Why Book Signing Events are a Waste of Time for Authors

New authors often ask me about book signing events.Why Book Signing Events are a Waste of Time for Authors They want to know how to get them set up and what to do. My advice? Don’t waste your time.

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. A long time ago I read somewhere 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 and talking to the manager. 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. The vast majority of authors sold eight books or less. I remember one author who didn’t sell a single book and many who sold less than five. Ouch.

The authors who sold more than eight 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 our 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 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! Just save yourself the trouble of doing a book signing event.

Did you know we host a year-round Nonfiction Book Awards program? Check it out!

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3 Comments on "Why Book Signing Events are a Waste of Time for Authors"

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  1. T.E. Watson says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    Everything in this post is exactly correct. I have stopped doing book store signings entirely. I do , however, sell at special events, festivals, and many other venues. I sell directly to the buying public. Doing this on average I sell some two to three hundred books. Not only do I keep control of what is being sold, I also keep almost all the sales , extracting and accounting for possible setup costs for the venue. I do not have to be concerned about returns, nor do I worry about if there is going to be enough stock on hand. The venues are always promoted ahead of time and they always have something in the promotion about having an author in attendance at the gig. I go in , set up the way I feel will look good and coordinates what I have book wise ( children’s books), and then people come to me , and they always do.
    This is an excellent article for those who want to know about the real world of authorship. Thanks Very Much

    • Thanks for your feedback! This is excellent advice for other authors to follow–go out and find your appropriate venues!

    • I do agree with T.E.Watson, Conventions and Festivals offer pre free marketing and thousands of bulk buying public, so renting a booth although expensive, will definitely get you exposure and sales. The downside is that you have to order and carry a huge lot of stock , which is ok if you have lots of money and are prepared for the hall of everything. I am published so my publisher orders and distributes everything to all my events with the stores, that is a great benefit. I just show up! I do have a marketing team that I have put together they assist me where needed, that is also helpful! You need to learn to build your teams from loyal fans.

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