Tricks of the Trade: Sell-out Signings! By Rickey E. Pittman

Having successful book signings in today’s market is a difficult task for the POD author, but not an impossible one. I’ve been writing hard since 1994, and I have a great deal of battle experience. Booklocker was my first publisher with my novel, Red River Fever. I’ve learned a great deal along the way that I want to share that will help you succeed as an author. A POD author who wants to make a living, like authors with traditional publishers, makes money from presentations, royalties, and the most profitable method–direct sales. In this article, I want to address the role of book signings.

While the idea of fame doesn’t excite me, I do want to make a living from writing. The royalties you get from book signings will help contribute to this. I agree with Samuel Johnson who said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” I decided sometime ago that writing would be more than an avocation for me writing would be my vocation.

An author today must understand that his or her book business is author driven. Too many authors have unrealistic expectations. They are like lost thirsty souls in the desert, who see wealth and water in a distant mirage. Perhaps in the future, you will get the deals and treatment of Stephen King or John Grisham, but for now, the future of your writing business is in your hands.

If you’re like me, working for yourself without an agent in today’s market, the fact is stores won’t order your books unless you offer to do signings. The bookstores that will order POD books are limited, due mainly to non-refund or corporate policies, but there are some who will, namely the smaller chains and independent bookstores. And you want stores to order your books, so you must work hard to make sure that every signing you do in these stores is a successful one a sell-out.

Bookstore managers at all levels want and appreciate authors who will come to their stores and sell books. Selling books is their business. Sell-outs are important because what you’re dealing with is perception. A book signing that is a sell-out will cause you to be perceived as a successful author who has a book that people want one that will sell. If you sell out, they will order more and have you back again for another signing. You will also feel great pride when you are able to tell another store manager or anyone else that your last book signing was a sell out you sold every book of yours in the store.

Do not hurt your future business by pressuring the manager to order too many books, i.e., more than you can sell at the signing. Remember, the store will be stuck with them and if they have too many POD books that they can’t get rid of, they will quit ordering them, and certainly won’t order your next book. The manager will resent you when their supervisor criticizes him for having stock they can’t move. It is better to have the manager order ten and you sell them all than to order twenty and you sell only ten.

Steps to a successful signing:

1. Establish a relationship with a store manager and set up a signing. Managers respond better to personal visits than to phone calls. Emails to set things up are usually useless. Don’t be discouraged if it takes you more than one visit to set up a signing. Do whatever you must to meet the manager, community relations manager (CRM) or book manager. Offer to take them to coffee if you get the chance.

2. Set up a signing on a day of high traffic. Ask the manager to order a small quantity of books for the signing. I usually ask for ten, as I am confident I can sell ten books in a 2-4 hour stretch. The quantity I suggest depends directly on my confidence related to the signing. Several times, I have sold up to 40 in a high traffic area. (Of course, once I had to sit and talk for seven hours to do it!)

3. Work all possible media in advance, including your blog (and your friends’ blogs) free papers, radio, and television. Ask the manager to send a news release of your signing. Communicate to the manager the media you contacted and that responded. He or she will certainly be impressed if media shows up for the signing. Oh, and be prepared to talk to the media about your books.

4. Make posters/signs to be posted everywhere you can. I have a large framed one that I place on my table when I’m signing books. Dress to attract attention. Ask for the table to be placed near the entrance where you can make eye contact with every customer who enters or exits.

5. Don’t eat or read or work on your computer while you’re at the table. Smile, have your elevator speech prepared. (An elevator speech is a ten-twenty second summary or pitch). Managers resent authors who don’t interact with customers. If you don’t promote your work, who will? Remind your customers of available discounts (store or teacher discounts, etc.)

6. Stay in the store until all your books are sold. Gather emails in a fishbowl with a giveaway or drawing. Realizing that the REAL value of a book signing is often in the contacts you make. Often those will bring you in more money than the signing royalties.

7. When the books are sold, thank the manager profusely for sponsoring your signing. Point out the success of the signing. Ask them to order more and ask if you could return for another signing. Also ask them if they know of another store you (or they in your behalf) could approach about a signing. Go in with ideas. (For example: “Do you know the manager at the store in _____?”) The managers of chains usually know other managers as they attend sales meetings, etc. Of course, follow up your signing quickly with a written thank you.

I wish you success in this brutal vocation we have chosen. I hope these suggestions help you. I welcome yours as well. Contact me through my website.

Rickey E. Pittman is the author of How to Market Your Book to Libraries, Just Write for Dinner: Planning, Producing, and Presenting Dinner Theatre, King Linkum, The First!, and Red River Fever Read more at:


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