Why book signings and conventions are vital.
Nothing is better than face-to-face advertising. Signings are the “executive seminars” of the book world, putting your book in front of the CEO of corporate buying – the avid reader. Conventions are the “trade shows” of the publishing world, getting your book in front of marketing coordinators – possible readers.
If you’re familiar with the business and marketing world, what I’ve just said makes perfect sense. However, if you’re the average author, you have no clue what I meant by any of that. In fact, you’re probably trembling in terror at the concept of attending a book signing or convention since you’re most likely an introvert who prefers sitting behind your computer. Trust me, I understand.
If you’re an indie author, book signings and conventions can seem even more daunting because you have a limited support system in place. You literally have no other established authors (unless you have a lot of friends) to lean on to pick their brains about doing a signing/convention the right way.
With the three following tips, book signings and conventions can be huge successes for authors.
1. The icebreaker.
In my articles about creating book buzz before publishing your book, I go over the ever-important how to get a book signing in the first place. (Begin the article series here.) We’ll breeze right over that for now, and get to the on-the-spot tips.
An established icebreaker tempts the curious. People are curious critters. Once they see a table being established (by you or someone else) at a bookstore, they’re going to poke around, even if just visually. It’s important to provide something associated with your brand or your book/s as a visual prop to hook their curiosity into coming over to you for a conversation. For me, since my tag is “Let’s get weird together. Fantastically weird.” I’m able to put out just about anything of an unusual nature and I can customize it to the store or event I’m at.
However, many authors stick within their genre entirely. There would be nothing wrong with me setting up a bloody pair of gloves or police tape, even a sign that reads “Futures told here.” at my table. After all, my paranormal mystery series A Touch of Darkness and A Touch of Madness both revolve around those themes. At one convention, I traced a corpse police outline in black electrical tape on my tablecloth and spilled some red wine across it. Not more than ten minutes into my set up, a man approached my table and said, “I hope that wasn’t your last customer.”
His joke made me laugh and him laugh, and several other people hovering curiously nearby. That got us all to talking about customer service and joking around. In that one conversation, I sold four copies of my paranormal mystery books and three of a short story anthology. Not bad for hooking one customer with a five minute Halloween project for my table.
The best part was that anyone who wasn’t really my target audience knew almost right away that they should steer clear of my table. That was all right with me; there is no use wasting energy on customer who aren’t interested. You could be letting those who are get away.
2. Near yet far.
Like I said, people are curious. They see an author table and kind of float toward it if they’re a reader. There is however, the trouble with sales pitching. People want to know what your book or you are about, but they don’t want to endure the timeshare pitch they assume you have on deck. Since they’re expecting a pitch and they’re only mildly curious, they might avoid you altogether.
The solution? Have a small table nearby that has a stack of your books on it and a small, but noticeable stand up sign with “TODAY ONLY: Meet the author of [YOUR BOOK’S NAME].”
Customers can check out your book discreetly without a looming author standing right there. It becomes a relaxed and pleasurable browse. If customers are interested, they will come to you to ask if you are the author or to ask questions about the book.
3. Know your audience.
I will say this once: No one’s book is perfect for everyone. If you think that, you should go back into research mode to determine your target audience.
I write blood and gore, foul-mouthed characters and real-life endings…Not everyone’s style. Because of the topics and subjects I choose to write about, I know that my audience is more refined. And those are the customers I need to be targeting at a signing or convention.
Do I want to talk about my book to everybody? Of course I do. Do I engage with everyone who shows interest in my table? Of course I do. But I also have to pay attention to the person standing right in front of me. Did they just see books and come over? Did they linger, or are they anxious to move away? What is their body language, their facial expression? I usually engage anyone who glances at the books with a simple “What kind of books do you like to read?” If it’s clear that I’m not their topic, I’m not dishonest. I don’t try to make my writing fit their interests. If I know of someone or am sharing a table with someone else who does, I’m happy to give them a little information. It’s called an “easy out” for customers, and I get the bonus of helping them find something they do like. On a karma scale, it might help me in the future, but probably not. It’s just the right thing to do.
The good and the bad.
Book sales go up and they go down. One signing or convention can be amazing, and a string of them a bust. The real measure of success is whether or not you are engaging with readers, not necessarily whether or not you are selling books. Don’t get me wrong; of course, you want to sell books. You can’t make a living out of not selling books. But engagement is important too. Engagement builds your brand, and it can teach you a lot about future marketing efforts. (For more about how to build your brand, see my post here.)
I make lists at events. When I see people walk by with books in their hands, I try to make a note of the titles. Or I watch to see what sections they head toward. That tells me if I should book another signing at that location or if another venue might be more worth my time. I also make a note of the types of books people mention they do like to read. That can tell me about that part of town or that convention’s attendees and what they like/don’t like.
Regardless of how you use the information you come across during the signing or convention, you are guaranteed to have a successful book signing or convention at least in reader engagement with the tips I’ve provided above.
What tips do you have for increasing reader engagement? How do you measure a successful signing or convention? What type of icebreakers have worked/not worked for you at conventions?
BC Brown is the author of four novels and has participated in multiple short story anthologies. Having committed almost every ‘bad deed’ in the book of How To Be An Author, she now strives to educate others through humor and simple instruction, as well as use her celebrity to advocate for others.