us nutters!.

Right, so that’s it, at least for now…everything you needed to know about author signing events, but were afraid to ask! HUGE good luck guys and I hope to meet you on the circuit!  ;D xx

29 thoughts on “Book signing – what you need to know but were afraid to ask!!!

  1. Something I found helpful was to have a friend (or two) pop by from time to time. They make you look more approachable and inviting. If they’re outgoing (and brave), they may even invite people to come and meet you. At the very least, they’re there to keep you company if it’s a particularly quiet. day. Good luck at your next signing!

    • Lol! I had loads of sweet friends turn up for the book launch when we were absolutely crushed for space, and yet stupidly didn’t tell them about my Waterstones signing tour! Duh! Remembered to tell one person this time (Lucy thanks!) but you’re absolutely right! Thanks Jennifer, and huge good luck with your signings too! 😀

  2. Oh Sophie, did you have to mention root canals 🙂 I wonder if a little joy is worth the pain? Apart from the patch where one lives, and where an article in a local paper might bring the curious.
    And couldn’t the bookshop put one of your book on the till, with a note … I AM HERE TODAY TO SIGN MY BOOK FOR YOU …

    • 😀 You’re not wrong! I think book signings if you can do them are a great idea, but it’s not easy and is costly. I certainly couldn’t afford to go travelling round the entire country and hold down a full time job, unless I win the lottery 😛

      But it IS such a wonderful feeling meeting people, chatting about your book and signing it just before they take it to the tills! 😀 xx

  3. M T McGuire says:

    Thank you so much for this, it’s absolutely fascinating to know what I’ll be up against when I start doing this… which I will have to, when I’ve finished the trilogy.

    It sounds a little bit like stand up. Many years ago, I used to do that. Every dire gig was worth it for the one moment of gold when the audience loved you. I can imagine this is very similar.

    Good luck, I hope it leads to many more.



    • Entirely my pleasure honey! I figure, if I can’t share my ritual humiliation with my fellow writer for the benefit of mankind…? 😛

      Seriously, though, it is a strange experience and probably a lot like stand up, but if you’ve got balls of steel…er…or at least an ability to hide how scared you are, you’ll be fine! 😀

      Thanks sweetie and MASSIVE good luck with your signings to come! You’ll knock em’ dead! ;D xx

  4. Like everything else that’s exciting, it’s scary until you get over the fear factor! Then it’s fun. Honest.

    (Trust me, I’m a fantastist…)

    • Lol! Oh honey, you are sweet and brave and TOTALLY nutty! 😀

      No, there are elements to it which are absolutely fantastic, like chatting to customers and the staff and of course having people buy your book is totally AWESOME! But matey, don’t think I’ll ever conquer the dreaded ‘fear factor’!

      Trust me, I’m an epic fantastist…I write awesome battle scenes because I’m too weedy to fight in real life! 😛 xx

  5. lisa says:

    Ah, I’ve yet to do an official book signing at a bookstore, although I’ve done several at book clubs. It’s still no different, the thrill in knowing they bought your book and then the sudden brain block on what to say besides signing your name! Congrats darling!

    • There’s nothing quite like it, is there? The very first book I signed and then watched them take it to the till to buy it…I thought I’d cry. I wanted to howl and jump for joy and burst into tears all at the same time. VERY emotional experience and a REAL thrill!

      THAT for me is the awesome payoff which out weighs all the nervous stuff, seeing people engaged with your story, chatting to them, watching their eyes light up when you’ve said something that connects to them. Yeap, really nothing like it! Thank you sweetie, you are quite the inspiration to a lot of us AWBer’s you know! 😀 xx

  6. Thank you for all the wonderful advice and help, I am going to grit my teeth and have a go really soon! Honest!! The trouble is I’m such a bad procrastinator! But you have inspired me, so I will get my act together and start sending out emails!! Thanks Sophie 😀

    • No problem sweetie! I know it can be so daunting and a thousand and one jobs are all wanting your attention, just to distract you – the little blighters! But you really CAN do this. Small steps remember. Start with local stores and independents and branch out from there. Go for it Lindsey!!!!! 😀 xx

  7. Wow thank you for posting this. My first book is to be published this December with the sequel due out this spring. I am terrified of book signings. So much so that my palms are sweaty and I am nauseated just thinking about it now. I am hoping to have a launch party at my local small bookstore but my pub contract says i will not set any dates until the publisher says we are ready. But still I am very excited and VERY nervous. Any advice for a launch party would be greatly appreciated.

    • No problem honey. Well, firstly…a HUGE congrats! You are an author, how great is that? The next congrats is for wanting a launch party. The majority of authors may do signings but very few have actual book launches and these I feel are SO important. If you can get one – GET ONE!!! 😀

      I was extraordinarily lucky. I had had several people recommend me to this prestigious local bookshop, so when I contacted them, they already knew who I was and most everything about me! I would definitely suggest a local independent. The whole experience will feel so strange to you at first, that it’s much better to keep the travelling to a minimum. Now, every book launch is different. Some have food, nibbles that sort of thing, and drink, others do not. I didn’t. The problem with catering, is that the last thing you want is someone spilling a glass of bubbly all over your beautiful books. I would suggest no edibles, keep it simple.

      Definitely invite family, friends, neighbours, anyone and everyone. It doesn’t matter how small the place may be, a crowd attracts a crowd. If people passing by see a throng of people, they will come in, just out of curiosity!

      Publicise it. As much and as often as you can. I had local newspaper articles, posters around my workplace, even think of local libraries and schools, if your book is an appropriate age for them. Try everything, the worst that can happen is someone says no. I even managed to get a huge national magazine, The Cotswold Life magazine to include me in their issue. IF you want magazine coverage – remember they work on a much longer schedule. If your event is in December, it may already be too late – contact them now. They’ll need plenty of notice. Newspapers work on a much shorter turn around. Two weeks should be fine.

      Think about promotional materials. Posters, banners, business cards. If like me, you have illustrations in your book – enlarge them, colour them, laminate them! Visual aids is a must! It just helps to draw people in.

      Silly things here – but think about what you’ll wear. Something that reflects who you are and very importantly, something comfortable! You really don’t want to be sitting or standing there feeling too dressed up, or too scruffy, or worrying about a wardrobe malfunction! Keep it simply, casual but elegant, ‘authorly’ if you can.

      Make sure you are in close contact with the owner/staff of the bookshop to discuss how the launch will go. The placement of books, where you will be etc.

      Very importantly, to try and help your stress levels, which believe me will be off the chart, make sure you have already sorted out ahead of time, exactly where you will park. You don’t need to have bad traffic and no parking on your special day. I’d have a back up parking area in case. To be honest, my family were amazing and actually dropped me off at the bookshop, so I didn’t need to concern myself with all that.

      MOST IMPORTANTLY of all. Make sure your books have arrived!!! I had THE most amazing book launch but it could have been a disaster, as the order of books did not arrive in time! NIGHTMARE!!! Luckily I had bought my own stock along as well, so we had books for the book launch. Phew! It was fine in the end, as we sold out in an hour and the bookshop owner then took a ton of orders after. So however you are doing it. My advice is, to definitely have your own stock as well and bring it along…just in case!

      Phew! Does any of that help? I hope so.

      Just try to relax, your book launch will be a joyous occasion and you’ll be surrounded by family and friends who will be so supportive…and you’ll get a load of customers too! Enjoy it and very best of luck!!! 😀 xx

      Check out my blog posts about the book launch – at the beginning of October! 😉

      • You are awesome thank you so very much, I now maybe able to get through this without taking a tranquilizer first I will check out your other blog. You rock and thank you for your kind congrats, it is a dream come true.

      • Absolutely my pleasure honey! It’s a tough world out there, so it’s good to support each other. Huge congratulations sweetie, you’ll be great! Do let me know how it goes when you have, always great to share stories, eh? ;D xx

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  12. DebE says:

    I went a slightly bizarre route with mine, having an evening event at a bar. They won because I brought about 30 friends in, most of all who grabbed a drink or two while there, and I managed to sell a couple of books to interested passers by. I also brought my own music talent (a friend of my husband) who the bar didn’t have to pay… so they were pretty happy and keen to have me back.

    Bookstores can be tricky here (in New Zealand) as we have few small stores and the big chains are limited by which suppliers they can buy books through (i.e. not self-pubbed or small-pubbed).

    The other obvious option for me would have been a room on the 4th floor of the library… a little too hidden away for my tastes! Doubt I woul dhave made those two extra sales! Or had quite as much fun!

    • Wow! I’m so impressed! Sounds like you did a great job in a very inventive way. I absolutely love New Zealand, having spent four months travelling around your beautiful country back in 1997/98, I totally fell in love with it (country envy here!). But I do remember the more limited choice of bookshops. I think you did a fabulous job breaking into what is obviously a pretty tough market. I would also suggest checking out record shops (who often want to diversify), comic shops & fantasy games shops (World of Warcraft/Forbidden Planet type shops), also I have a friend who does well selling at craft markets. People who are browsing for artistic handicrafts, personal unique items are often interested in checking out the work of a promising new writer too!

      As for libraries, yes, I’ve done that too. It’s a tricky one. They can push you away into a side room, where frankly you’re not going to sell a copy and it can be dull as dishwater. BUT, if you can convince them to be a little more open, it can work for you. If you propose a reading event as well as just a signing, or even a workshop if you can do it, they will be much more likely to want to put you somewhere prominent. I did a combined signing and reading event at my local library and as I was interacting with people, I was placed right in the main foyer. I was able to set up my banner and illustrations and off I went. It wasn’t a huge smash, but I sold about 20 copies for an afternoon, anything helps, right? 😀

      HUGE good luck sweetie, I think you’re doing a brilliant job! Combining wine and music with books? Genius! 😀 xx

  13. […] For more information on the mechanics of how it actually feels doing a book signing, check out my previous post:… […]

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