I learned quickly that there’s a really good reason that publishers won’t go out of their way to arrange a book signing for most debut authors. Hordes of adoring fans aren’t likely to flood into the local B&N because you–a complete unknown–happen to pitch a table and prop your books up on it. I’m not even six months into my print publishing career and I’ve already attended signings where not a book was sold, and nervous-looking customers quickly evaded my gaze in the hope I wouldn’t try to sell them something. In short, book signings can be a huge waste of time for you, your publisher, and the bookstore.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them.

A Book Launch Party Is Worth Your Time

Even if you don’t do any other signing events, it’s nice to have a celebration in honor of your book release. You’ll probably have friends and family that are curious about it and would love to have the chance to see you after all those long months you spent in anti-social writing mode. It’s nice to do it at a local bookstore that can handle the sales of your book, but you don’t have to do it there. Book parties can take place in your home, at a friend’s house or a restaurant or a bowling alley. I’ve held two such parties so far and they were both delightful. First, I printed up some flyers for the store to hand out to customers and post around the store. I also gave out some bookmarks and invited just about everyone I knew. I brought some snacks for the guests and planned a presentation (which I’ll get into more later).

The Phone Isn’t Going to be of Any Help To You

When I decided I wanted to do a few book signings a friend and I simply made up a list of all the local bookstores and started calling them. Big mistake. The first thing we realized is that if you call bookstores yourself, you’re likely to be blown off completely. The big box stores have certain policies and will generally tell you that they only set up signings arranged by corporate headquarters with your publisher. Even Indie bookstores will be resistant to a debut author. After all, they aren’t sure they’re going to be carrying your book and even if they do, they don’t think they can call on you to draw a crowd. So I figured out quickly that the phone wasn’t going to be any use to me at all. That all changed when I crawled out of my writer’s pajamas and into big girl clothes and paid a visit to the local stores to distribute bookmarks & excerpt books etcetera. When I went in and asked to speak to the manager, the response was altogether welcoming. Before I knew it, I had invitations to do more signings than I had time for.

Give a Presentation

Having had early experience with sitting at a table hoping for customers to come by, I determined that I’d rather give a presentation. I put myself in the shoes of readers. Why would I go to a signing unless I knew the author or was already a huge fan? Only if they were going to tell me something interesting. Consequently, I came up with a presentation complete with a slide show. The slide show part turned out to be a stupid idea because I don’t own a projector and even if I did, most bookstores aren’t equipped to turn out the lights and lower a white screen for you. When I designed my second presentation, I made sure that it only needed handouts, which I could print out and staple cheaply at home. Whenever I give presentations, strangers happen by, see a crowd, listen in, and almost always buy my books. Every time I’ve sold out at a signing it’s been because I gave something to readers before asking them to buy anything from me.

Be A Little Paranoid

This may sound weird, but it can’t hurt to practice your signature in a different way than you usually use it for legal documents and checks. Insofar as your money has anything to do with the way you sign your name, it may not be wise to put it on a bunch of books you’re giving to strangers.

Consider Drive-By Signings

Once your novel is actually in bookstores, things are going to get a little bit easier. You don’t have the time to do a signing in every bookstore near you, and I’m not sure it would be worthwhile doing if you could. However, I always go into a bookstore wherever I am to introduce myself to booksellers and tell them about my novel. I ask to sign the stock, and the reception is always different each time. I’ll probably do a whole post just on this kind of hands on interaction, I’ll let you know right now that some booksellers will be thrilled to see you. Others bored. Some hostile. I’ve just learned to roll with it. Signed books sell better than unsigned books I’m told, and my own anecdotal evidence suggests the same if bookscan is to be believed. I always take bookmarks, some good pens, and some Autographed Copy stickers and Local Author stickers with me. Booksellers have told me that having the chance to talk to an author about the book helps them to hand sell it, so this seems like a good investment of time. Plus, you get to meet cool people on the way.