Book Signing 101 By Elizabeth Harrin

Your book has finally made it through the publishing process and you have a copy in hand. In fact, you’ve got a stack of them and are holding a book signing. My first book signing was a few months ago. Before I turned up at my publisher’s head office, where I was giving a talk followed by the signing, I read a few articles about what to expect. I thought I was prepared. However, the evening was a steep learning curve over the course of just a few hours. Here’s what I wish I had known in advance.

Basics first. There will no doubt be pens at the event. People will thrust their pens at you, too. But bring your own. You’ll feel more comfortable writing in a pen you know works well and that doesn’t take ages to dry. You’ll also look more stylish. I must have looked odd dressed in my beautiful tailored suit signing books for business people with a tatty, chewed old biro. Classy.

The other thing I forgot was my business cards. I had a stack prepared, but in the excitement of the whole thing, I left them behind. Slip one in each book, like a bookmark, as you hand it back.

Don’t expect to do all your signing sitting down. People won’t form an orderly queue, especially if you have just given a talk or reading. You can’t sign books with a glass of wine in one hand so watch what people offer you afterwards to eat and drink. Or, make sure you are close to a table.

The people themselves were a surprise. They don’t just want your signature. They want a part of you, too. Signing isn’t good enough; prepare for conversations, which is sometimes a problem if you have a few people waiting for your attention. Work out ways you can include others in the conversation so you can sign their books, or plan a couple of phrases you can use to ‘escape’ someone who is being particularly clingy. You need to get around the whole room, and make sure everyone who wants their book signed and who wants to ask you a question gets their chance. If you have a friend, publisher or family member in the audience, perhaps plan with them a way to help you move on. During my signing, my publisher asked me ‘for a quiet word’, which allowed me to excuse myself from someone who looked like he was going to be chatting for quite some time. Obviously, you don’t want to alienate those people by cutting them off dead but you don’t want to get stuck with just one or two people all night, either, however interesting they might be.

Ask what people want written in their books. Check their names. Everyone at my talk was given a name badge but they weren’t all wearing them and the names weren’t all spelled correctly. If they don’t have a suggestion for what to write, make sure you have something ready: ‘To Peter, with best regards from Elizabeth’ is simple and neat and doesn’t take long to write. Or, something specific to your book like ‘Wishing you great weather for gardening!’ would be appropriate. If there are people at the event who know you well, you will probably want to write something more meaningful. It takes time to come up with a suitable phrase for someone who has supported you during the writing process so ask them if you could perhaps sign their book later, once you have had a chance to think.

Don’t be daunted by your book signing. Mine was the best night as a writer I’ve ever had, and I sold a lot of books, despite struggling to work the room, not having a quality pen, and not having any business cards. Just think how good yours will be if you get the basics right!

Elizabeth Harrin is the author of Project Management in the Real World, available from Amazon and book shops. She is on the editorial board of Projects@Work magazine and her articles have appeared in over 30 UK and US publications.