Drive By Signings

My friend JA Konrath has been blogging from the road, keeping a running tally of all the "drive-by" signings he’s doing on his book tour.

A "drive-by" signing means you just show up at a store unannounced and unscheduled and sign whatever stock they have on hand as opposed to a formal signing, which is a scheduled event that a bookstore has arranged (and which generally means they will have lots of your books, if not customers, on hand). His book tour is built around the formal signings, mostly at independant and mystery bookstores, set up by his publisher…the drive-bys are something he’s doing on the side, taking the initiative to get as much bang for the publisher’s promotional buck as he can. A typical day of drive-bys for Joe has gone like this:

Got into San Diego around noon, picked up the rental car, checked into the slum that is the Westgate Hotel, and started the drive-bys.

Baja Books, signed 3 paperbacks.

B. Dalton on Horton, signed 2 hardcovers, 3 paperbacks.

Barnes & Noble on Hazard, signed 4 hardcovers, 6 paperbacks.

Barnes & Noble on Grossmont, signed 4 hardcovers, 8 paperbacks, sold 1.

Bookstar on Rosecrans, signed 2 hardcovers, 2 paperbacks.

Borders on Camino del Rio, signed 2 hardcovers, 6 paperbacks, sold 1.

Borders on 6th, signed 2 hardcvoers, 6 paperbacks.

Waldenbooks on Friars, signed 6 hardcovers, 6 paperbacks.

I got stuck in some serious rush hour traffic, and it took 90 minutes
to get to my signing that night, at Mysterious Galaxy.

That’s lot of time, effort, and expense to sign 22 hardcovers and 40 paperbacks. But I understand what’s motivating him. Up until now, I’ve done the same thing.  Now, on the eve of two of my new books being released, I’m wondering if the drive-bys really make a difference and if there aren’t better, and more productive ways, to promote my book.  Your thoughts?

13 thoughts on “Drive By Signings”

  1. I’m with Keith on this one. Are you doing anything else with your time or rental car while you’re waiting to do the signing you’re in town to do? Are there any good will benefits of stopping in and talking for a few minutes with bookstore employees? Imagine the delight of a fan who finds your signed book unexpectedly. It’s difficult or impossible to measure the benefits of this, but it has a better potential payoff than watching the afternoon movie in your room.
    But if you’re asking what else might be out there with a potentially bigger payoff, I’m sorry, I don’t know.

  2. I think they’re one of the more inefficient ways to self-promote…BUT if you’ve got the time and you’re in the area, it certainly ain’t gonna hurt. (I think it’s more useful for someone like Konrath who can sell himself so well. If I were in his place, I’d probably be lost.)
    I’ve known Joe since before his first book was published and he’s been working like this the whole time.
    Whenever I hear writers bemoan their lack of success, I wonder “Did they really do everything they could to make it work?” Maybe they did. But at the end of the day, when Konrath looks back, he’ll know he gave it his best, no matter the result.

  3. Drive-by signings have been a complete waste of time for me.
    Now granted, I have no books out, so I’m forced to sign other author’s works, but you would think that me signing books by the likes of Connelly, Grisham and Child would result in a financial windfall for myself, but to this day I have received nothing from the effort I’ve been putting out.
    I may quit doing it.

  4. I’ve been on numerous tours, some running several weeks, and believe signings have minimal value. I would always stop at stores not on the itinerary and sign stock. Once I wandered into a bookstore in Mitchell, South Dakota, where no author had ever been. They were astonished to see me, but I doubt that the visit improved my sales. The publishers’ rationale for all signings is that you get to meet the store staff; they will remember you and hand-sell the book. Only staff turns over rapidly, and the idea doesn’t work.
    Signings work for celebrities. In Big Timber, MT, population 1500, where Tom Brokaw has his ranch, he did a signing that had people waiting in line for three blocks. The store had ordered 300, sold out and could have sold hundreds more.
    I used to do distributor warehouse signings, enjoying coffee and doughnuts with the drivers at dawn before they hit the road. The rationale was that they would remember me and put my books into favorable slots. Those were fun, but I don’t think they achieved much by way of sales.
    In days gone by, publishers would put me up at classy hotels as a signal to booksellers that the publishers were behind me and considered me important. I sure enjoyed staying in Hiltons and Westons and Sheratons instead of the local Super 8s, but I don’t think the flossy treatment did anything for sales.
    My instinct is that two things work: one is to give away books with the hope that you will pick up new readers. The other is to stop at libraries, give your books to librarians, and hope that they will continue to purchase your novels. A significant number of my hardcovers are now purchased by librarians, and I ascribe my survival in part to library purchases.

  5. Anything that gets bookstore staff on your side is worth the effort. Assuming your personality is more a plus than a minus, stopping by to sign gives you a chance to chat them up a little. And the next time someone’s browsing around, they’ll point to your book and say “This one’s signed.” Of course, it may turn out to be signed by Paul Guyot, but maybe they’ll buy it anyway.

  6. I did random drive-by signings for a few months… until Barnes and Noble banned me nationwide after that smartass kid had to yell ‘hey, that’s not Chuck Pahliniuk!’ (sorry, bit of author humour there)

  7. I’ve probably done thirty-some signings in my twenty-five years of writing professionaly and I doubt that I’ve ever bested J Konrath’s sales. Which is why I don’t bother with signings anymore. I know we have to self-promote these days but to me it’s still embarrassing and unlikely to produce the results I want unless I’d go after it the way Doug Clegg and a few others do. The trouble there is I have neither the time nor patience. Doug is a genius at this stuff. If I had his skills for this, I’d probably be doing it, too. He has great ideas, a warm personality and astounding energy. I have none of those things. Maybe door to door disguised as a Unicef worker?

  8. I’ve been watching Joe Konrath’s tour with a mix of admiration, incredulity and skepticism. First, Joe’s doing everything he can. That’s to be applauded. Of course, he’s in a position to, isn’t he? He got a good deal with his book contracts that allows him not only to write fulltime, but to write fulltime on his novels and short fiction. I’m a fulltime writer, too, but most of my income comes from magazines, not my fiction. If I spent as much time promoting my novels as Joe, I’m not remotely convinced there would be a return on investment in terms of dollars and my nonfiction would suffer dramatically, resulting in my having to go and get a real job. Second, Joe’s published by a major publisher (Hyperion, owned by Disney) who’s getting his books into most bookstores. Drive-bys would work for a lot of us whose books just aren’t in every bookstore.
    I recently noted to my wife that book signings are anachronistic, positively quaint in many ways. I love books, but I don’t necessarily show up for book signings. The autograph doesn’t mean that much to me–the book does. Meeting the author sometimes just seems awkward rather than, what? What exactly is the appeal of meeting the author? I’m not sure.
    But, I guess we keep doing the signings and the cons and all that, because it’s one way to get your name out there. If you get a really brilliant suggestion on how to promote your books, Lee, share it with us.
    Mark Terry

  9. Without a big enough publisher to get the books into stores nothing will do any good. How much to do has always been a hot topic. An op-ed based on your book is a good idea if you can tie it in that way. Autyhors I’ve talked to say signings are the weakest link in that chain of author promotion.

  10. Shamelessly Happy

    A hot topic amongst professional writers who blog is the never ending (?) merry-go-round of promotion, and the increasing need for authors to make an extra effort and pay out of their own pocket to raise their profile enough to get a book out there (and b


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