My friend Joe Konrath offers some detailed advice on doing bookstore signings. I agree with a lot of what he has to say but he mentioned something that absolutely stunned me:
I did an event last Saturday, and sold 40 hardcover books in 6 hours.
The week before I did 40 books in 8 hours (store wasn’t as crowded).
Week before, 60 books in 8 hours. My record is 120 in ten hours.
to Leave. How long you stay is up to you. I think four hours is
minimum, and if the store is really busy I’ll stay for six or more.
He’ll stay in a store for eight hours? Geez, at that point, he might as well get a job there. I wouldn’t stay eight hours. I think at that point he crosses the line from dedication and enthusiasm into… well, something kind of scary. I even think four hours is pushing it.
I’ve been at this a while and most authors I know, from those just starting out to the most wildly successful, will stay at a store for two hours tops, unless it’s some kind of special event (which usually includes other authors). Four hours minimum? I don’t think so. It clearly works for Joe but I think for most authors it’s overstaying your welcome.
13 thoughts on “Booksigning 101”
Forty books times a 10 percent royalty of, say, $2.40 for a hardcover, comes to $96, or $16 an hour, minus travel expenses and the time spent getting to and from the bookstore. It takes courage and determination to work for that. There is another plus; the stores usually sell a few more signed copies left behind. However, this assumes that the advance has been met and the author is gaining additional royalties. If he is working to pay off his advance, his earnings are zero, but he may be ensuring himself of another contract.
In my experience (your mileage may vary) formal signings are a waste of time. As a way to build a career, sell lots more
books and/or generate enough income to stay alive as a full-time writer, book store signings just don’t measure up.
Stock signings are far, far better. Make sure to introduce yourself to the store personnel and chat things up … do it right and the customers in the store overhead things and you end up selling the stock you’ve signed.
We don’t have the whole picture. Mr. Konrath does not mention the lengthy signings where he sold only a few, or struck out. How many eight-hour signings has he been to in which he moved only a handful?
Here’s how that started.
When Whiskey Sour came out, my ARCs had “eight city tour” listed on the back.
Being a naive new writer, I assumed that if my galleys said “eight city tour” I’d actually go on an “eight city tour.”
Well, I didn’t. My publisher didn’t send me on a tour–which is understandable, as tours don’t earn money, especially for first time authors wiht no fan base.
But I knew that in order to have a shot at a second book contract (as Mr. Wheeler smartly notes) I’d have to meet some booksellers, meet some fans, and sell some books.
So I set up many signing in my neighborhood.
My publisher heard about this, and flat out told me NOT to do any signings.
This was before I knew about coop: a publisher pays a bookstore whenever someone does an official signing there. This money goes toward making flyers, posters, advertising in local papers, etc. Even if coop is a small amount of money (let’s say 50 bucks), this adds up.
Mr. Wheeler is correct that an author makes between $2-$3 per book sale. But not many people know that the publisher profits a similar amount, about three bucks, per book.
Paying fifty bucks in coop money means an author would have to sell seventeen hardcovers just for the publisher to break even, and we know how hard that is to do for first time authors.
So my publisher cancelled my signings. And I got a phone call from a frantic bookseller saying he’d already advertised the event (sans coop money) and had ordered a pile of books and what was he supposed to do?
Well, if I couldn’t do any official signings, I figured it would be okay if I just stopped in the store to sign stock, so I went to the store.
He had 120 copies of Whiskey Sour (he really loved the book, apparently.)
I was stunned. I knew about returns, and I knew if these didn’t sell, they’d all be shipped back. It made me ill to think about that. There was no way he’d be able to sell 120 copies.
But maybe I could.
So I stuck out my hand, and began to introduce myself to customers. I sold one, then two, then ten, then fifty.
Eight hours later, I’d sold a hundred books.
Was it hard? Hell yeah. But three things happened immediately afterward.
First, the bookstore was thrilled. None of the employees had ever seen an author do that, and they were really impressed. So impressed that they were determined to sell the remaining books and order more (which they did.)
Second, the district manager of that store called me up, wondering who the hell I was and if I could do the same thing at his ten other stores. How could I say no?
Third, my publisher heard about my successes and decided to tour me for my next book–I’m positive they wouldn’t have done this if I hadn’t made things happen on my own.
As far as overstaying your welcome–that has never been the case. The employees think it’s fun, and we usually become friends after I do one of these marathon signings. After all, they see me on my feet for several hours, when most authors just sit there like a lump and don’t sell anything. I am, like you said, just another employee by the end of the day. I do my own loudspeaker announcements (look for the fat guy with the glasses), assist customers looking for other books (because I’m often mistaken for and employee), and generally goof off and make it a fun experience.
And other authors have followed in my tracks. Once I established the local stores who would support signings without coop, and I shared my MO with friends, many of them have done the same thing. Brian Pinkerton, EG Schrader, Libby Fischer Hellmann, and Luisa Buehler have all done the meet and greet thing, and consistently sell anywhere from thirty to seventy books when they do signings.
Is it hard? Yes. Is it worth it monetarily? No. Do I recommend it? All authors should try it, at least once. It’s depressing, humiliating, debasing, and demoralizing, but you do sell a lot of books.
I’ve made hundreds of die-hard fans by meeting them in bookstores, doing my schtick. These people buy my books for themselves, and for their friends and family, and love to talk about the crazy author they met in a store.
I’m still midlist, but my fanbase is solid and growing. Rusty Nail isn’t available until July 5, but according to Ingram I sold 450 copies last week–my bookselling friends are eager to push it. Whiskey Sour just went into a second printing. And, of course, my publisher is behind me and sending me on a 500 bookstore tour this summer (I will NOT be doing 4 hour signings on this tour–no time. Just stock signings and schmoozing the booksellers. But come holiday time, I’ll put in the long hours at my local stores once again.)
Is this crazy? Of course it is. It’s absolutely insane.
But if my career tanks, it won’t be from lack of trying on my part.
How many eight-hour signings has he been to in which he moved only a handful?
Here’s the low-down–I would only stay eight hours if the books were selling. I do this at high volume stores (usually mall stores have the most foot traffic) on weekends and close to holidays.
If I’m not averaging at least 5-7 books an hour, I bail out after three or four hours, because the customers just aren’t there.
I’ve done a few four hour signings where I’ve only sold twenty books. But this was back when I only had hardcovers.
Now that I have paperbacks, they are much easier to sell.
I had one signing where only three customers came into the store in two hours. It picked up a little later in the day, but during those two hours I sold nada. But that gave me two hours of time to chat with the booksellers, so that time wasn’t wasted at all.
There was one time when I stayed six hours, but it was worth it. I had an OP suspense about the All American Futurity (big quarter horse race) and they set me up at the race track on the day of the race. By the end of those six hours I’d sold 280+ books. Definitely worth it!
I can do two or three hours at a stretch before I’m out of juice, but I usually sell at the same rate.
First, the bookstore was thrilled. None of the employees had ever seen an author do that, and they were really impressed.
Most bookstore employees are amazed and ecstatic at an author who a) stands up; b) politely approaches customers. This is one of the primary benefits of being a hand-selling author. I can’t tell you the number of bookstore managers and employees who have come up to me after a signing and thanked me profusely for using this approach.
Hats off to Mr. Konrath. He knows how to push those books out the door.
I once signed at the Hastings flagship store in Amarillo. Bouquets on the table, snacks, advance advertising, the whole works. But it was a moment when a local athlete was going for an olympic gold medal, and not a soul showed up.
I once did a library event (which was heavily promoted in the newspaper and on radio) and had zero people show up.
The fact that I drove 160 miles to do this event made it all the sweeter.
I ate cookies with the librarians, and did my talk for them. Both of them loved it.
Since you seem to be following this thread, I’d like to ask a few questions to satisfy my curious nature.
1) Using your book WHISKEY SOUR as an example, how many hours total would you say you spent arranging signings, traveling to signings, doing the actual signings, coming home from the signings, etc.? In other words, the total number of hours spent on promoting the book?
2) How much total money did you spend out of pocket – phone calls, gas, etc. – on promoting the book?
3) How many copies has the book sold to date?
4) How many copies have you sold doing publicity of this nature?
I haven’t kept track of the hours, but I’ve easily spent hundreds of hours promoting Whiskey. And thousands of bucks.
So far, Whiskey Sour has sold about forty thousand copies. Of those, I’ve hand sold about two thousand. I can tell you that my promotional efforts haven’t paid for themselves in royalties–I’m losing money on the deal. I consider it an investment in future earnings.
The hand selling is worth more than the immediate sales. Booksellers have continued to sell books in my absense, word of mouth plays a big part (all the fans I’ve met talk to other people), and impressing your publisher is important to get them excited about your books in house.
Plus, I get some press I wouldn’t ordinarily get.
Of all the mass market paperbacks released every year, not many make it to a second printing. I’m pleased that mine has.
Is my way the only way? Of course not. Does my way sell books? Yes.
You have to figure out how much time and money you can invest in your writing career, and do what works for you.
Sometimes it seems the more flowers there are, and the bigger the chain bookstore, the fewer books you sign. I love it when they put you in the front of the store so people almost run into your table on the way to the magazine rack, CDs, etc. One guy ran smack into my poster, gave me a dirty look, and said “What the hell *is* this?”
Joe brings up a good point that I think sometimes gets overlooked: the ability to get more press based on a book tour.
Joe’s going to 500 bookstores to sign. That is the kind of factoid that might convince an editor to run an article about him.
Even if you’re just on a normal tour, though, it can help get you reviewed. I’ve often been successful at pitching reviews because I could say that the author would be appearing in town on such-and-such a date. Some newspapers rarely review books if the author won’t be coming to town.
Everything an author can do to raise his/her visibility can help get more media coverage.