A new author who uses a small or P.O.D. publisher must make some important decisions about his or her book promotion. If the author believes his or her book is well-written, if the author has something to say, or if the book is important in some way, then the author must decide what role he or she will play in the book’s promotion.

True, there are authors who have it made big from the first book and who never have to worry about publicity or book distribution. Though some of these famous and wealthy writers are in this position because of their immediately recognized genius and talents, many are there because of their hard work to get to that point, because of luck, because of their contacts, or a combination of these things. The reality is, most new authors must work hard to promote themselves, without the help of a massive advertising budget or an agent.

One of the best ways to promote your writing is through carefully planned and energetically promoted book signings.

STEP 1 – Begin gathering reviews and blurbs. A collection of reviews and reader comments is motivational and sometimes necessary to capture the interest of some bookstore managers.

STEP 2 – Develop a city by city (or store to store in your local area if you are less ambitious) strategy.

STEP 3 – From the Internet, gather names, addresses, and phone numbers of stores you believe would be receptive to your book. The chains have bookstore locator searches you can use to locate stores in your targeted areas and will provide all needed information. Prepare a checklist to follow when you contact them.

STEP 4 – Call the store and ask to speak to the manager. Contact them by telephone. Email is a good follow-up tool, but do not rely on it to nail down business. Tell him/her that you are local author, and that your book is in their system.

Note: Never assume. Check on this first by looking for your book via a search on that chain’s website to make sure your book is now appearing in their database.

Tell the manager you would like to arrange a book signing and provide your ISBN. He or she will look the number up, usually at that very moment to verify that they can order it. The manager will offer to set up a signing (have your calendar in front of you when you call) or will direct you to their in-house worker in charge of publicity and events.

Offer to email or send via snail mail information about your book that the store can use for publicity purposes. This information should include a flyer/advertisement about the book, a short author’s bio, any reviews/reader responses you have, and a small photo of yourself.

Stores are open to the idea of signings by POD authors because they DO generate store traffic. If they’re not interested in signings, the manager is new or deluded and out of touch about the book business anyway. Call back in a few months. More than likely a new manager will be working there who will be more open to the idea.

Most signings last for two hours, though one of my signings lasted eight hours. (I sold fifty books that day. I was in a mall, at a table right outside Waldenbooks. Thousands walked by. It was wonderful publicity!)

STEP 5 – After the reading is agreed to, ask the manager how many books he/she intends to order and how long it will take to receive those books. Schedule the reading AFTER the manager plans to have the books in stock. I would suggest a couple of weeks. Shipping may be slow or the store’s computer may show your book to be already in stock and in the company’s warehouse, when in fact, it is not. Don’t dispute the manager, just call before your signing to verify your books’ arrival. Most stores order 10 to 30 copies for a signing. I have found some store managers who want to order less because most POD books are non-returnable. You can address that issue through some of the following information.

STEP 6 – Unless the store provides it, bring an easel and a large poster of you and your book to the signing. I also bring a small letter-size ad that I slip into a plastic sheet/picture frame. (You can find these at Wal-Mart for a couple of bucks.) Generally the store will place you and your books in a high-traffic area at a small wooden or coffee table with your books stacked there.

If they’re smart, they will display your book at checkout registers as well. If they haven’t thought of doing this, ask them if it is possible.

After the signing, sign any leftover books. Take a photo or two of the signing and offer to write up an article on the manager’s behalf for their trade magazine. This is a win/win situation if you can make this happen.

BOOK SIGNING CHECKLIST: (Not necessarily in this order)

1. Store’s address, phone, email and directions

2. Manager’s name and direct email

3. Publicist/Events Director name and direct email

4. What will the store do for publicity? Can media contacts be provided to the author? What stations is the store advertising with presently?

These contacts are usually more than happy to help you with publicity: Newspapers, radio stations, TV stations, weekly small papers, outside signs, mail-outs, bulletin boards at libraries and college English departments, etc. Do not hesitate to suggest some of these to manager. One employee on the phone for a day could contact a lot of people. Do they have an email newsletter or local book club members list?

5. What can the author do for publicity? Establish timetable. Call on any contacts you have in the area.

Note: In my opinion, interviews help signings better than any other advertisement.

6. Materials author needs to bring: large sign/poster, flyers, books (if you’re selling to the store directly), your favorite pen, any special marketing materials you use, and a camera.

7. How many books will the store order?

8. How will extra books be paid for?

9. Does the manager need a review copy?

10. Date and time of signing.

Rickey E. Pittman, Grand Prize Winner of the 1998 Ernest Hemingway short Story Competition, is originally from Dallas, Texas. He earned a BA in New Testament Greek and an MA in English from Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. After moving to Monroe, Louisiana, Pittman was added to the Louisiana Roster of Artists in 1998. Working closely with regional art councils, he has written historical plays for Franklin (1997) and Madison (1998) parishes. In addition to freelance journalism and non-fiction writing, he has published short stories, two chapbooks of poetry, and one novel, — Red River Fever. Since 1994, he has been a secondary school teacher in Louisiana and Texas and adjunct English instructor for the University of Louisiana at Monroe, Louisiana, and Eastfield Community College in Mesquite, Texas. CONTACT: Rickey E. Pittman here: