Monday, May 25, 2015

The Complete Newbie's Guide to Book Signings: Part 1

Normally people in the book business only see their corner of the industry. Authors know the creation and promotion side. Editors know the acquisition and editing side. Booksellers know the retail side. I'm one of the (relatively) few that know the author and bookseller sides. Now I know one more.

About two months ago I was given the responsibility of being the event coordinator at Reader's Guide, where I've worked for seventeen years. It's been really interesting learning this particular aspect of the business. Contacting authors and publicists, scheduling, promoting, getting the space ready, and putting the store to rights afterward is a lot of work. It's very rewarding work and I love being able to connect authors with their readers. However there are times when the authors make it far more work than it needs to be and even make the job a bit onerous.

I don't want to give the wrong impression. Most of the authors I've worked with are splendid, professional people. Those that make the job more difficult aren't rude or demanding. They're clueless, usually Indie authors, who have no one to advise them. They have no idea that their fears, paranoia, poor organizational skills, and micromanaging is jeopardizing the success of the event and greatly reducing the chances of a return visit. All these authors know is that if they want to sell more copies of their book(s) they need to have a few signings/readings but nothing beyond that.

As an author I do understand their situation. Unfortunately I also can't take time away from my duties to coach them individually. So I'm going to break it down in two blog posts; perhaps too simply for some, but not everyone lives in a location that gets a lot of book tour activity or has an active writing community. In this part I'll walk through the process of contacting the store and scheduling the event as well as some tips to make the process more painless for every one involved. In part 2 I'll give my do and don't list which will cover most of what comes after.

First off, if you're scheduling your own events you'll need to do some research. If you live near a bookstore then you have a good place to start. If you don't then you'll have to use your google-fu to find stores near you -- and you do want to find more than one store if possible. Where having an event at one store is good, having events at multiple stores is better. You're not going to offend store A by doing an event at store B. It's all good. The only suggestion I have is if the stores are in the same city that you spread out the events so you're not here Tuesday and there Wednesday.

When you're researching keep in mind that not all bookstores have a website so you may have to check yellowpages too. Also, it's not unusual for small indie stores to have a website with nothing more than their location and hours on it. Small stores can't afford to employ a webmaster so don't rely on there being email contact forms to connect you with the staff person responsible for scheduling or a well designed site to tell you if they even do events. You may have to call the store directly. I want to put extra emphasis on "person responsible for scheduling". Not all stores have a designated event coordinator. Some stores just have a person who handles scheduling on top of everyday business tasks. So if you're calling ask if you can speak to the person in charge of scheduling book events. If you're emailing, address it to whom it may concern.

It's a good idea to have an introduction prepared. Whether you're emailing or calling doesn't matter. Just because you're local or won _____ award doesn't mean that they've heard of you. There are thousands of authors on their shelves and it's impossible for one person to know them all. You're introduction doesn't have to be fancy or even memorized. (They'll never know that you're reading it.) All you need is a simple "Hi, I'm _______, a local (insert genre)  author. I was wondering if I could do a signing at your store for my new book, (insert title)." You can tell us more if you want to but this is all we need to know to determine if your book is something our clientele would be interested in.

Settling on a date is usually a simple matter of finding a day close to or on the book's release date that works. If you're touring the state and have a narrow window of opportunity then include that in your introduction. Also, if a local paper is printing a review of your one of your works and you know when it's coming out, mention that too. We're more than willing to host the event after the review comes out so all of us can benefit from the publicity. (In this case you'll want to pass the event information on to the reviewer as soon as you've scheduled it so they can include the information in their article.)

It's always good to find out if the store prefers to do readings followed by a signing or only signings. Not all stores have the space or equipment to accommodate readings. Also, if the store does a lot of readings, and the thought of speaking in public gives you a panic attack, don't be afraid to ask if you can only do a signing. We want authors to be comfortable. Comfortable authors have a good time, interact more with the public (making it more enjoyable for them), which sells more books, and makes everyone more likely to want to come back for their next release. An author that's too nervous to remember the English language is a lot like a naked grandma. No one wants to witness that. Ever.

If the store doesn't do readings, and you have a burning need to read your work aloud, don't try to convince the staff member/event coordinator to change their policy. As I said before, if they don't do readings it's because they can't accommodate it. Your smoothest pleadings won't make the store bigger or cause sound systems to materialize on a cloud of marshmallow fluff. (Which is too bad because we could really use the sugar rush.)

If you're scheduling your event over the phone, write down everything -- the store's name, when you called, who you talked to, and the date and time of the event. There are few things more embarrassing than having to call the store because you forgot the day or time of your own signing. If you're doing it via email then no worries. You can always look back at the email if you need to double check the details.

That's all there is to it! I know. It seems pretty straight forward but when this is an author's first time nerves can get in the way, and make you forget things. Don't be afraid to make a checklist. It may sound like an anal organizational thing but in these situations when you're nervous and a bit scared, they can be a really helpful security blanket.

Be sure to read part 2 (view it here) for my do and don't list. A lot of the mistakes and labor increasing things I've encountered will be covered in that post. As always, if you have questions please feel free to ask. I only ask that in this particular case that you post them in the blog post comments. Chances are there are others who have that question as well and I'd rather answer them once than multiple times on three different platforms.

If you live in Oregon or will be passing through Oregon and want to schedule an event with me please email or call me at the store.

Kim May
Event Coordinator at
Reader's Guide Bookstore
735 Edgewater st NW
Salem, OR 97304


Hours: 10 - 6 Monday through Saturday, 12 - 5 on Sunday

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