Book Signing FAQ

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Author’s Note: Here’s another holiday reprint, a FAQ based on some questions I answered in my old, and now-defunct, online forum. There’ll be a couple more of these FAQs next week.

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Once more, one of my critique group partners bounced a few questions off me on our forum, and I’m presenting them here for the edification of the masses. This group of queries pertains to the joys and pitfalls of coordinating and attending book signings. Feel free to share your own experiences in the comments section!

What do you normally do? Just call the bookstore (Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc.) and ask?

Yup. Call and ask! The worst thing they can do is tell you to piss off (and sometimes it happens, though not usually in such plain terms!).

Who do you talk to about it? A manager I assume?

You do talk to the manager. Barnes & Noble stores typically have a CRM (Community Relations Manager) specifically for putting together signings and other activities at the store. A few place these duties on the store’s general manager. FYI, if you go on the B/N site, search for stores and highlight the links, each URL has a four digit store number at the end. The email address for the CRM will always be CRMXXXX@bn.com, where XXXX=store number.

Borders, however, does not empower each store to order their own books, etc. Therefore, you make contact with the manager and they’ll get in touch with the regional ordering rep… it’s an extra step though, and make sure you stay on top of them. The independent stores I’ve worked with typically reserve event planning for their managers, as well.

And you can sell your books at these things?

Yeah. The best arrangement for the author is when the store orders the books. Most stores won’t do business with you if your publisher doesn’t offer a 40% discount and a return policy, so make sure your publisher offers those. If they do, there’s no earthly reason why a store shouldn’t be willing to order your books, though several managers have given me an unearthly answer or two. There’s no risk to them; if you don’t sell out, the return policy means the publisher will take the unsold books back.

The other way is to sell on consignment. You bring the books and the store takes a cut. Your local indie might just give you your share out of the drawer, but the big chains won’t, and you’ll have to wait for a check from corporate. I’ve done this once, and only because the store hadn’t ordered the books as previously agreed upon. I had copies in my truck and wasn’t about to tell my wife we detoured to Mississippi with a two year-old for nothing!

What does the store get out of it? Your promotion bringing in people to hopefully buy other stuff?

They get profit on the books you sell, and yeah, some people might come in to see you and leave with other merchandise. That’s always a plus! Also, like I said before, the store is venturing NOTHING. If you only sell one copy, you both win.

What are some tips or things to look out for when getting this going?

Depending on your publisher, you can sign at three Barnes and Nobles and still have a fourth tell you they can’t order your book because it’s Print on Demand. All this means is that the publishers print the books when ordered, thereby saving themselves warehouse costs, etc. Corporate logic still seems to equate this to self-publishing. Be patient while they finish shooting themselves in the foot, and just call the next store on your list.

Schedule signings at least a month out; most stores put together a calendar of events, print a poster, etc. and also need time to order the books.

Stay on top of the managers even after the signing is scheduled. Sometimes, they forget to order the books. Sometimes, there’s an ordering/delivery snag. Always, they forget to call you about these things until either the day before the signing or not at all. And guess who looks like a moron because they’ve posted on Facebook, blog, etc. about the signing that is no longer happening? Not them. YOU. I hate that shit.

Do a press release for the media in the area surrounding the location of your signing. I’m not going to lie; unless you’re famous, 9 out of ten media outlets you email won’t give a damn, but one is better than zero, right? I’ve done newspaper, radio and Internet interviews in conjunction with various signings and book releases. It’s fun, gives you more material for your website, and increases awareness of your work, even if only by a small fraction.

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