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Monday, June 28, 2010

What to Expect During Bookstore Signings

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

The layout, set-up and culture of each bookstore is different--even with bookstore chains that are supposed to be similar. I've had bookstores put me over in a corner, in the back of the store, in the front, in the children's section (I'm not kidding and I don't write children's books). As an author, you never know what to expect when you arrive at a book signing. My advice is to be prepared for anything! Be good-natured about it and keep smiling-no matter what.

There are a few things you can do to make the experience more enjoyable, to pick up sales now and in the future, and to pass the time quickly.

Before the Book Signing
Once you have the book signing date set, ask the bookstore if they would like a couple of posters and bookmarks. They will want to advertise the event and you can suggest they put the bookmarks in consumers' bags a few weeks prior to your event. I haven't had a bookstore turn down these offers. Most seem very glad and thankful. Mail them out ASAP.

Large Book Signings
If you're having a book launch where you know several people will be in attendance such as in your current city of residence or hometown where you will have family, co-workers and church member support, the bookstore may set up a long table, a podium for you to speak from and several chairs for people. You can ask the bookstore if you may serve coffee, tea, snacks or candy. Barnes & Noble did this for me.

Even if it is a small book signing, you can always set out some candies and other little goodies to draw people's attention. I put out bookmarks, postcards, magnets, business cards, etc.

Small Book Signings
However, if you are going to a city where you don't know many people, you will most likely have a small table and a chair. You may be put in a corner or in the back. You will be dependent upon the foot traffic that enters the store for sales and building awareness. These are small book signings and they occur more often than the large ones.

Most stores provide a table cloth for you. I haven't had to provide my own table cloth inside a bookstore yet. I have purchased a short banner of about 3 feet. I set it inside a frame. The first frame was of glass. A bookstore set me in the children's section in the back and one of the children back there knocked it over on my head and busted glass everywhere. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Off I went to buy another frame--this time one made of plastic!

If people are walking by and look like they are avoiding you, offer them free bookmarks. They rarely turn free things down. Sometimes they smile and keep going, others will take that as an opportunity to stop and talk. Then you'll get a chance to tell them about your book. Try not to be pushy, but offer the information they request.

I have had people ask me where they can find the latest Karen Kingsbury book. I simply tried to help. We found it and she was very happy. No, she didn't ask me about my book, nor did she even glance at Highland Blessings that I noticed, but I take comfort in knowing that I helped out Karen Kingsbury and maybe some day another author will help someone find my book. It's all about pushing Christian fiction and getting God's stories out there regardless of who writes them.

This hasn't happened to me, but other authors have been asked where the restroom is located. Be polite. Tell them if you know. If you don't know, point them to a staff person. 

After the Book Signing
If you don't sell all the books--and most of the time--you won't, simply ask if you can sign five copies and leave them for the shelf. Most bookstores will be happy to allow you to do this. If you don't have a "signed by author" sticker, place a bookmark in the ones you've signed and be sure to let the bookstore know which ones are signed. The other books may be returned to your publisher, but most likely these won't. It will ensure you some shelf space once you leave.

Be sure to leave your business card with the bookstore manager or event coordinator and tell them to contact you if they plan any special events. Sometimes it's better to piggy-back off the success of another event that will draw more people into the store. 


I'm not published but I dread booksignings. I have this fear that I'll be standing around, grinning like an idiot, and ignored for several hours. That's not a good attitude to have. If God loves me, who cares what others think? And since I'm not a signed author, my worries are putting the cart before the horse.

This is good, realistic advice. And humble too. Just helping people find books, bathrooms, and offering them a bookmark is as big of a Christian witness, of not a bigger one, than selling your Christian novel.

Thank you!

~Britt Mitchell

Thank you for this post. I have had several book signings and like the idea of sending them material prior. Thanks again, Jennifer!

Thanks Britt, it's hard to be humbled like that, but having stuff to do when there isn't a lot of traffic helps pass the time along.

LaJoyce, They seem to jump at the opportunity of getting material ahead of time. It helps them promote you to their patrons before you arrive.