May 01 2008

Effectively Promoting Your Book: Getting the Most out of a Booksigning

Published by at 1:09 am under Marketing,Novel Marketing,Technical Advice

Some starting authors expect that their work is over when their manuscript gets picked up by a publisher. No, not even close. Once the book is published, it falls largely to the author to market his work by running promotional events like book-signings.

Learning to host an effective book-signing is as crucial for authors as a good hand-shake is for a politician. Here is some advice on how to hold an effective promo event.

Unfortunately, running a successful event is a lot harder than just signing books for excited fans. For one, consider this. Who actually comes to a book-signing?

1. Excited fans.

2. Casual fans– they usually come because an excited friend brings them along.

3. New prospects– they’ve never heard of your work before, but they were in the store when you were talking and are interested enough by your book concept to stick around.

4. Unacquainted donors–they’ve never heard of your work and don’t normally read books like yours. However, they hear you talking and stay around because your book concept appeals to someone they’re buying for. These are usually mothers looking for books for their kids.

With that in mind, the best promotional events build a personal connection between you and an audience of people that range from heavily devoted fans to complete strangers. (Towards the start of your career, expect more strangers than fans and not all that many of either).

How might you create such a bond?

Things You Might Do At a “Book-Signing”

1. YES: Offer brief stories about your writing experiences and life-story. Ideally, these stories will interest even audience-members that are strangers to your work. For example, the theme of your talk might be “why [and how] did I become a writer?” That’s personal enough that your hard-core fans will feel like they are bonding with you, but general enough to interest random strangers, too. If you were standing in the checkout line at Barnes and Noble and you hear a 5’’6’ guy say he became an author because his (accidental) football scholarship got rescinded, wouldn’t you want to keep listening?

2. MAYBE: Sit at a desk and sign books. This is fine, but not particularly likely to excite fans and interest unacquainted readers in your writing. Ultimately, your fans should walk away from a promotional event feeling like they know you. But do you sign books any differently than I do? Probably not. I wouldn’t allot too much time for this.

3. YES: Field questions from the audience. Memorize brief answers (2-3 sentences) for the following common questions. (Since you will give these answers often, it’s important not to feel annoyed if you have to repeat yourself!)

  1. What’s your book about?
  2. What’s your style like?
  3. What’s being an author like? (Like being a hobo, but less respectable).
  4. I’m very interested in becoming an author. What should I do?
  5. What genre is your book?

Note: try to keep your answers short. A 3-5 sentence answer is usually long enough to satisfy the questioner without boring everyone else. The main exception to the 3-5 sentences rule is when a question reminds you of a funny story that you think everyone would enjoy.

4. YES: Smile! Being constantly cheerful and engaging is hard for a lot of people. But audiences don’t fall out of the sky and no one will be more enthusiastic about your book than you are. (If you love writing but couldn’t see yourself doing promotional events, something like teaching creative writing might make you happier).

5. MAYBE: Sell associated apparel, like Superhero Nation t-shirts. The site provider may not be OK with that and sometimes it looks tacky. The trick is using the merchandise as a springboard into your world. Why did you choose the images you did? What sort of fights did you have with your artist? What do these t-shirts say about you and your work?

6. YES: Use a conversational form of address. Sounding like a movie narrator is probably not a good idea—it doesn’t sound personal enough. It’s generally better to emulate a stand-up comic or storyteller.

Things You Should Not Do

Unfortunately, the typical promotional event is bland and ineffective. For example, authors sometimes make the mistake of reading from their works. Mistake! We can read your work anywhere, at any time, especially if you have a website that features samples of the book you’re selling. Reading someone’s work online is easy and comfortable. In contrast, listening to someone else read is usually tedious.   This will sound counterintuitive, but speaking about something else besides your writing, like why you became an author or what being an author is like, is more likely to convince people that your book is worth reading than actually reading from the book.

A related mistake is reading from a prepared text. The more extemporaneously you speak, the better. It is far more effective to speak to us than to read to us.

I would also recommend avoiding activities that segregate dedicated fans from casual onlookers. If someone asks you a question about your book, try to answer it in a way that will interest everyone rather than merely people that have already read your work.   (For example, why did you become a writer?  What sort of challenges do you face as a writer?  What advice would you offer to a kid that wants to be a writer?  What would you have done differently?  Etc.)

Potential Venues to Consider

Like most other aspects of marketing a book, this really depends on your audience. If your book is about high-level literary theory, a random Barnes and Noble probably won’t draw as many readers as an event at Iowa, Columbia or Dartmouth.  Go where your readers are.

With that in mind, here are a few site locations that you might try looking at.

  1. Mainstream bookstores, like Barnes & Noble or a campus bookstore. These may be hard to schedule.
  2. Specialty bookstores. For example, Dreamland Comics and Comics HQ are unusually valuable to anyone selling a book on superheroes. These are generally easier to schedule because there are fewer novelists competing for the store’s time and space.
  3. College campuses.
  4. Military bases—I bet you weren’t expecting that! Well, the core audience for most superhero novels is 18-25 year old males. Military bases have quite a lot of these and the bases are generally such hotbeds of comic-book readers that Marvel Comics specifically prints comics for the military community.
  5. High schools.
  6. Libraries.
  7. Book festivals and art shows.
  8. Conventions related to your subject-material.

Miscellaneous Considerations

Authors sometimes put off audiences with sloppy dress. It depends who’s in your audience, but generally I’d recommend business casual (like a polo and nice shorts or pants).

If at all possible, be the first person to get there and the last to leave.

Always be polite.

Be completely sober. (I only include that because I’ve been to a few promo events where I suspect the author wasn’t).


Graciously accept any criticism that comes your way. Don’t get defensive. Smile and move on.

15 responses so far

15 Responses to “Effectively Promoting Your Book: Getting the Most out of a Booksigning”

  1. ikarus619xon 08 Apr 2009 at 6:52 pm

    What about cosplay? Either you or models dressed as the main charactors. I’m writing for a comic involving power armor, and fans might want to see that. If they ever exist *fingers crossed*

  2. ikarus619xon 16 Apr 2009 at 7:44 pm

    And how do people get promotional events at a high school? I go to one, and I’ve never seen anything like that.

  3. Wingson 16 Apr 2009 at 7:52 pm

    That would be fun *wishes on nearest star*.

    Note to self: figure out how to make Meg’s shirt in the book (a white tank top with a silver lighting bolt design). And see if Pierce’s inspiration wants to help me at the signing.

    – Wings

  4. ikarus619xon 16 Apr 2009 at 8:24 pm

    Then again, you could offer to do a bit for a class (English, art, etc) instead of the whole school. An elementary school might work better.

  5. B. Macon 16 Apr 2009 at 8:40 pm

    Call up a few high schools in your area; ask if they’d be interested in providing a venue for you to speak to students that want to write. A receptionist in the front office can probably point you to the right person.

    Logistically, you’d probably be doing this as an after-school event. If you were a bestseller like JK Rowling, then the school could hold an assembly during school hours, but that’s probably not realistic for you or me. I’d also recommend asking any English teachers you know at this school whether they’d be interested in letting you speak about careers in writing. I can’t guarantee you’ll get anything out of them, but it’s a start.

    Doing an after-school event at a high school is a fairly easy, low-benefit proposition, I think. There is pretty much no chance that a high school student has $20 on him and would be interested in buying your book. However, you can pass around a sheet so that you can later contact people that are interested. The main reason I’d recommend doing high schools is because educators can be very influential in moving books. (For example, a local author sold 1000 copies of her book here because her former school assigned her book as part of the eighth-grade curriculum).

    In terms of advance publicity, I’d recommend finding out which teachers at the school run any writing clubs or writing outlets (like magazines, newspapers, etc). Ask them to inform their students where and when you’ll be speaking, and throw in a sentence or two about what the students will get out of it. Also, please look into printing a few fliers and stapling them around the school. (Some high schools only let you post fliers if you get them approved, so ask first).

  6. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 16 Apr 2009 at 8:44 pm

    I think I’d be petrified if I did a booksigning. I can’t even give class speeches!

    “And then… um, Kennedy got shot and the gunman… ran away, so, like, yeeeeeeah.”

    I’ll get over it, because believe it or not, that above example isn’t the worst. Originally, I was like this:

    “Th-then i-it started… snowing and all the famine, uh family went to pla-play outside in the snow. Th-the snow was cold, and it was white too. Um… the end?”

    The second example was an assessment of a TV show. I can’t remember what it was. I suck at speeches.

  7. B. Macon 16 Apr 2009 at 8:54 pm

    Ack. An author’s presentational skills– including his ability to speak in public– are an important part of the package. There aren’t that many ways for a new author to promote his first book.

    1. Low-key promotional events like book-signings. Publishers like these because they require very little investment.

    2. Paid advertisements. Publishers will probably only spring for these if you’ve sold a lot of books already.

    3. Word of mouth. You have very little control over this. Also, your fans can only spread the word if you have fans. Book-signings are one way to build your fanbase. It is often a frightfully slow process, though.

    4. A well-trafficked website. Starting a website is a great first move and I highly recommend it. Please check out our Blogging category for more.

    5. Media publicity. This is sort of unreliable. Can you convince your hometown paper(s) to write a story about you? Probably, but that won’t move many copies. A new author probably can’t get on NPR or Fox because he doesn’t have an audience.

  8. Dforceon 16 Apr 2009 at 8:58 pm

    Do you have any advice on promoting comic books specifically? I’ve wondered how one of those events might go down. How does one survive that?

  9. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 16 Apr 2009 at 9:03 pm

    I’ll have to get over my fear if I’m to have any hope.

    Speaking of public appearances, how was A Series of Unfortunate Events promoted before it came out that Daniel Handler was the author? I know there were events where Handler acted as a spokesperson for the character, but other than that I have no idea.

  10. B. Macon 16 Apr 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Marketing a comic book…

    I’d recommend looking into comics conventions near you. If you can pay for a booth, great. If not, Marcus Hart has some ideas on how to market a book at comic book conventions. His advice on marketing novels applies just as much to comic books, I think. If it’s a really small convention and you’ve been published professionally by a well-known publisher, I’d recommend asking the organizers if there’s an opening on a panel. (It probably won’t happen, but there’s nothing to lose).

    Aside from comic book conventions, I think it’s really important to establish an online presence. I’m obviously a fan of making your own website, but Facebook and Twitter and a few other social-networking sites have also worked well for some writers.

    Schools will probably be less receptive to a comic book writer than a novelist. However, try anyway. Some libraries carry graphic novels because they think that’s the best way to reach young readers, especially males. I’d recommend pitching yourself to the school along the lines of “Hi, I’d like to talk about writing careers for students that aren’t very interested in literature.”

    Talk to comic book stores near you. Would they be interested in doing a signing event? (This will be easier to set up if you’ve been published by a legit publisher).

    Do events at college campuses near you. Don’t forget to do advance work, like posting fliers a week or two ahead of time. Otherwise no one will know where or when to show up.

    I’d recommend looking into online advertising like Google Adwords. That will help drive traffic to your website. If your budget is large, consider advertising in magazines that are geared for comic-book readers. (Wizard, for example).

    There are a variety of websites geared to comic book readers. Figure out which bloggers and webmasters like your kind of story, and offer them a promotional copy. “Hey, B. Mac. I know you love comedy with a paranormal twist. Would you like to read mine?” A positive review will introduce your work to hundreds or thousands of potential buyers; a negative review costs you very little. It only costs you $5-10 to buy and send a promotional copy, so you can throw them around.

    If your comic book has a genre, you might want to pitch it at a convention dedicated to that genre. For example, there are horror conventions, fantasy conventions, etc. A lot of the people that like fantasy novels like fantasy comic books, for example.

  11. Holliequon 17 Apr 2009 at 6:01 am

    I feel a sense of shock. I might actually be able to handle a promotional event. :O The only thing I’d have to work on is speaking. I tend to ramble. It’s relevant rambling, but still, people probably get bored after a couple of sentences.

  12. B. Macon 17 Apr 2009 at 6:45 am

    I think the hardest part of the typical promotional event is getting people in the room. Advance publicity is really important. At the very least, make your fliers eye-catching and informative.

  13. B. Macon 17 Apr 2009 at 8:00 am

    Ikarus said: “Then again, you could offer to do a bit for a class (English, art, etc) instead of the whole school. An elementary school might work better.”

    Depending on your audience, it might make sense to do an elementary school instead of a high school. However, keep in mind that kids that young don’t buy their own books, so you won’t sell any by doing an event at a grade school. You’d be more likely to reach the buyers (their parents) by speaking at a library or bookstore. However, speaking at a grade school might be useful because it helps you develop your presentational skills and helps you build contacts among decision-makers (like librarians and teachers). Parents, teachers and librarians are three groups that can really help you sell your book.

  14. Nayanon 08 Nov 2012 at 8:16 pm

    @B. Mac.
    When a comic book is published, are the creators obligated to the publisher to attend comic cons and book signings? The creators may not have money to go to a foreign country and attend conventions.

  15. B. McKenzieon 08 Nov 2012 at 9:39 pm

    “When a comic book is published, are the creators obligated to the publisher to attend comic cons and book signings?” While the publishers will want you to publicize your book*, if they required you to attend conventions, I think they’d probably cover your costs.

    *Especially at the start of your career, I would expect to do the bulk of the work there myself. It’s unlikely that the publisher will spend 25+ hours of marketing manpower on a book which is expected to be at best modestly successful (it’s mainly up to the author to stop that from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy).

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