The Author’s Book Signing Checklist

Dear Authors – Aspiring and Newbies – This one is for YOU!

Tracee signing books!
Me! Signing some books!

This has been a banner year for me and I have been to many, many events and had such a whirlwind year touring, speaking and having fun. Super, duper fun. BUT, as my eyes still serve me well, I see a small problem that can be easily remedied and I’m asking you, Dear Authors, to please help me fix this problem. That problem is, shh…whispering… your Booksigning Table? It’s kind of lackluster.

You’ve arrived, you’re awesome, you are getting ready to have a book event! You’ve taken care and attention with so many wonderful details, from your appearance-a new outfit? To your perfume/cologne, to your minty fresh breath and perfectly coifed hair and then you unload your wares, your lovely products/merchandise, that stuff that I and other would-be readers are in eager anticipation of to purchase and consume and when I approach, what do I see after I look at, and admire your beautiful, so happy (sometimes timid, aw shucks you are) face? I see, to my horror:

  • A bare table (complete with scratches depicting remembrances of all kinds of awful stories that occurred before you got there)
  • Bent, dingy or tattered merchandise
  • Random items
  • Disorder
  • Chaos
  • No signage, and…and…
  • Last but not least, a tad bit of disgruntled-ness I sense, that your sales aren’t quite going as you envisioned.

Much like my Presenter Pet Peeves Blog post, below are just FIVE pet peeves for the would be author and his/her booksigning table.

  1. Buy, Buy, buy = bye bye. Remember, a signing (unless you are Nora Roberts) isn’t about a line out the door. It’s so wonderful if you have it, how blessed are you but it’s not always very likely the first few go rounds. You also DO NOT go around the store accosting people at random and passing out your wares without trying to ENGAGE them. Always look alive, look happy. You’ve written a book, its wonderful or why on earth did you even bother? Try approaching people and ASKING THEM, what they are looking for today? or “What kinds of things do YOU like to read?” Wait for it. “Oh really, well if you know someone or your husband (or wife) enjoys (insert genre of your book) please stop by my table. I’m having a signing today and would love to tell you more.” Give them a bookmark, smile and say goodbye. That’s it. Walk away, unless of course they start talking to you more. You could also be READY to recommend someone other than yourself, be truthful and say something like, I’ve heard that so and so is really good, AND if you’re ever looking for a romantic suspense set right here in the DC area, here’s my card. Leave quickly and do not tarry. Find your next victim (I mean customer).
  2. Take time and care with your table (and your merchandise) – That’s the gist of what the article is about but I couldn’t help but address some other VERY important issues as well. I’ve included a short checklist below. When you look prepared, people feel better about their purchase. Look a mess and people will run away. Keep your head up, smile at passersby and I’m sorry, this sucks for me too, know where the restroom is. I always know where the rest room is and I tell people after I politely tell them where the rest room is, “Hey, after you finish, come back and read about my book, I’m having a signing today.” Why? A. You gave them the right info, they are grateful. B. You didn’t bug them while they happened to have to pee. Win win. They can go, literally and if they come back GREAT. Truth be told, many people I say this -what I’m telling you to say- are both grateful but they are also embarrassed that you clearly are selling something and they aren’t really paying attention and they will come back.  (Note, they’ll also usually come back if you give them politeness and not “Oh My God, I do not work here, I can’t believe you’re asking me that!”)
  3. NEVER sit there and read your own book. I have done it a time or two, permission to smack me if you see me doing it. Also, no phone calls, checking e-mail or texting (unless its quick). Put it away. The only time your phone needs to be out when you’re the author at a signing is to take a quick selfie for your social media to promote your presence, take a photo with fans or MOST IMPORTANTLY to “chi-ching” that sale using the Square/Apple/Paypal, or other mobile payment apps.
  4. Thou Shalt Not Hold Bebe’s, Neyney’s or anyone else’s children during the event. Yes, when you first start out, your kids, and grandkids, your beautiful Momma, handsome hubby, may stop in to see you and to smile and beam at you (and otherwise stand around and look silly), they are proud of you and your accomplishments, as they should be. Visit, say hello but don’t sit at the table with grand-baby on your lap and try to keep family to the side so you can engage with a real, new, PAYING customer! Family should also know to step aside when someone comes so you can work it. Be a good family member, go to the food court or something.
  5. Thou SHALL EAT BEFORE your signing. I’m sorry but I don’t like food around my books. If I need a snack, I may step away or eat something fast and not messy. IF I am eating at my own signing, others are also likely eating, we didn’t get a break during a conference event or some other important reason that if I don’t get food, it might lead to my passing out. Ensure you remove food crumbs, and loose food packaging from around your table. REMOVE junk from around your table – people are visual, junk just silently screams chaos. If you can’t hide it, at least stack it neatly and organize it into the smallest amount of space possible. Ask the venue host if you can put some things in the back room.
  6. Here’s a quick rundown of my own Booksigning Checklist:
  • BOOKS! (if not supplied by venue) – (always check inventory BEFORE/AFTER each event so you can order more if need be)
  • PENS – You need one for yourself, I think Gel pens are great but sometimes they smear and that’s bad. You need one for folks to sign up for your newsletter – passing it back and forth is just odd.
  • Table cloth – it hides a multitude of sins and the venue often doesn’t supply it (always use a dark -black or patterned table cloth, it hides stains and pen marks) – Think of the dark table cloth as a frame or backdrop for you/your books
  • Book display easels – You can get these from craft stores like ACMoore and Michaels and even Target and they are really cheap here -even if you don’t have these, find ways to stack and prop your books up in a nice, intricate way
  • Business Cards / Bookmarks or Postcards (even if people don’t buy, give them something they can take with them and refer to later)
  • Private Coaching Card – follow up ( I do private coaching for writing and I have a short little introductory post card outlining what its all about and costs involved)
  • Square (if selling books) – OR whatever mobile payment app you use
  • Charging sticks for IPhone – I’m in love with this colorful phone charger from Bestbuy, Wal-Mart or any other similar store and there are others that have more power, charge faster and fit more devices at one time
  • Change (5 and 1 dollar bills) – depending on the cost of your book, have the right change
  • Teasers – Optional – Read my 5 Tips for Better SWAG post
  • Candy/Plastic Bowl – HAVE chocolate ONLY if the climate permits, like in the winter months. I don’t do chocolate in the summer, I don’t want it melting on my books or in my suit case or bag, hard candy is best. For more elegant events, like I’m going to a Holiday Sip and Shop – I might even order some cupcakes (only if I’m going to be there 2 hours or more) – I used to have a pretty glass bowl but it does not transport well and it adds to the weight of everything.
  • Join My Mailing List / Newsletter sign up form – just something you can grab and print out, nothing fancy. Also send this to yourself or put it in Dropbox – you’ll always be able to access it at a hotel business center if you’re doing a conference event. Trust me it’s worth the costs whatever it is, a couple of bucks usually, you can walk away with about 15 – 20 new newsletter sign ups and that’s an important, vital part of growing your mailing list and consequently, your fan base! I am guilty, I often forget it and I kick myself every time.
  • Copy of bio-short version (in case being introduced by someone else, always have one or give them a book and they can refer to the one in the back of your book -if it’s there)
  • Use a nice suit case with wheels or a nice tote bag to carry all this in. You will look that much better/more professional.
  • Price List – I am on the fence about this. I’ve had one and I haven’t had one and I can advocate both sides of the coin – DON’T have signage listing prices because NOT having one can evoke conversation and people will eventually ask. It’s one more opportunity to talk, to “sell” the story and to engage and people often make purchasing choices on the product but also the seller, and if they like you/your personality = chi-ching. Now, if you DO have a sign that lists the price of the book, people will see it and make up their mind (on price alone) and move on. IF you give people all the information they need, it can often kill curiosity and there’s no further reason to hang around. If you DO have a sign, I would say if you have more than two books, and other merchandise that you are selling, then you definitely want to list each item and the price.
  • An excerpt. You’d be surprised by how often at larger events you’ll be asked to read part of your story. Remember, read something short (people’s attention spans are limited and it’s really and truly hard to visualize something just from hearing your voice alone), read something that has tension, action and sounds interesting. I often believe most passages people select should be within the first 25 pages. Further than that, people don’t have the proper set up to see where you’re at. I would even print out an excerpt just to have/read, that’s in a larger print so I’m not squinting AND so I don’t have to handle my book.
  • Other OPTIONAL items include – Receipt Book (if someone request it and is paying cash-fewer and fewer people are requesting but every now and then I encounter one), autographed copy stickers, here and goodies for prizes or giveaways), FLOWERS – you can stop at the market on the way and get some flowers, or you can also have a pretty potted (short in stature) plant (that looks healthy). Overall, you’re sitting behind a table and it should be a work of art (personal thought). Do little things to make it seem like people are visiting with you and can “stop-by” to have a conversation. Isn’t that what you want at the end of the day? To have a conversation about your work and how excited you are over it, and to TELL OTHERS about it? Also, I said short plant, be sure to use something that doesn’t overpower your table. Think accent piece NOT wedding centerpiece. Get more ideas from my own table that I decked out for My Anchored Hearts Launch Party Pictures here, and above. I LOVE flowers!
  • For My ALWAYS-Prepared Super Uber “Pocket Protector” Types – A laptop or Ipad could show your book trailer just off to one side of your table, which is cool and it might even be fun to add some headphones, people could watch it (if it’s short) and be like “Oh, wow that was cool,” and you never know where you’ll be or what kind of operation the planners that be are running so sometimes  tape, an extension cord, a pair of scissors and a safety pin come in real handy for anything. All things you can get from the dollar store.

While this list seems lengthy, it ALL should fit into two tote bags or one, small rolling suitcase. I often have to do events solo and to packing strategically and lightly is a must. You can cut out on a couple of things here and there and still have a nice looking set up. Regardless of having any of the stuff I’ve  listed above, my most important objective is to look prepared and to be and look ORGANIZED. Even if I forget something, I maintain an all is well attitude even if that one thing (an important thing, not just something you can borrow) wreaks havoc on my mood.

Lastly, if you are indie author, NEVER apologize for being an Indie author – your book cost is what it costs. If people don’t like it, it’s OKAY. Having a mobile payment option will ensure no one has any excuse for not buying a book. I love Square (or whatever mobile app you use) because it has made it so easy for us small business owners. People are carrying cash less and less these days, make it easy for them. If you need to learn the mobile payment app, take time to learn it so if you are by yourself, you can process payments more quickly. Having a friend/helper is not always possible and when you’re solo you must learn to process payments quickly.

Tutorials – Note, below, these are just  basic tutorials on the three most popular mobile payment systems. There may be more involved learning that you need and all the apps have a different percentage they will take (transaction fee) from every sale. Less is not always better – some have better customer service/troubleshooting and toll free help available and a few cents to give them per sale more may be worth it.

Finally, take pride. I still love IN-PERSON signings because I love people, engaging and meeting them. Yes, social media is a great way to sell more books and even though the bookstores have dried up, they do still exist, they still do live events. And live events are to be had NOT just at the bookstore but at conferences, book fairs/festivals, after speaking talks/workshops, in nonconventional (but now the norm) settings such as coffee shops, spas and hair salons. I hope that the in-person event will never, EVER go away. As long as it exists, I’m going to take care and pride in my display that I will use to feature my merchandise and ultimately, I hope you will too. Send me some pictures to Teegarner@aol.com and I’ll put them up on Facebook.

Finally! For real this time. If you think this list/advice is for people only with books, you are so wrong. I’m not JUST talking to authors but to people, I see you across from me at said events, that’s all of you, other small business owners, Stella and Dot, Avon, Mary K, Pampered Chef, Usbourne Books, Tastefully Simple and on and on. If you have merchandise, of ANY kind, please, please, pack it up with care, display it nicely and take time to take care of it. It’s all more important to your success than you think.

Happy Signing and Happy Selling (no matter what your product is)!


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