Chip MacGregor

November 19, 2014

ASK THE AGENT: How can I make a book signing successful?


I just had an author friend write to say, “I’ve been asked to do a book signing party at our local bookstore. It seems like most booksignings I’ve been part of were a disaster. Do you have any tips for making a book signing successful?”

Anyone who has spent time in this industry has been to a dud of a book signing party. The author shows up, sits at a table by herself, and fidgets while a couple people wander by, ignoring her. Eventually an older woman hesitantly approaches, looking furtively around, and asks, “Hey… can you tell me where the ladies’ room is?”

Nothing is as deflating to an author as throwing a party and having nobody show up. The fact is, if you want to do a book signing, the first rule is simple: Don’t rely on the bookseller to get people there. They might send out a flyer, or put it on the company website… or they might now. (I remember one A-level author who showed up with me for a book signing only to find the staff hadn’t been told, there was no signage, and her boxes of books were actually locked in the manager’s office, and he was away on vacation. True story.) So, like in everything else in marketing, don’t rely on someone else to do the work – YOU do it, and have a plan for succeeding. Some tips…

1. Invite people. Again, don’t sit and wait for people to show up. Go out and invite them. Make it a party. Tell your family they need to show up. Personally invite all your friends – call them, send them notes, check back with them and get some commitments to be there. Focus on inviting some groups, since groups of people will make it feel like more of an event. (So invite your co-workers, your neighbors, the people at church, the people at the gym or the civic groups you belong to.)

2. Call people. Remind them. Bug them. Get them to commit to showing up. Events like this are successful if people show up. If they don’t show up, you don’t have a party; you have an empty room.

3. Make it a party. In other words, don’t just have people show up to see you, especially if it’s near your home town. Those folks can see you anytime. Have a theme. Make some noise. Do a reading. Dress up. Ask the bookstore’s event person for suggestions – if you get the bookstore staff involved, they’re more apt to act supportive of the event.

4. Bring stuff to give away. You want to SELL books, but you can give away swag. Bookmarks. Pens. Buttons. I’ve known people who have had drawings for bigger prizes.

5. Talk to everyone who comes. As an author, you’re most likely an introvert – but at a book signing, you’re going to pretend you’re an extrovert. So walk up to everybody who shows up, smile, thank them for coming, ask their name. If you need to, have a couple questions in mind to ask people. Be able to talk about your book without sounding like you’re desperate to sell some copies. And by all means, let the bookstore staff hear you say, “If you like this, you should check out these other books while you’re in the store.” Let’s face it, the bookstore isn’t doing this to be nice to you – they’re doing it to bring in potential book-buyers.

6. Have a handler there to manage the line, if there is one, and to chat up people while they’re waiting to get you to sign a book. A friendly and attractive person who can smile and chat up people at a busy booksigning is a real help to you.

7. Contact your local TV and radio people. Get in touch with the local arts and entertainment reporter of the paper. Tell them it’s a “local girl makes good” story, and invite them to be there. Make sure to build in time for an interview, before or after the signing.

8. Have someone taking pictures. You can use them on your website later. Make sure to get one with the bookstore staff.

9. If there’s a crowd, read from the book and take questions. If you’ve invited the local book groups or the local writing groups, they’ll want to hear you read a bit, and they’ll want to ask about your writing techniques. In a setting like that, read three or four passages from your book, for maybe 20 minutes, then answer questions for 20 to 30.

10. Have candy for everyone. If possible, serve coffee or wine, since food and drink loosen people up and make it feel like more of a party and less of a sales pitch.

11. Again, talk about how great the bookstore is. Mention friend’s books that are in the store. Or, if you’re not doing this at a bookstore (let’s say you’re doing this at a country club or a community center or a restaurant), then make sure to invite people to do something there, or buy something, or be involved in some way. In other words, try to get the venue and its staff on your side.

12. Get there early. No matter how well you plan, the arrangements won’t be right.

13. Dress nice – the rule of thumb is to dress one level above where your audience is. (So if they’re in jeans, you’re in business casual. If they’re in business casual, you’re in something a bit more formal.)

14. Show your personality. Your book reveals who you are, so readers want to see you. If you’re funny, show some humor. If you’re dark, offer them a bit of mystery. But don’t just show up thinking you can sign books, shake hands, and walk away. People who are coming want to either support you (if they know you) or get to know you (if they’re simply fans of your work). So they all want to see the real you.


What other tips would you offer to someone doing a book signing?

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  • Rose Marie Dunphy says:

    Great suggestions! I try to follow as many of them as I can. I have a book talk this Sat. at The Hampton Bays Library in Hampton Bay, NY at 1 pm. I’m hoping for a good representation of readers interested to hear me talk about my novel ORANGE PEELS and COBBLESTONES, and about my cookbook THE SCENT of ITALIAN COOKING. Wish me luck,
    Rose Marie

  • Phyllis Wheeler says:

    I wrote a blog post on this subject, after talking to a very successful author who buildings nearly all his marketing on book signings. He goes about book signings in an unusual way.

  • Chip, this is a great list. Having done as many book talks as I have, I know that every word of what you wrote is relevant.

    I would second Sue Brower about libraries. The good thing is that some of them offer an honorarium and/or travel costs. When I do library talks, I also visit bookstores in the area.

    Thank you, as always, for the relevant information you provide to authors.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      You bet, Saloma. Glad to see you comment on this. What else have you found that works at signings?

    • One of the things I might add is the preparation leading up to a book talk. Librarians, especially love when I put some thought into making things easy for them. Usually these things are scheduled months in advance. Normally once we’ve agreed on a date and a fee, I will send them a confirmation, an invoice, and I point them toward the press kit on my website where I offer a press release, my book images, an author photo, an event poster, a book poster, book discussion questions, and an introduction for the event, should they care to use it. Some take better advantage of these resources than others.

      About a month before the event, I will send them an email and ask if they would like for me to make any media contacts and ask for names and contact information. I follow through on these and often will get someone interested in running a story.

      A week in advance I email and ask if we are all set with the media I need, and if they are providing a night’s stay, I will check in about that. I let them know I plan to arrive an hour before the event to set up and then greet people as they arrive.

      By the time the evening of the event arrives, everything is in place. I arrive, set up, and normally people show up, especially if there has been any amount of publicity. I’ve had nights when people were turned away at the door. My average audience size is 61 people.

      One librarian… someone who isn’t prone to being effusive… told me how much he appreciated how well organized I was. He said my press kit was most helpful. He claimed I was the most organized of anyone he’d ever hosted before, even more so than the authors who are represented by a speakers bureau. I’ve had others who have also commented about the support I provided them.

      All that said, I am taking a hiatus from speaking at the moment. After 165 talks in the last four years, I am ready to sit back and be introverted for a while.

  • Johnnie Alexander says:

    Hi, Chip. I plan on doing my first book-signings this summer so I’m thrilled to have ideas on how to make it fun. My challenge is that I’m new to this area and don’t have the connections I had “back home.” Thanks for a keeper-post.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      A suggestion for you, Johnnie? Get a group of some sort to show up. A writing group, or a church group, or a civic group, or something. A group will make it look like a fun time.

    • Johnnie Alexander says:

      That’s a helpful idea, Chip. Thanks. I’ve joined one writing group and may join another one soon. (Getting known locally, right?)

  • Sue Brower says:

    Chip, this is an excellent list that every author should print up and post to their bulleting boards. Just two things to add…If you have a giveaway (a nice gift basket), make sure your entry form includes email addresses! This is a great way to build your own fan base that you can communicate with regularly. The second thing is that you should regularly visit the library branches in your community. They are always looking for programs and even if you are not selling a lot of books at the event, you are building relationships with your fans. All of the things above apply to a library signing as well.

    • Joseph Max Lewis says:

      Thanks Chip and Sue for some good tips on book signing. Sue, I met you at ACFW in Minneapolis the same year I met Chip and your class with Andy on the Submission to Published process was a great class. Hope all is well. Joseph Max Lewis

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Great thought, Sue. Thanks! (And for those who don’t know, that would be longtime Zondervan editor Sue Brower, now an agent with the Natasha Kern agency.)

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