Book signings – What to expect & my observations

anya breton

So you’re an author who wants to do a book signing? You’re probably wondering what to expect and what you’ll need. Let me help you out!

First, do not sign up for a book signing assuming you’re going to make a profit.

Unless you’re a superstar, you likely won’t break even. Book signings are for meeting readers new and old and for networking with other authors. They’re to get your name out there.

Here are a few supplies you’ll need, suggestions on how to be a success, and observations on what works and what doesn’t.

Necessary overhead

You’ll need to invest in several things to make a successful signing.

  • Banner / large sign with your name.
    On my second signing I didn’t have a banner and a blogger who specifically had been looking for me walked past me no fewer than three times before she accidentally found me. So unfortunately a banner is a must. This is an issue where if you don’t follow the herd, you get left behind. A banner is going to run you at least $75, likely a bit more. But it’s a one time fee for an item you’ll use again and again.
  • Table cloth
    Unfortunately not all signings come with table clothes. Get one that matches your brand. Tia Catalina mixes a patriotic colored table cloth with a Fourth of July table runner with white lights that catches the eye from across the room. Jillian Jacobs has a green cloth to match her green moose. What would your color/pattern be?
  • Books!
    This may be a no-brainer for some and may be a shock to others. At the majority of signings you are responsible for bringing your own stock of books. That means you have to preorder a number of copies from your publisher or Createspace on the off chance someone will want them. The good news is if you don’t sell them all, you can use them for the next signing. Also, you will not be selling e-books. You can hand out materials that suggest someone buy an e-book, but that will be through the retailer of their choice rather than you. Again, since there has been confusion, signings are for print books only.
  • Displays
    You need an easy way to display your books otherwise they’ll fall over if someone bumps your table. Check out the dollar store for cheap frame or plate holders. Or splurge on the nice ones at your local craft store. Look in the picture frame section.
  • Marketing/promo materials
    Printed materials with book cover, title, web address, and (if it fits) blurb are a must. Readers may not buy a print book from you but they may go home and buy the e-book. You can even offer to sign the promo items. Print them on your printer or try a place like Overnight Prints or Vistaprint. Watch for sales and coupons on both and time your print jobs for when they’re the cheapest. FYI, sometimes its cheaper to buy several sets of 50 materials when you really need 200.
  • Swag
    Entice readers with swag, or just give them something to remember you by. See this post for more ideas.
  • Sign advertising your prices
    Print out a simple sign or get a chalk/white board letting readers know the cost of your books and how they can pay (cash/charge). I got one of these combination signs for $5 at Hobby Lobby…and then I ended up taping a printed sign on top of it.
  • Markers and pens
    You’ll need some good markers and pens to sign things. Most of the signing you’ll be doing will be for other authors (they’ll send around tote bags). Make sure you have at least a black Sharpie, a silver marker that will show up on dark material, and several pens with which to sign your books and other papers.
  • Newsletter sign-up sheet
    This is even better if you have a giveaway for newsletter subscribers. I picked a winner a week later and mailed the prize out but I had it on hand to entice people to sign up. Don’t have a prize? No problem, people will still sign up if you leave the signup sheet on the table.
  • Cash to make change
    Few people will have exact change. Make sure to bring lots of $5 and $10 bills so you can make change.
  • A credit card processor
    Not everyone will have cash. You don’t want to lose a sale, so make sure you get a credit card processor. With most companies/processors the devices to scan a card are free but the service behind the scenes will take a portion of your sale (a small portion). I use this Square that plugs into my iPhone. Paypal has a similar setup that works with your Paypal account. I picked Square because I liked that they had a web store component.
  • Your phone or Wireless enabled tablet
    For the credit card processing above. And to take selfies with readers!
  • Something to haul all this stuff!
    Invest in something portable and heavy duty. I’m short on space at home so I bought a portable collapsable bin a lot like this one. But if you’ve got a set of luggage with nice wheels on it, go ahead and use that. Whatever you do, don’t load your stuff up in multiple boxes unless you’ll have a helper to help carry.


  • Engage readers on topics other than books
    Readers will wander near or stop at your table to look at swag. Do you like their t-shirt? Tell them so. Exclaim about how much you like their necklace. Where did they get it? Find out where they’re from and chat about that. Most people will answer questions and stay a little longer. But let them ask you about your books.
  • Elevator pitch
    Now that they’ve asked you, tell them what it’s about. BUT, beware if your book is so complicated it takes a full paragraph explanation to scratch the surface, the reader is going to go glassy-eyed and walk away. You have to be able to condense your book down to 1-2 snappy sentences. We call this the “elevator pitch.” If they’re interested in the pitch, they’ll grab the book and read the blurb.
  • Price
    Price your books in regular, round amounts like $5, $10, $15, $20 otherwise making change will be a nightmare. And I find it’s best that all or most of the books have a similar price.
  • Bundles/Deals
    Offer bundles that entice a reader to buy more. e.g. 1 book for $10 or 3 for $20. This is particularly helpful if you have a series. You can offer a series bundle deal!
  • Have proofs? Offer discounts
    Have proofs or slightly damaged books? Offer them at a discount. Just be sure to let the reader know what’s wrong with it before they hand over their money. If I have them, I give out a proof or damaged book to book bloggers who approach me. Again, I let them know that it’s not a retail copy.
  • Get to know your table neighbors
    You’ll be sitting with the nearby authors for at least four hours, so don’t be a snob! Remember that networking is a big part of signings, this is your chance to get to know them.
  • Pay attention to book bloggers
    These are potentially your super fans. And best of all they may arrive at your table with swag for you. Make sure you hold onto their business card so you can follow them online. If they’ve given you swag and you’re feeling classy, send them a thank you note via email.
  • Be gracious
    Seriously, just be nice to people. Thank them if they buy from you. Thank them if they don’t. Remember that your book is not for everyone. It’s okay if they keep walking, it really is.
  • Promote for each other
    Have you read and loved one of the other signing authors’ books? Promote them to a reader who doesn’t read your genre but reads theirs. Or promote them even if they’re in your genre, too. We’re all in this together. We’re shouldn’t be competing with each other.

Fun stuff

  • Offer to take pictures with/of your readers
    Jillian Jacobs takes pictures of her readers under her moose antler banner. Another author made a scary hat/mask she had her readers pose with. You can also cut out frames and other designs as props that relate to your books and have readers take pictures with those. Just make sure you get their name on Facebook so you can tag them (and hopefully they’ll like/follow you as a result). If you’ve made friends with your neighbors, they’ll likely be happy to take the picture as long as you’ll do the same for them.
  • Create games with small prizes
    Jillian also has a little cup game. Visitors choose an element (fire/water/air/earth) and if they’ve found the ball under their cup of choice, they get a lolly pop. Most of the time she gives out candy even if they don’t win. Little games are great for making readers’ kids happy and give the parent time to look at your offerings.

What to avoid

  • Not researching the signing
    I know spotting a signing that has open tables can be exciting. But don’t pull out your credit card right away. If this is the second year the signing has happened, find out how the first one went. Were there concerns? Did the organizer resolve the concerns? Have they made changes to the venue for the worse or better? Don’t go in blind just because they have a spot open. This is your time and money! If it’s the first year, check out the venue and organizers as best you can. Look for red flags that hint the organizers aren’t…well, organized.
  • No easy, free parking
    If you have to pay $10 to park at your signing, then your readers do, too. That’s $10 worth of books they’ve spent on leaving their car somewhere. Not to mention the hassle of carting your things to a garage who knows where. Pull up the venue on Google maps and gauge this. If needed, ask the organizer about the parking situation.
  • Drama / unprofessionalism
    Be professional! If you want writing to be your career, then treat it like a job. Wait to get into a fight with your assistant until after you’ve left the building. And be PG/PG-13 regardless of the steam level in your books. Readers bring their kids so keep those bawdy jokes hushed while young ears are around. And those penis pens you spent $$ on? Be sure you have a way to hide them behind something when a five year old walks up. Are you bringing a cover model? His naked torso might put some parents off.
  • Packing up early
    There may be two readers left in the room, but if everyone else packs up but you…guess who gets to sell books to those two readers? You!
  • Leaving if you sell out of books
    If you’re fortunate enough to sell everything you brought, do not leave! Pimp out your ebooks instead or offer to send signed print copies through postal mail. Don’t leave just because you can no longer pull in cash on the spot. A reader may be coming to see you and could very well already have a copy of the book they want signed.
  • Jealousy
    So you sold fewer books than the table next to you? Don’t let it get you down. Different signings bring in different audiences. Some may be strictly romance whereas other signings may have non-fiction and various genres of fiction besides romance. Depending on the audience, you could do really well or get no sales at all. Remember you’re in this to get your name out there and network, not beat the sales of everyone around you. We are not competing!

After the signing

  • Once you’re ready for your first signing, be sure to take notes on your own observations.
  • What worked, what didn’t?
  • Did more than one reader ask you to same question about your book? What can you do to offer clarity? Does the blurb need to be tweaked? The elevator pitch is unclear?

Thanks to Jillian & all the other authors who gave me tips that may or may not have appeared here.

Thank you for reading, and may your signings be awesome!


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