(Getting a Seat at the Table: Books Signing Basics Part Four)
You’ve been invited to the dinner party, paced the floors in nervous anticipation, and now it’s finally time to take your seat. Over the last three weeks, we’ve talked about what an author should expect from attending a book signing, how they should prepare, and even how they should behave. However, how do you succeed at a book signing? How do you achieve the results that you’re wanting in order to make the cost, time, and effort of attending an event worthwhile? First off, make sure your setting the right goals. Too many people set the wrong type of goals, settling for the short term success of selling a couple of books between nine and four the day of the event. That’s all they intend to accomplish. Yet, as I’ve already told you, that’s extremely short-sighted and quite often can lead to bitter discouragement. Today, I’ll help you eat your fill of success at the table, but I’m warning you, this is where the hard work enters.
One of my first suggestions is for you to take an assistant with you to the event. Now, this can be a friend, a spouse or partner, or even your mother, but trust me, you’re going to need help accomplishing some of the suggestions below because your job as the author is to be at your table, engaging readers as they walk past. I do my best never to leave my table and so should you. If a reader wants to buy your book, then they want you to sign it and quite often get a picture with you. You can’t do that if you’re not in your place. Furthermore, if they miss you, the likelihood of them returning to your table is slim. Your assistant can get you water, take pictures, and converse with a waiting reader while you’re talking with someone else. You want to keep the reader at your table until you’ve had a chance to greet them and put something of yours in their hand, and by that, I don’t necessarily mean a book. That means you need to make a great first impression.
If at all possible, stay in the hotel where the event is taking place. There is so much that happens outside of the signing and you really want to be a part of it. This is where the real connections and conversations happen. I’ve learned quite a bit sitting around a round table at the hotel bar talking with other authors and their assistants, cutting up and swapping stories. People share the small details that can help get you over a hurdle or answer questions to things you’ve been struggling with for a while in these more intimate settings. Of course, this is also when you hear the funny stories from other events and can make that positive impression that remains with everyone. You just never know when you’ll meet a reader who will connect with you, joining you on the rest of your publishing journey.
In New Orleans, we had the honor of meeting Maria in the hotel bar the afternoon of our arrival. We sat around, shaking the jet lag of the trip, answering questions about each other’s live and reading interests, and over those stories and the laughter, the girls and I bonded with Maria. Now, a year later, Maria is on my street team, an active reviewer with great insight of my books, and anxiously awaiting the Witches of Savannah series–all because we took the time to get to know each other outside of the official event schedule.
The same can be said for many of our author friends. Of course, this meeting would never have taken place if we hadn’t stayed in the hotel where the event was taking place. I know it’s an added expense, especially if you live close to the event. Yet, if you arrive just before the event begins and leave right after it’s over, you miss out on the more casual, relaxed conversations. People are more real and open when they’re not having to be “on stage”. Catch them around the pool or having a bite to eat at the hotel restaurant and you’ll gain what those who only go to the event miss–real connections.
We’ve all heard it said, and some of us may be prime examples, that writers are introverts by nature. They prefer to stay home with their books and avoid the outside world. Well, at a book signing you can’t afford to be an introvert. You need to be approachable, inviting, and engaging. I prefer to stand as people approach my table, because I’m usually too pumped up to sit still. This also helps them see me as they pass by and it’s easier to make eye contact. Once people make eye contact with you, it’s hard for them to simply ignore you, so you at least get a greeting out and that becomes an open door for further conversation. Once the conversation starts, you now have a path to get them to sign up for your newsletter or put some swag into their hands, which is really your ultimate goal because this is what benefits you down the road.
Of course that means you need to invest in some fun, professional looking swag, which we discussed in part two, Preparing for the Dinner Party. While you don’t need to invest gobs of money on everything that pops into your head, don’t skimp on it, either. What you set out on your table needs to represent you, and you’re goal is to make a good first impression, enticing them not only to pick your swag up, but also to take it with them as well. Remember the concept behind swag is to get them to walk away with your name, website, or book links, something they will look at later and, hopefully, buy your books and follow you on your social media sites. We include QR codes on most of our swag to make this even easier for the reader. Not everyone who walks by your table will purchase a book, but almost everyone will walk away with a bookmark or a pen. Hold it out to the reader while you’re talking with them, and even sign it for them as a special incentive to take it. There are a myriad of sites and swag makers out there, so do your research and compare. It’s well worth it.
At events, venture around to other author’s tables and see what they have for the readers–before the event starts, of course. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, either. We have yet to meet an author who was all secretive about their connections or vendors. After all, this is part of the networking and one of the benefits of attending a book signing. One of the things we like to do is pick up signed swag from each author to give away through my author page on Facebook, to my street team, or in my newsletter. It’s our way of helping get the names of others out there and saying thank you for sharing. We’ve often been handed signed copies of books to give away as well. Be friendly and people will be friendly in return. It’ll be that friendliness that they remember when they need someone for a takeover or to be a part of an anthology. Remember, it’s about the long term goals and not the quick sale.
Another thing you need to do–or rather your assistant needs to do––is to take plenty of pictures. You want photos to share on your social media sites, on your website, and in your newsletter. You want those who were not able to attend to see how much fun it was and what they missed, so they’ll come out and join you the next time you’re close to them. Make sure you also take pictures with other authors and allow them to take pictures of you. Then post them on your social media sites and tag those authors. This helps your followers know who you met and become introduced to another author, but it also puts you in that author’s newsfeed for their followers to meet you. It’s all about exposure and getting your name out there. If you concentrate on building strong, lasting relationships, you’ll automatically be building a viable, healthy brand, which will then gain you the book sales you desire.
In order to get the most out of a book signing, you’re going to have to put in some real effort and plan ahead. Don’t just show up and expect miracles to happen or for the host to do it all for you. I heard one person say at a conference I attended, “It’s your business and you need to take 100% responsibility for its success.” I couldn’t agree more–but that also doesn’t mean we can’t help each other out along the way.
As we bring this series to a close, I hope you’ve found some useful tips. If you have other suggestions, please drop me a line, as this is always an evolving series. Furthermore, if you have a question or we can help out in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re all on this journey together.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Until next time, keep chasing your dreams!