Why Book Signing Events Are a Waste of Time

Book SigningWhen you first envisioned writing and publishing your book, I’ll bet you had several images about what would happen, including the book-signing events you’d be participating in. Let me see if I can guess how this vision goes: You’re sitting at a long table with stacks of books next to you, gracefully scribbling your autograph in countless copies for the breathless, eager fans waiting to meet you. Press and photographers crowd around you, hanging onto every word and laughing as you make charming and self-deprecating comments about your work and the world at large, all while sipping a sparkling glass of champagne.

Am I right? The champagne was a bit off the mark? Okay, but you get the picture.

While it may sound exciting to sit at a table in Barnes and Noble and enjoy a line of customers eager to purchase your book, that’s not how it usually goes down. My advice? Don’t waste your time with book signings. I once read that the average number of books sold at a book signing is eight copies. As a former bookstore owner, I can confirm that is about right (unless your last name is Grisham or Rowling…).

Consider what is involved. You have to first take time to try to book the appearance, which means trekking down to your local B&N, talking to the manager, and securing the date. Time spent = 1 hour.

Then you have to show up prepared, which means bringing along some items for your signing table. Maybe some bookmarks, handouts, a bowl of candy, some flowers, etc. So you arrive early to set up, then park it there for three hours, wrap up, and return home. Total time spent = 5 hours, bringing you to a grand total of six hours to sell an average of eight books! At that rate you’re not even earning minimum wage.

Back when I owned a bookstore, we held author events every weekend. Many authors sold fewer than five books, and I remember one author who didn’t sell a single book. Ouch.

The authors who sold more than those eight average books typically invited in their following. They had mailing lists, alumni groups, coworkers, and other networks that showed up to give support. Once in awhile, coverage in the local paper or news would stir up some shoppers, but even those mentions fell flat more often than not.

I was once part of a big book launch event for one of the Chicken Soup books. There were three of us local contributors, including one with some local celebrity appeal. We received coverage on the morning TV news and radio, and B&N positioned our table directly at the front door. It was a busy Saturday morning and we even had trays of free chocolate-covered strawberries on our table. We had all the makings for a stellar signing event. Those strawberries went like crazy! We were there for three hours and had plenty of shoppers stop by to chat and have a treat. Guess how many books we sold? Twelve. Hey, at least we beat the average!

Here’s a better option: conduct an EVENT. Show up to an event as a speaker, engage your audience, and you’ll sell plenty of books. Also an exception to the rule: your book launch party. When you promote the release of your book to friends, colleagues, and family, you’re going to make some sales.

One of Authority Publishing’s authors, Bob Quinlan, held a big book-signing event to launch his book: Earn It: Empower Yourself for Love. He set the event up at the local Borders, collected raffle prizes, invited everyone he knew, and even hired a live band! He also gave a short seminar on adding romance to your relationship. It was well attended and the buzz of activity caught the attention of shoppers, who also lined up to buy books. In the end, he sold around 100 books.

So instead of sitting alone at a table waiting for customers to wander by and feeling like a peddler, find more proactive and productive ways to generate book sales. Speak at local service groups and trade associations. Collaborate with other authors to hold a seminar. Host a contest, support a charity, or finally start using social media! And by all means, toast your success with that glass of champagne! Just save yourself the trouble of doing a book-signing event.



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4 Comments on "Why Book Signing Events Are a Waste of Time"

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  1. I agree. I have also had a bookstore insist I use treats from their instore coffee shop that cost a much higher price per piece than if I had made them or bought them myself. My profit for amount of costs and work done were not worth the expenses.

    • Sorry to hear that, Marilyn. Unfortunately these stories are all too common. I find the better place to focus your efforts on book sales is online or via speaking engagements. Best of luck to you!

  2. I guess I have to begrudgingly agree. I was the events director at a medium sized independent bookseller for five years and believe me, we had our share of, um, S L O W events! But it might be worth mentioning that there IS some reverberation after the event…signed copies in the store, the staff has met the author so more likely to chat up the title to customers, etc. But in general, point taken. It just makes me sad, you know?

    • I know what you mean, Helen. It’s unfortunate that these events don’t have more impact. However, it’s a good reminder for authors to turn their appearances into EVENTS by speaking or doing some other form of entertainment!

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