Self Publishing 103: Book Signings

My apologies. I promised that Self Publishing 103 would be full of promotional goodies but I’ve just been inspired by a Facebook group I belong to (thank you, Clarisse!) to talk about what happens after you get the Golden Ticket: a forum at Barnes & Noble. Or any bookstore, really.

But I’m a B&N girl so that’s what I’ll be focusing on. Say you’ve done all of the right things and now your returnable, self published, paper book is getting time in at the store. This could mean anything. It could mean you are having an honest-to-goodness book signing with chairs and everything or just being allowed to stand next to a mini mission table covered in your books, on a busy Saturday. Sweet!

Back in the day, it was a requirement for one of us booksellers to hang out with a writer at their table but after the recession, hours slimmed down and now authors are generally on their own unless their last name is King or Martin or Patterson or they’ve stumbled into a signing at the NYC Barnes & Noble castle of dreams.

This means many authors have had to become salespeople. I’ve listed below the best to worst author behaviors I’ve seen through the years and the ones that are most successful. For inspiration think about your favorite authors and how they behave during live Facebook feeds and on stages in universities. Humble, approachable, knowledgeable.



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The Bookseller

This is the sweet spot. Classy and approachable.

The idea of selling my own book isn’t jarring to me but it’s because I’ve spent so many years hand selling for Barnes & Noble and B. Dalton. But I can understand that if you have no sales or retail experience, this can be scary. Especially since we writers tend to hide in houses working on our books. It’s not like most of us wheel and deal for a living. It’s comparable to being put on a stage and realizing you have stage fright.

The Bookseller stands around their display and smiles in a pleasant way and says hi to people as they pass. They fish. They wait for someone to look through their books and answer the customer’s questions before easing into any sort of “sales pitch” about their books and how great they are. Be patient, it’s a dance.

Before your big day, practice a brief sales pitch about your book in case you’re asked. Would this pitch make you want to buy the book? Then remember the five best things about your book so you can have that in your arsenal in case you get a crowd and don’t want to repeat yourself. Also, make sure you ask the interested customer questions. How are they? What genres do they prefer to read? Are you savvy enough to tie any genre to your book in some creative way?

Practice in the mirror, your sincere “thank you for talking” face because many people will have a convo with you and still pass on your book. Maybe it’s money or not their cup of tea. If you graciously thank them for the talk, they may come back later and pick one up before checking out. I’ve seen it happen and it’s because they liked the way the author made them feel.



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The Used Car Salesman

You’ve been there. Maybe you’re passing the cosmetic counter at a big mall and the saleswoman is standing waiting for someone and you’ve…made eye contact. If she was The Bookseller, she would let you browse for a minute and ask if you need anything and answer your questions but 9 times out of 10, she’s going to spray you with perfume or start telling you about the new sale blah, blah, blah. That’s her job.

The good news is that you’re a people person and you’re comfortable in a selling role. You just need to learn how to relax and not attack a potential customer before they’ve even looked at you or your display. Don’t start the sales pitch right away. Don’t talk loudly and wave your arms like a crazy person or practice theatrics or force your book on this poor person. You’re an author, dammit. Come off as someone who sincerely would like to talk or get to know this customer.

Now, The Used Car Salesman can actually sell some stock but…many people come back and return these books because they’ve felt bullied into buying them. Then you lose that sale.



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The Loner

This is a natural reaction from authors who are nervous and are uncomfortable having to sell their book and boy, howdy, does it turn people off. This is the author who sits down and plants their nose in a book, ignoring crowds and possible customers as they pass. They’re just not sales people and don’t want to come off as needy. Even if a customer takes the bait and looks at a book on the display, The Loner will look up, maybe smile, and go back to their cell phone. You’re not going to sell lots of books this way. You may even turn off potential fans because it appears that they are bothering you.

I get it. You’re shy or you’re uncomfortable but do you want your book to sell? Get off your butt and stop hiding behind a book or phone. Yes, you are going to be rejected by passing people but that’s life. Ask a trusted friend to help you practice being more personable and gain some confidence. Look at you! You just wrote a book! You’re something to see! Buy a new outfit for the event so you feel extra confident and sassy.

P.S. I want to give myself a shout out for finding this most perfect gif ever, to illustrate a point I’m trying to make.



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The Celebrity

This is my favorite one to write about because I’ve seen it often. Mostly with men. Mostly with Sci-Fi writers for some reason, though I have seen this from one local woman who writes mysteries. These are the authors who feel as though they can now treat others as mere mortals. They are not nice to booksellers, customers, or even family members who came to support them. Actually, The Celebrity tends to ignore most people. They treat you as if you should be wildly impressed and they are one step away from saying, “don’t you know who I am?”

That’s how this one writer in particular came off at one of the last signings I did. He labeled his book similar to the works of J.K. Rowling and Star Wars. It wasn’t. None of us at the store could get past the second chapter. He was in his mid 30’s, his mom was his “agent”, and he forced me to read a script to the audience before his book signing, a “tongue in cheek” introduction to his greatness. I should have crumpled it up and tossed it at his bald head.

But I had to keep my job so what can you do.

I can’t be much help here. When someone has crossed this line it’s more about who they were before they self published and who’s surrounding them and you can’t change such circumstances or personality traits.



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  • Don’t cry or look sad if you are alone at your table. Does that sound weird? Yeah, I’ve seen it happen. Hover with confidence and a slight smile as if you can’t wait to talk to someone.
  • Like I always say, never piss off a bookseller. Booksellers are your secret armies on the front lines, ready to sell your book if they like it AND you.
  • Dress for your audience. If you’re a YA writer, this doesn’t mean you have to put on some Converse and join Kik. Just dress appropriately. I once saw an author who wrote self-published mysteries geared towards seniors. Think Murder, She Wrote. This young woman wore a ginormous, pentagram necklace and low cut top and as she wandered her table, her target audience would look at her and avoid. Like steering around the table avoided. Her books looked pretty interesting but I didn’t have the heart to tell her that elderly people might not appreciate pentagrams and black lipstick.
  • If you can’t get a big ‘ol book signing at the store, ask the BDSM CBDM if you can put your books on a mini mission on a busy weekend and try to hand sell them. You never know unless you ask!


Bonus Story:

If you had a low to zero turn out for your signing, don’t fret. I always remember journalist, Candace Bushnell who wrote the famous book, Sex in the City which became the famous series.

When the series was still on television and insanely popular, Ms. Bushnell had a signing set up at the Kenwood Barnes & Noble near me. We don’t get a lot of heavy hitters where I live, so I really wanted to go but I had to work. One of my fellow booksellers went instead and reported back that there was one lone person in the sea of chairs, waiting to hear Ms. Bushnell speak. ONE PERSON. Eventually a few stragglers who were already in the store decided to join in, but the CRM was pretty embarrassed. I can’t imagine how the author felt.

How did this happen? It’s usually luck and/or miscommunication. The store may not have promoted the event well or at all or didn’t put the event signage in a spot where it was most visible. The author’s publisher may have also dropped the ball as they should have pressed the store to make sure they were promoting the signing. There might have been a big event in Cincinnati, competing with the signing. It may have been a bad date/time. Ms. Bushnell may not have sent out emails to let fans in Ohio know she was going to be there.

If it can happen to an author at the height of their fame, it can happen to anyone.



*Comic by Tom Gauld


Nicolina Torres
Nicolina Torres

Nikki worked for Barnes & Noble for 15 years, in seven stores. She is the author of This Red Fire, Young Nation, and Girls Who Wear Glasses. She prefers to live in the country and is a new aunt to a potential bookworm.

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