For the first time in a long time I did book signings this summer and fall.
Delightful Summer Signings
My publisher assigned an enthusiastic new publicist to A Family of Strangers, and she arranged three signings as the book debuted. Two were out of town, lots of fun and productive. One was in Maryland pictured here where a niece and a cousin came to surprise me. And another was in Pennsylvania where a long time reader brought her Happiness Key quilt to share with the group–reminding me to finish my own, thanks.
The third signing was one of those that authors talk about at the bar during writers’ conferences. And not in glowing terms. But the two good signings made up for it.
Past Signings? Let Me Count the Ways
I’ve done signings where I’ve passed the time by pointing customers to the mall’s rest room. In contrast I’ve done signings where I can’t scrawl my name fast enough–although I’ll confess many of these were signings when my book was a free giveaway.
Then there were signings at quilt shows. I loved doing these when I was publicizing my Shenandoah Album series. Not only are quilters enthusiastic readers, if there was a signing slump at the show mid-afternoon, I could visit other booths and buy more fabric I didn’t need. Quilter heaven.
I have writer friends who organize massive signing schedules on their own, and I did a few of those in the earlier days of my career. Once Kylie Logan/Casey Daniels and I went out together to bookstores in Southern Ohio. I’m not sure how many books we signed, but we sure had fun and helped cement a friendship that continues today. Yet another time I traveled through Texas and Louisiana with some of my New Orleans writer friends in an RV, signing books and talking to readers. I know each of us remember that trip fondly.
My publisher organized other tours. I once traveled on a bus with writers who wrote for multiple publishers signing (successfully) at grocery stores and other non-traditional signing venues. I remember a stop on a different tour where I walked into a Borders (ah, remember Borders?) and thought something was wrong because there were so many people milling around. Turns out they’d come to hear me speak and get a book, too. That made up for yet another stop where I spoke to three people who had wandered in off the street to buy the latest John Grisham or Danielle Steel.
Then there was a different Borders signing complete with bagpiper because my book was set in Scotland, and yet another that Diane Chamberlain and I did together, complete with a chocolate sheet cake adorned with our names at the top of the New York Times bestseller list.
The Fabulous Buckeye Book Fair
Early this month before I left New York and Ohio for sunnier climes, I signed, not for the first time, at the all day Buckeye Book Fair in Wooster, Ohio. I sat with Karen Harper on one side and Kylie/Casey on the other. I signed dozens of books and chatted with many readers who’ve read everything I’ve written. It is always a pleasure to be at Buckeye and I was delighted to be invited again.
So why do writers do book signings? Is it for the money?
I’d love to say yes, but not really. I receive about 8% of the cover price of one of my books. That means if a book sells for $14.99 or so, I might receive $1.20 for each one signed and sold, but the money doesn’t arrive for many months until royalties are paid. So if I sell two dozen books, I’ll make about $29. That’s for anywhere from 2 to 8 hours of signing time. Not to mention the travel time, gas, writing time lost, and everything else that went into it like food, hotels, clothes.
So it’s not the money, right? Why, then?
I think I’ve hinted at the answer above. It’s not that complicated.
First, I get to meet my readers face to face. If there are no lines of readers waiting for autographs I can talk to each one, find out what they like that I write, find out who else they read and why, even get ideas for future books they’d like to see.
Second, I often have the opportunity to sign with other authors. Writing can be a lonely business. We don’t work in offices surrounded by others. We work alone and I rarely go to conferences now. So book signings are a great place to catch up with friends.
Finally, signing one book is the first link in a chain. Readers buy books, and then they share them. I searched for statistics but couldn’t find good ones, although this conversation on the lifespan of a library book was fun to read. Still, we know the average paperback is read many times by different people.
Readers tell their book clubs about books they’ve loved and suggest them for discussion. They pass them to neighbors who are looking for new authors. They give them as gifts, discuss them on social media, blog about books they love.
And loyal readers, who have discovered us at book signings, will buy our next book signed or unsigned. Because not only do they like our writing, they like us, too–if we are, indeed, easy to like.
Nobody’s asking, but here’s my advice to anyone who wants to host a book signing.
Any signing at an enthusiastic venue, with local publicity to draw in readers and a coordinator who wants to make us comfortable is automatically a successful signing. No matter how many or how few books we sell.
I’ll share a secret. There are bookstores that every author wants to visit. The word gets out when authors know we’ll be well treated. We don’t have to sell a hundred books. We need a smile, a warm handshake, lots of copies of our books just in case, and a newspaper article or advertisement to draw in readers. If you’re glad to have us, we’ll love being with you.
Am I right? As a reader, have you discovered new authors at book signings? I’d love to hear about it.