I've had several people write in lately with words to the effect of, "Here's what I most want to know about publishing…"
Tammy wrote and said, "The one thing I would most like to know is how can I make a booksigning successful?"
Booksignings can be terribly depressing experiences. Let's face it — a signing is based on celebrity, not quality of craft. So even if you've written a wonderful book, if nobody knows who you are, they aren't apt to show up and try to meet you. (I once did a signing where a guy came and spent 40 minutes trying to talk me into signing up for Amway. No kidding.) But three people I represent (Ginger Garrett, Kimberly Stuart, and Chris Coppernoll) just had a great booksigning experience in Des Moines, Iowa. After watching these authors (none of whom are a household name…yet) get a hundred people into a store and sell ten or twelve cases of books, I asked them what they'd done to make it work. Here's a summary of some of their wisdom.
Remember that nobody comes to a signing for an author who is unfamiliar to them. And yet the goal is to get people in the door, meet them, and tell them about your book. So think of a signing in three stages…
First, get people in the door. Contact everyone on your mailing and email list. Do so more than once, and be very clear about date, time, and place. Go to libraries, bookstores, reading groups, coffee houses, churches, and any organization that may find your book interesting, and solicit their participation. Don't just tell them about the signing — ask them to help you make it successful. It's numbers that drive a signing more than anything else. If you can afford it, do a mailing with postcards to likely participants — expensive, but effective. Arrange for media the days prior to the signing — a local radio talk show or TV news crew looking for a good human interest story will help spread the word. Contact the newspaper and offer them a story angle. If you're a Christian novelist, connect with the local ACFW chapter and ask them to show up in support (same goes with RWA or any other writing organization). Check with Borders and B&N to see if there are local writers' groups that may enjoy rubbing shoulders with you. If there's a college in town that has a writing program, invite the students to come out and talk books. If you're doing a signing in a city where there is a publishing house, invite the editors — they love to hang out with other people in the industry. (Many writers don't realize that it's typical for editors from every house to be at a big New York signing.) And ask your publisher if they have any sales reps in the area — a great way to connect with the people actually pushing your book. Again, the goal is to have as many people walk in the door as possible. This all takes work — but a big crowd suggests to everyone that "this is a big event," and therefore you must be pretty important.
Second, meet them. Don't just say hello — offer the folks who come in the door something. It might be food, or a chance to win a free book, or the opportunity to talk writing and books. Give them some content — in some venues you can even schedule a brief workshop or talk to the crowd. Chat them up, bring a hostess who is great at greeting people as they come in the door and saying, "Wouldn't it be great to meet a bestselling author? Well, you're in luck!" Get someone to steer people your direction.
Third, pitch them on your book gently. Think of a book-signing as a relationship event rather than a sales event. You really want to meet these folks who have taken time out of their lives to stop in and see you. Talk to them. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Let them see you as a real person. If they like you, they're much more apt to purchase your book (in fact, they're more apt to purchase all your books). The goal should be more on friend-raising, not fund-raising. If that doesn't appeal to you, then book-signings aren't for you. But try to capture names and email addresses, so you can stay in touch later.
Bring a new Sharpie to sign with, and have a backup. And always ask how to spell their name before signing the book. Always. I once met a guy whose name was "Bob," but he spelled it "Bobb." No kidding. And you won't make friends if you misspell their name. I hope this helps. Most booksignings are deflating experiences for authors, because they come in with high hopes, then spend an hour smiling and pointing people to the bathrooms and the stack of Karen Kingsbury titles in the corner. The fact is, if you're not a celebrity, having a booksigning may not be a very helpful idea (and it's downright painful to your ego when somebody looks at your book, glances at you, sniffs, and moves away). So try to make it an event, get people in the door, and you'll stand a much better chance of surviving with your self-esteem intact.
Lucinda wrote to ask, "The one thing I need to know is what should be on my author website?"
Your site should include a dynamite photo of yourself, where the reader can see you clearly, and you look charming and cute (if at all possible). Have a professional do the job. You should have an intro that tells the reader why they are visitng your site and what they can find there. Give them encouragement to check out your various pages. Include a well-written bio. You should have your book covers, with blurbs about the books and info on how to order them. And endorsements for both your books and your self. Show off some great reviews, if you've got them. Include sample chapters, so that readers can delight in your work. (Don't worry about "giving away" your writing — you want to give away something on your site.) Make sure to have a link to your blog, and include mentions of awards you've won, places you're speaking, and books you've got coming out. Audio or video clips from when you've done TV and radio programs are nice (or you can simply record an interview and post it). Have links to interviews with you or profiles that have been done on you. Have something about your speaking schedule, if you have one, complete with dates, locations, and contact information for the event. Assuming you're always giving away books, you should have info on how the reader can get a free book. And, of course, show the reader a way to contact you. Many authors include links to their publisher, their agent, their speakers' bureau, and other sites that would be of interest. Check out the author websites of Ginger Garrett and Jenny B Jones — two authors I represent who have dynamite sites.
Note what's not here: Lots of photos of you with your dog. Pictures of your grandchild's graduation. Why authors feel a need to show me pictures of their dogs and grandchildren is beyond me, though my wife tells me some readers find that sort of thing interesting.
And may I offer the big lesson? Capture the name and email address. That's what will help you when it's time to market your book, but readers are wary of handing over that information in this day of spammers. So give away something of value, trade it for a name and email, and you'll discover people are much more willing to swap their personal info with you.
Got a question about publishing and writing? Let me hear from you.