How To Survive and Stand Out at a Book Event: 5 Essential Strategies

Monday, April 11th 2016 • Advice, Books, Events

Yesterday, I was signing at the LA Times Festival of Books at the SCBWI booth. It was my second year participating and one of many, many book events that I have participated in. I was surrounded on either side by several different authors, each of whom had come prepared with a variety of decorations, swag, and book displays. One played music related to her book while another brought battery-operated lights and an astronaut helmet. Another showed up with five books and looked around at the various displays and told me that she thought she’d thought of everything but felt woefully unprepared. She asked me what had proved successful for my signings in the past, and it made me think. What were the questions that I had before my first signing, and what had worked for me?

For example, how many books do you bring? How do you get people to buy your book? How do you sell books without turning people off? How do you promote signings? How can you make the most of your book signing?

Luckily, the advice I have for book signings boils down to five essential strategies.

Please note that most of these strategies are geared to a signing at an event, panel, etc. where you are competing for attention. For your own personal signing, these will still be helpful, but realize you won’t necessarily have to seek the spotlight in the same way.

1. Bring something for people to admire, to take home, and to keep them thinking about your book.
These three things are all you need to pull a passerby’s attention to you AND they’ll fit on a small table if you’re sharing with other authors. For the “something for people to admire,” think about that astronaut’s helmet that the author next to me had. Her book was about a young child in space, and it drew kids to her picture book immediately. Once they were in front of her, she could talk about the book and hook them on the content. For me, I love the cover art of Mara and Miyuki, so my “something to admire” was simply my books propped up on small display easels.

Next, you want something for people to take home. For this year’s Festival of Books, I brought postcards from Black Hill Press that displayed my book’s cover art as part of the Marcos Chin collection. I also put out my business cards. For your book, you might consider bringing personalized pencils, pins, or bookmarks made. Basically, put a freebie out that people can grab that will later remind them of your work.

Finally, find something to keep them thinking about your book. Maybe this overlaps with the previous category, or maybe you bring something additional with a link to a website to learn more about your book. Maybe it’s a raffle ticket that adds them to a subscription list. Maybe it’s a QR code that you display that takes them right to your website. Keep them thinking after their swag bags are full from the event!

2. Practice and perfect your elevator pitch.
When people walk up to you, many will expectantly pick up your book and look at you for an explanation. Have a quick pitch (something you could say on a brief elevator ride) about your book ready to go. It should be friendly and intriguing, something to get them to examine the book further.

Don’t have an elevator pitch? There are plenty of websites that provide guidance on putting these together, and you can also post on the websites like the Query Tracker Forum to get feedback on your pitch.

Side note: This is personal preference, but I don’t mention the price of a book unless the attendee asks for it.

3. Learn as much about the event as you can and participate, participate, participate!
Before the event, do as much research as you can. This is helpful for many reasons because it gives you context for the event, but it will also give you something to talk about with people before, during, and after the event. For example, when I did my signing at the LA Times Festival of Books, I researched the other book talks, panels, and authors that would be involved. Then, when when I posted on social media, I could do some informed signal boosting. People then started asking me questions, and I could answer correctly. It made me look like an expert! Then, during the event, when people would come up to me to talk about a poet that had read or a panel they’d watched, I had something to talk about. I wasn’t just there for me and my books. Instead, I was there for the conversation, and conversation is so much more valuable. To replicate this for your signing or event, make sure you participate in Twitter conversations around the event, post questions, and read the information on the event’s website. Be part of the dialogue. Engage!

Finally, make sure you promote that you will actually be at the event! This is especially important when you are a part of a smaller pool of signers (at a panel, for example) because you need to drive the attendance. Hit up friends in the area to come support you, advertise at bookstores, and use social media to engage a conversation about the event. Avoid posts that boil down to “buy my book at [event],” but DO make sure that people know that this is an opportunity to meet and dialogue with you.

4. Be friendly and open to attendees, fellow authors, and anyone else who wanders by.
It is not a competition between you and your fellow signers. If an attendee approaches the author next to you, don’t jump in and try to pull them away. This will turn them off to you and your book. Instead, support each other! If you write young adult and the author next to you writes middle grade, learn their elevator pitch and send the kids that are too young for your book over their way. Chances are, they’ll return the favor!

Also, if you follow the previous tip and immerse yourself in the event, you’ll have plenty to say to people who wander up to your booth. They might be more inclined to hear you out if they realize that you’re part of the overall picture and not just there for self-promotion.

5. Don’t forget the necessities!
For an event or a signing where you are a part of a bigger group of authors, bring 10-15 copies of your book. This is, of course, unless you are super popular and can expect to sell fifty copies. In that case, follow your publisher’s advice. Beyond your book, bring water and an easy but filling snack (granola bar, trail mix, etc.). Bring cash and a card reader for transactions. Bring colorful Sharpies for signing. Dress in layers since weather can be finicky. Bring sunscreen if you’re outside. Bring your business cards to exchange with the other authors/participants/publishing industry professionals that you may meet. This last one is incredibly important! You never know who you might meet and you do not want to be unprepared for such a momentous meeting.

Hopefully, these tips help make your next event go smoothly! For those of you who are experienced in this area, what are your tips for signings? For the newbies, what are your questions? Feel free to comment and I’d be happy to answer them!


© 2013 Veronica Bane. All Rights Reserved.