Tuesday, December 16, 2008

To Sign, or Not To Sign, That Is the Question

By Chester Campbell

Okay, so it doesn’t sound too Shakespearian. The Bard didn’t have bookstores, so he never faced that problem. There’s a lot of discussion in the mystery world about whether a writer should or shouldn’t do book signings. Some say it’s a waste of time and money. A “tour” takes several days and involves travel expenses. The royalties on books sold will hardly cover the cost.

If you’re with a large publisher that gets your books in all the stores, the idea of skipping the signings makes a little sense. You’ll still need plenty of other promotional efforts to get your name out there so people will pick up your book and look at it.

When you’re with a small press that doesn’t have total distribution, you need to get out there and make yourself known among the book buyers and sellers. You won’t always sell a lot of books, but you’ll meet a lot of people who will remember you later. And you can impress the store staff with your upbeat outlook and warm and friendly treatment of the customers.

I’ve had several instances where a Customer Relations Manager at a Barnes & Noble store recommended me to a colleague. That helps and makes the task of lining up signings a lot easier.

Each author has his or her own method for conducting signings, and you need to find what best works for you. Anyone who’s been around the lists I’m on knows how I do it, but I’ll repeat it here for the uninitiated. It has worked well.

I print small promo folders, two on a sheet, that we use for handouts. You can find detailed instructions for doing it yourself on my website under the ON WRITING link. When we do a signing, my wife, Sarah, stands near the store entrance with a supply of folders. She greets customers with a smile and “Do you read mysteries?” If they do, she hands them a folder and tells them the author is signing books at the table over there.

Sometimes they’ll ask her questions about the books, sometimes it’s “Where is the rest room?” If they make eye contact with me, chances are they’ll come over and talk. I hand them a book and discuss whatever interests them. If they really came in to buy a book and not just browse, I have a good chance of selling them.

Most of those who accept the folder from Sarah take it back into the store. After reading it, some will come back to my table and buy a book. A lot will walk out the door with it still in their hands. Hopefully, they will remember my name the next time they see one of my books.

I don’t do bookstore events. Lacking a good speaking voice and being mostly unknown among the general public, I wouldn’t attract many listeners. With a signing, I have a shot at everyone who comes into the store. What determines how many books I sell is the store traffic that day. If lots of people come, I’ll sell lots of books. If few come, the sales fall off. If nobody shows—well, I’ve never had that, though it’s been close a few times.

As for the travel costs, I do a lot of signings in the Nashville area, where I live. When I go on the road, I try to line up several stores to make it worthwhile. Most of the time I do signings along the way when I’m traveling for other reasons, like visiting family, attending a wedding, or going to a mystery conference.

I have cards for several hotel/motel chains and use them at overnight stops. I usually get enough points to spend a free night a couple of times a year.

Of course, some of the best signing opportunities are not at stores but at book fairs and similar events. I try to hit those whenever possible.

About that photo at the top, that was my signing last Saturday at Mysteries & More, a small independent in a Nashville suburb. Mary and Gregg Bruss, the owners, are great people. They had hot apple cider, dips, crackers, and cookies. And who should walk in but Santa Claus (he bought a book). We were also entertained by a talented group known as the Pizazz Quartet. That’s them surrounding me at the table. It was a great day and we sold plenty of books. Stores like that make signings fun.



Anonymous said...

'Fess up, Chester. Sarah is your secret weapon. (-:

Seriously, booksigning doesn't seem to be a one-person job, unless you have as many arms as an octopus.

Thanks for the reminder about making your own booklets. I'm going to check it out.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Loved the post, Chester, and you look quite happy in the photo surrounded by adoring women. My computer crashed last Thursday night so I've been limping along trying to post when I can. Our 2-20 degrees below zero temperatures also knocked out our local broadband service. Brrrrr.

Chester Campbell said...

You're right, Pat, Sarah's my secret weapon. Although the secret has been out for a while, and I've had people try to lure her away. The only trouble is that she gets tired at times and has to sit down. I'm not as good a greeter.

Jean, you're right, too. I was quite happy with the event. Everybody got a big laugh when the quartet sang a song to me that I had been naughty and wouldn't get any toys for Christmas.