Some Thoughts on Book Signings (while they still exist)

Though the days of extended book tours at brick-and-mortar stores might be fading fast, good self-promotional skills never die. So if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in front of an audience of potential buyers at an event, here are some ideas from a former bookseller:

  • Practice reading when you’re by yourself first, then in front of a friend. Get comfortable with your own voice and your own words being read aloud.
  • At the signing, try not to complain. About anything. Don’t whine about how many planes you’ve been on, or how early you had to get up that morning to do a radio spot, or about the crappy sound system. This is the most important advice I can give you. The audience members are your potential customers and when you complain about a book tour, you’re complaining about them. Instead, thank your audience graciously for going to the trouble to come and see you. Afterwards, bitch to your husband/bff/publisher rep.
  • If your audience is small, avoid commenting on how few people are present. Instead, focus on the ones who did show up.
  • Be careful not to antagonize the booksellers or the events staff who host your signing, even if they forget the tech you asked for or mess up the number of books to order. Bookstore staff can be valuable allies in helping to sell your book.
  • Use humor, if you’re comfortable with it.
  • Bring along a friend or two. They can pad the audience and can give you valuable feedback afterwards about how your presentation played from the rows.
  • Ask if the audience can hear you. Many a book signing has been made more difficult because the audience can’t hear the speaker. You’re probably not as loud as it seems from where you’re standing. And on that note:
  • Always repeat the question. There’s nothing more tedious as an audience member than listening to the answer to a question they don’t know.
  • “Read” your audience. Check in with them to see how they’re responding. Watch for signs they might want to ask a question, or signs that your reading has gone on long enough.
  • Make sure you have water. Drink it.

Next up: I’ll go into more detail about successful book signings as well as ones that didn’t go so well. Stay tuned.

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6 Responses to Some Thoughts on Book Signings (while they still exist)

  1. I can see that my 22 years of retail customer service skills will give me a big advantage in knowing how to behave at book signings. 😉

    The audience will most likely have no problems hearing my voice, as I’m used to having to make myself heard over screaming children, constant P.A. calls, and other employees talking to me (all at the same time!). A bookstore seems like, ahem, a library by comparison.


  2. Chris Devlin says:

    Heh–I don’t think you ever need to worry about your voice being heard. 😉

    And yeah, it’s interesting how often the concept of customer service comes up in relation to self-promotion for a writing career. You, the writer, are the product or the business and the reader is your customer. It’s a good thing to bear in mind, no matter the method of promotion.


  3. Rebecca Kagan says:

    I think belonging to a critique group and reading aloud for them gives excellent practice for book signings.
    Nice blog site Chris!


    • Chris Devlin says:

      Totally true, Beckie–critique group is great practice for a lot of aspects of writing. (Like handling it when you get pounded!)

      Thanks! I’m having fun.


  4. Very insightful knowledge, Chris. Knowledge I hope to be able to use sometime here in the not too-distant future. It would be awesome to have throngs of adoring and/or maddened, impassioned, psychotic fans to tease and please with my words. 🙂


  5. Chris Devlin says:

    Heh. We’ll call it ‘the tease and please.’ People will think they’re getting an entirely different sort of experience than just a booksigning, which should pack ’em in.


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