Writer's Workbook: New Author's Guide to a Book Signing

April 25, 2017

Ready to roll! What I bring to my book signings.

This past weekend, I signed books at the LA Times Festival of Books, one of my favorite events in the whole city. The festival takes place over two days on the campus of USC and includes publishers, authors, retailers, vendors, and of course, readers. Attendance is 150,000, making it the largest book event in the country. Best of all? Unlike expensive conventions and reader events, admission to the Festival of Books is free.

During my signing, I got to chat with old friends and new readers, pass out swag, and show off my print books. It's always a thrill to sign a book, but even more than that, it's a thrill to see folks in real life who have read and enjoyed my stories. Stuck behind a screen all day, I feel always invigorated after getting out and meeting readers.

As an introvert, I find book events to be fun but a bit overwhelming. The first time you sign books can be stressful. Over the last three years, however, I've learned a lot about how to prepare for book signings by watching other authors and by making my own mistakes.

If you are an author preparing for your first book signing, here are some tips to make your experience a smooth one.

New Author's Guide to a Book Signing

Transport. If you're in charge of moving your own books, think about how far you'll be traveling and how much you can realistically carry on your own. I recommend using a small rolling suitcase and ditching any cardboard boxes. I wrap stacks of new books in recycled bubble wrap I save from packages and put the stacks directly into the suitcase.

Books. If you're indie or small press published, chances are you have to order author copies on your own. Make sure to do this far in advance of the event, since print-on-demand publishers will usually need weeks to fulfill and deliver your order.

Swag. This depends on you. Personally, I am not big on swag, but the things that have moved best for me in the past are personalized pens and lip balms. Bookmarks are okay. Postcards with free download codes are okay. My stickers flopped. I'd avoid candy since your personalized wrappers will just get peeled off and thrown in the trash. In general, conference attendees are inundated with paper. This past weekend, author Caitlyn O'Leary had stress balls shaped like seals, since she writes Navy SEAL romances. Those attracted tons of passersby to the booth. Watch your budget, watch your branding, try to be clever, and as always, think about what you can carry.

Signage. Is this a multi-author signing? How much do you want to stand out? How much space do you have on the table? Some authors have tabletop banners or standup banners. I have a personalized tablecloth that suits me fine and packs really light. Event organizers often print tent cards for authors. Save your tent cards for later events, just in case. I tuck them into the pocket of my suitcase.

Pens. Your favorite pen to sign books. Sign on the inside title page and include a date. For anthologies, I sign next to my name on the table of contents, but you can sign on the title page or on the first page of your story. You can ask attendees if they want the book personalized. Some don't. That's fine. They will probably give your book away once they're done, which means more readers for you.

Payment. If your event isn't partnered with a vendor, or if you're not giving your books away for free, you'll probably have to handle your own payments. Special event pricing will make your life easier. I sold books for $5 or $10, calculating sales tax into the price. I had some change on hand and used a Square on my cell phone for credit card payments. You can also enter your cash sales onto Square if you'd like an easy way to keep track of sales.

Newsletter. Last but not least, include a clipboard or use an iPad for newsletter sign-ups. Attendees who are interested in your work but who might not be ready to commit to a purchase are usually willing to sign up for your newsletter. Consider holding a special raffle for those who sign up.

That's it! If you have any questions, or if there's anything you think I've missed on this list, please comment below or email me! Happy signing.

For more information on what to wear at RWA nationals for the first time, please click here. For tips on how to pitch at a conference for the first time, please click here.

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