I recently chatted to author Richard Blackburn about book signings. The conventional wisdom is, unless you’re a bestselling author, don’t do them.
Contrary to this, Richard does well with signings. He sent me this piece with his suggestions.
Here’s what Richard has to say about book signings.
I usually have six signings per month. Having written a trilogy this is very important. People coming back to buy the second and third book is the best proof that my books are being enjoyed.
The reason I was moved to write on this subject is that I’ve seen authors sitting at tables with piles of their books in front of them … and nobody to talk to. They look like losers. They look self conscious. They don’t look worth a second glance unless out of pity.
I give a big smile and say, ‘this is my first book’.
I sell an average of 20 books each signing and I believe there are a number of reasons for this.
When’s the best time for a book signing?
I usually sign on Thursdays (for the late night shopping) or Saturdays. Managers of the stores I visit confirm that these are the best days. Otherwise I sign during school holidays or just before Mothers’ Day and important occasions like that. I ask the manager about possible problems.
I once made a mistake of being at Mt Ommaney store on the Saturday of the Amberly Airforce Base’s annual show. The shopping mall was deserted.
What’s the best way to promote the signing?
I email the newspapers in the area of the signing a couple of weeks in advance. People who have bought the first book will make a special trip to buy a signed copy of the second one.
How to set up
I like to arrive at the store early, so I have time to set up. My genre is Historical Fiction so I have a suitable cloth for the table – rich blue velvet. On this I place my chain-mail vest and Norman helmet.
My books’ covers are distinctive so I have a couple of big plastic posters of the cover art, one to face each way the shoppers are walking. So people will see me well in advance and have a good idea of my books’ genre. That means people not interested will just walk past. I’m happy with that. I like to have a high strike rate when people stop to talk to me. That means they are almost converted!
How to engage customers
I always stand up. I look at the passing shoppers in the eye and smile. I say ‘Good Day’ and watch for signs of interest. Some people walk straight up and ask what the book is about. I have a well-rehearsed, 1.45 minute spiel to tantalize them. Others barely glance – I still smile. Some show a bit of interest. I give a big smile and tell them ‘this is my first book’. This usually brings them over. If people don’t come to hear about the book, there’s little chance they’ll buy it.
I like to have a high strike rate when people stop to talk to me.
Another ploy is best used when parents have collected students from school and are shopping on the way home. Youngsters look longingly at the helmet and I invite them to try it on. While they are marveling at the weight of the head gear and the amount of work in the chain mail, I explain to the parent what my book is about.I’ve had so many sales to kids who badger their parents for a copy.
If they don’t have enough money for the purchase, I hand over a business card so the student can ask the school librarian to get the trilogy into the school library.
If other writers come over…
I also take my copies of The Australian Writers’ MarketPlace and A Decent Proposal (by Rhonda Whitton and Sheila Hollingworth). Most signings I’m approached by a writer who wants to ask questions. These two books give them lots of ideas, such as where to find out about publishers and how to write a proposal when approaching them.
A final note
I really like helping people because I made a lot of mistakes at first and wish someone had helped me out. I don’t think of other writers as competition. We are all striving to get Australian writing respected world wide.
Richard is Zeus Publication’s bestselling author. He has written a historical fiction trilogy: The Gatekeeper, Rudigor’s Revenge (both listed in the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge) and The Regiment. Richard lives in Queensland and travels extensively to do book signings.
Click here to visit Richard’s website.
If you’re in the area, Richard will be giving a talk as part of Caboolture Library’s ‘Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea’ fundraiser. For a gold-coin donation you can help yourself to a platter of home-made sweets and treats and hear from Richard Blackburn. Richard will speak about the ups, downs and interesting facts about writing historical fiction.
Caboolture Library Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea for Cancer Council Queensland will be held on Thursday May 27 from 10am–11am.
To book or for more information, phone (07) 5433 2000.