Are Book Signings Worthwhile?

Most people who talk about book signings talk about how to attract attention from the venue’s patrons and how to get more people to show up. Authors give consistent recommendations for what to do before, during, and after signings in order to make them more successful. And pretty much everyone agrees that just sitting at a table at the back of a room with a table full of books is unproductive in the extreme, and usually uncomfortable as well.

In a recent invitation to a teleseminar about Virtual Book Tours, Mark Victor Hansen went so far as to say “Book signings STINK.”

If you’re like most authors, you’ll travel the country, doing countless appearances for a couple dozen people at a time. If you have “great” night, you’ll sell a hundred books…but most likely the tally will much smaller.

And I can’t argue with that one. I wouldn’t advise an author to invest a lot of money in going on tour just to sign books in stores. Go on a paid speaking tour instead and sell your books at the back of the room. That way your expenses are covered and your book sales represent actual profits.

But despite the ease and inexpensiveness of doing a Virtual Book Tour (via teleseminar or webinar), live book signings do still have a place. Certainly if you’re going to be visiting a city anyway, whether on business or to see friends and family, there’s no reason not to arrange a book signing.

And as Raleigh Pinskey pointed out in her October 24th, 2006 “How to Promote Your Book by Promoting Yourself” teleseminar with Arielle Ford, it doesn’t actually matter whether anyone comes. A book signing where no one shows up is just fine with her.

Why? Because to Raleigh, the point of having a book signing isn’t the hour or two that you’re in the store. The point is to get the bookstores to help promote your book. If you arrange for a signing, the store will be sure to have your book in stock and display it prominently. If the store produces a newsletter or an online calendar, you get free advertising by doing the event. That means you start selling books before you show up, and for a month or so after the event is over. (And you get a chance to put special “signed by the author” stickers on them to draw the shopper’s eye.)

What’s more, having a signing provides an excuse to contact the local media and get interviewed. (Or, at least, a better excuse than just publishing a book gives you.) And having media clips lets you build a newsroom on your website.

Of course, it could get a trifle embarrassing if one of those local media outlets sent a reporter over to attend the book signing and you were just sitting like a lump at a table. And a bookstore might not invite you back or give your books preferential treatment in the future if you treat the event too casually. So try to schedule the signing for a time when the store is busy, and create some kind of presentation, preferably one involving audience participation.

Even if no one else shows up, it will keep the store’s employees entertained and favorably disposed toward your book. And the action is a lot more likely to attract casual browsers than sitting at a table in a corner will, as well as giving reporters and bloggers something to write about.

Besides, even if you can sell more books with a teleseminar, virtual tours don’t let you see your readers’ faces or shake their hands. Even if you choose to do most of your promoting via the Internet, it’s good to get out there and make live connections.

© 2007 Sallie Goetsch

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