Richard Blackburn’s tips for successful book signings

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.

Cover for Richard Blackburn's 'The Regiment'

Cover for Richard's novel, 'The Regiment'


Richard is Zeus Publication’s bestselling author. He has written a historical fiction trilogy: The GatekeeperRudigor’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.

How did you get published? Pt 2 of an interview with author, George Ivanoff

Today, I’m quizzing author, George Ivanoff about his writing career. George explains how he began working with Ford Street Publishing, and how he promotes his books.

Ford Street Publishing don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. How did you sign up with them?

Gamers’ Quest had an unusual genesis. Ford Street Publishing is the brainchild of author, Paul Collins. I had written for Paul a couple of times in the past on education projects. Now that he had started up a trade publishing business, he remembered me and asked me to contribute to Trust Me!, a short story anthology. The story was called “Game Plan”.

One day Paul mentioned to me that fellow author, Meredith Costain, had read the story and thought that it would make a good basis for a novel. Never one to let an opportunity slip by, I immediately said “So, if I write it, will you publish it?” Paul responded with a guarded, “Well, when you have an outline, send it to me and I’ll take a look.” I went away and had a think about it. The more I thought about it, the more excited I got about the story potential. So I wrote an outline, as well as the first few chapters. Two days after sending it to Paul, I had a contract.

Do you have an agent? Would you consider using one?

No I don’t have an agent. You don’t need one if writing for the education market as there is usually very little room to negotiate on contracts. But I would certainly consider using one in the future for trade publishing. 

How did you go about negotiating contracts with your publishers?

As I said previously, there is usually very little room to negotiate education contracts. There’s a standard contract for all the authors on a series. Having said that, I have negotiated on a couple because I thought they were unfair. In most of those cases the publisher came to the party. But there were a couple of cases where I didn’t take the contract because they wouldn’t negotiate.

With Gamers’ Quest there was no need to negotiate because I was happy with the contract they offered me.

For your latest book, what aspects of publicity and promotion will Ford Street handle? What do you plan to do?

Ford Street have produced posters, bookmarks and stickers which they have been sending out all over the place. They organised a book launch. They have also set up some interviews and guest blogs for me. And they’ve sent out over 80 review copies of the book.

For my part, I’ve been blogging, doing interviews, school visits and book signings. I also put together the Gamers’ Quest website and had the book trailer made.

George Ivanoff with his new book

George with his new book, Gamers' Quest


Why did you decide to do a book launch?

Well, I wanted one because I thought it would be FUN… and it was. But the decision was my publisher’s. It’s a way to announce the book to the world, to sell a few copies and generally kick off the promotion.

Tell me about your book signings.

Signings are a difficult thing. You just never know how many people will show up on the day. It could be 50. It could be 5. I’ve been to signings where well-known authors have had no more than a dozen or so people.

I promote them with FaceBook, Twitter (Follow me on Twitter! Go on, you know you want to), blogs, etc. I send out info to the local schools and libraries. Then I sit back and cross my fingers.

By the way, I’ve got a signing coming up this Saturday (8 May) at Angus & Robertson Ringwood (Eastland Shopping Centre) in Victoria at 11.30am-12.30pm. Come along and say “Hello!”.

Have you promoted your book on radio? 

Yes, I’ve done a few interviews. Check out these podcasts:

3RRR’s Zero-G:

3CR’s Published or Not:

Tomorrow, George goes into detail about his online strategy for promoting Gamers’ Quest.

How will you promote your book? Pt 2 of an interview with YA fantasy author, Adam Stiles

Today, I’m quizzing YA author Adam Stiles about how he plans to promote his first book. Adam also talks about his writing influences.

Can you tell me what aspects of promotion your publisher will handle? What do you plan to do?

Zeus submit all new works into a variety of databases and send out marketing information to retailers about their new authors. I will use this as a stepping stone for my own marketing ideas.

Author Adam Stiles

Author Adam Stiles

Of course, my launch, book signings and interviews such as these are an integral part of my marketing strategy, but I have several other ideas to help me stand out from the crowd.

The biggest of these plans revolves around the internet – in particular, my website, forum and Facebook fan page. Growing up, I was a part of several different forums and websites for various interests and I saw first hand how helpful these tools can be in growing a community. I can now use this knowledge and experience to help me achieve my own personal goals.

Finally, I can say I am working when I’m surfing the internet all day!

Since I am fairly close in age to the target audience for the book, I think I still have a pretty good idea of what will and won’t work in promoting the book to young adults.

Will you do a book launch or book signings?

My official launch is scheduled for May 7th at my old high school, St Edmund’s College in Ipswich. I plan to donate a signed copy to the school library, tell the guests and students a bit about how the series came to be and do a reading of the prologue. Afterwards I will hang around to answer questions and sign copies. The Queensland Times newspaper will cover the event, so hopefully that will generate publicity.

When the launch is out of the way I will organise signings and similar events. I plan to send out information and previews to any libraries and reader groups I can find information on.

Will you promote your book outside of bookstores?

Yes definitely, but at this stage my time has mainly been devoted to getting the launch sorted. Afterwards I will happily look into other means of promoting the book to the public. I did a lot of marketing as a part of my business degree so I’m sure I can come up with many ways of shameless self-promotion. One example is that I plan to print up shirts with the cover and logo on them so that I am advertising everywhere I go.

Describe your online strategy.

The whole point of my online strategy is to make readers feel part of a community. To do this I have to offer them content and insights that they would not get anywhere else. This involves me being active on my own site and Facebook fan page so that readers hear about things when they happen.

As the forum grows I am going to slowly release little titbits of information about the series, teasers for future books, fun facts or other things that I deem interesting. I have also started keeping a little diary about my progress on Act II so readers can gain an insight into my writing process. Things like these will go a long way in forming a loyal readership.

Another advantage of this strategy is that it helps me to identify what is working with the series and what isn’t, so I can make adjustments accordingly. There is nothing better than dynamic feedback directly from the readers themselves.

The main drawback was choosing a host and setting everything up. I crashed the forum so darn often in the initial stages that I’m scared to tinker with any settings!

Are you a full-time writer?

I am not a full time writer, but I do try to write every day, even if it just one sentence that I will end up deleting later. That way I always feel a connection to the process, and I won’t grow distant. Sometimes it just can’t be done due to other work commitments, but I try to stick to that plan as much as possible.

I also don’t believe in a structured ‘writing day’. If I’m feeling particularly inspired I can get in there and write for hours, but other days I might just read over what I’ve got already, or just brainstorm. As a general rule, I tend to write better at night when there are less distractions and I can focus on the story in front of me.

How would you describe your ‘brand’ as an author?

A lot of authors tend to be quite secluded, so to stand out from the crowd I literally plan to be IN the crowd. I’ve never been afraid to get in there and get things done, so my approach to promoting myself and the series will be no different. I plan to spend a lot of time interacting with the public and talking to readers, either in person or over the internet.

When all is said and done I would like to be thought of as the people’s author – the guy who isn’t afraid to mix with the fans, grow a community and make every single person feel like they are an integral part of what I’m trying to create.

How do your interests inform your writing?

I love a good story, regardless of whether it is a book, movie, game, or even anime. By seeing how others have achieved story-telling success in their chosen mediums I am able to put my own work in perspective.

I also love music, and often I find that a great song is the best way to get the creative juices flowing. Coheed & Cambria and Dream Theater in particular are amazing bands that I like to listen to whilst writing.

Who are your favourite authors?

My three favourite authors are Brent Weeks (Night Angel Trilogy), Sergei Lukyanenko (Night Watch Trilogy – though technically it is four books long) and Peter F. Hamilton (Night’s Dawn Trilogy). Though I wouldn’t recommend them to a young adult audience – there is a LOT of violence and adult themes in all three series – their storylines and styles have really influenced the way I think about the writing process. I only really started getting heavily into reading once I began writing, so similarities between those three authors and myself probably won’t be evident in Act I of The Uniques, but without a doubt I will take what I have learnt from those writers and apply it to my future work. The way they weave their tales is just so amazing it is impossible not to be drawn into the worlds that they have created.

Currently I am about half way through book three of Sergei’s series and am loving every moment of it.

If you could travel back in time to the moment before you sent off your first manuscript, what advice would you give yourself?

Full steam ahead. I haven’t regretted a moment of the process and wouldn’t do a single thing differently.

Adam Stiles, thank you.

Adam’s Bio

Adam Stiles was born in Brisbane in 1988, but was raised and educated in Ipswich. He has a Bachelor of Business Management, majoring in Physical Activity, and was employed at Big Dad’s Pies while studying. Despite being an avid reader, it wasn’t until his third year at university that Adam realised that he wanted to write for young adults. He used his holiday break to write the first act of his series, The Uniques. He plans to pursue careers in business management and as an author.

Click to visit Adam’s website for the book.

The forum for the book.

The Uniques on Facebook. (If you’re not a FaceBook member, go to Adam’s website, then scroll down to the heading on the right ‘Facebook Fanpage’. This should work.)

What’s next on Great (book) expectations? Later this week I’ll be posting an interview with the prolific George Ivanoff.

I’ll also be compiling and uploading my notes from a recent seminar at the Victorian Writers’ Centre – three fiction publishers/editors spoke about what they’re looking for in manuscripts.

Book signing for George Ivanoff’s new book


The cover for Gamers' Quest

The second author I’m interviewing this week has a book signing this Saturday. 

George Ivanoff will be at the Angus & Robertson Ringwood bookstore signing his new science fiction novel for teens, Gamers’ Quest.

The website for the book looks amazing and there’s also a book trailer on YouTube.

Here is the blurb:

Combining science fiction and fantasy, Gamers’ Quest is a fast-paced, thrilling adventure which throws the reader into the multiple worlds within a computer game.

George’s book won the Chronos Award last year.

Angus & Robertson Ringwood (Shop L026a), Eastland Shopping Centre, Victoria

Saturday 8 May 2010, 11.30am-12.30pm

How do you promote your books? Pt 2 of an interview with author, Richard Blackburn

This is the second part of my interview with author, Richard Blackburn. Richard has written an historical fiction trilogy for young adults.

Richard, do you sell or promote your books outside of bookstores?

Most definitely! I average a book signing a week and sell around twenty books each signing, and this is really helpful, especially now the three books of the trilogy have are available. But I’ve had a lot of success as a guest speaker for National Seniors Groups, Probus Clubs, etc. The audience is often about 80 people and they are interesting and educated people who often want to get published themselves. So I talk of my experience and how they can start out for themselves.

Author, Richard Blackburn

Historical fiction author, Richard Blackburn

I give talks at high schools. My first two books have been accepted for the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge so I have a good ‘in’ there. I’ve given talks at council libraries readers’ and writers’ groups and sold copies there.

For the Canadian/US market I have to rely on the internet. Lachesis has its own marketing section but I’m not happy to leave it at that. I’m sending emails to every library, high school and reading group I can find an email address for. I’ve applied for a grant to attend a two-month residential in USA to follow up on this work – and it is work. California alone has over 9,000 high schools.

I’ve just had a website created for me and I’m going to link it to the blog site I’m trying to get going. That’s where I hope to sell more books. It will also be a place I can advertise the time and location of my signings. I send notices to all newspapers already and it helps. It’s great to have people come up and say that they’ve read about me and want to hear more – a great advantage.

For school groups, what do you talk about?

I introduce myself and my book. I have a funny story about how my father was a story teller and I followed that way. They all love a laugh.

I talk about growing up on the site of an ancient castle, long demolished, but with some evidence still in the contours of the land. Then I talk of the writing process and how lucky we are to have the English language to use. Over the millennia we’ve pinched a huge number of words from Latin, Norse, French, German and many other languages so we have a word for every degree of emotion.

At my talks I have a few coins from the 12th century, I have a chain mail vest and helmet. I tell them my wife won’t let me have a sword because I’m very accident prone and she’s sure our insurance wouldn’t cover me being trusted with a dangerous weapon. So I set the scene for my books.

Also I have a 1m x 0.5m poster of my books’ cover art – it’s really eye-catching. After the talk, I let them try the armour on. In that way the students remember it and it usually gets into their school magazine.

Do you market yourself to teachers or librarians?

I find schools a hard market. I’ve emailed every public school in Australia and every time a book is accepted for the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge I contact every school library in NSW. I’ve had talks to many teachers at my book signings and, even though I have my blue card, little has come of it.

Libraries are different. Again I’ve emailed every one of them. This has had good results. I’ve followed up by checking the entries for my books in the catalogues of all libraries. Caloundra library had one book of the trilogy in the Adult section and two in the Young Adult section. They were happy to fix it up. Even the national library had the third book categorised for preschool readers. It’s best not to assume anyone will get it right for you – check it for yourself.

The Moreton Bay Regional Council has a webpage for local authors and I’m on that. By attending their Arts promotional meetings I met some State Arts staff and I’m on their email list and have been invited to the launch of their annual arts program. This ‘getting in’ to the Arts world is important. That’s why I’m putting in for research grants, development grants and residential grants. If you don’t push yourself, no-one else will do it for you.

It sounds like you devote a lot of time and energy to promoting your books. Does this impact on your writing time?

Just now I don’t have time to write. I’m putting all my efforts into the Canadian/US market to whip up sales there. It is very important to me because I have written the film script to the first book. If I can get a lot of interest in it, that will be the time to approach Hollywood. So it’s not worth my while trying to write. My mind isn’t there.

Are you a full-time writer?

I tell everyone that, now I’ve retired, I’m a full time domestic servant (my wife works). But all the rest of my time is writing or related work.

How does your background inform your writing?

I find that experiencing a lot of different lifestyles has allowed me to talk with confidence about the things I write. I’ve worked in the Simpson Desert, in the New Guinea jungle. I’ve parachuted (and not that tandem stuff!) and scubadived – and still do. I’ve travelled and observed.

There are people who will look for flaws in your work. I find that having been adventurous myself gives me permission to write about someone else who is involved in fascinating adventures.

How would you describe your ‘brand’ as an author?

Lots of books today are yea thick. There are often parts where the story gets bogged down. Well, I was a hopeless student. I didn’t read books because there wasn’t one I’d really liked. I passed my HSC at age 30 odd and my degree in IT at 52! So I’m a slow learner. That makes me very keen to cut the fat from my writing. I want action and interest all the time. I’m delighted when people say they couldn’t put my book down. I want to give students like I was the sort of book I would have been really happy to have found.

Also I am fascinated by interesting facts about the past and love to share them in my work. A few readers have said they eagerly await the next footnote because it is about something really interesting.

If you could travel back in time to the moment before you sent off your first manuscript, what advice would you give yourself?

I’d edit the work with my present knowledge of what is needed with regard to craft. Then I’d really put every effort into getting an agent – using the Preditors & Editors website. If that was absolutely impossible, I’d keep on trying at the top end of the publishers’ heirarchy.

I’ve nothing against Zeus and Lachesis, but the large publishers have a huge advantage in the market. They can get your book into all the bookshops and they can afford much better advertising. So, yes. I’d really work hard on my manuscript then I’d not become impatient so easily.

Richard Blackburn, thank you.


Richard Blackburn is Zeus Publications’ bestselling author and has written a fantasy trilogy: The Gatekeeper, Rudigor’s Revenge (both listed in the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge) and The Regiment. He sells a version of The Gatekeeper overseas (The Guardian of the Gate). Richard lives in Queensland and travels extensively to do book signings.

Click here for Richard’s website.

How did you get published? Interview with ‘Crackpot’ author, Fiona Trembath

Today, I’m talking with children’s author Fiona Trembath. Fiona’s first novel, Crackpot, has just been released by Melbourne publisher, Avant Press. 

Fiona, can you tell me how you came to be published?

It’s a long story that begins about ten years ago. I’d written a children’s story specifically for the ‘Aussie Bites’ series. They were full of praise, and keen to publish, but just when I thought it was safe to celebrate, they changed their mind. The story has continued to grow since then, suffer numerous rejections (all worthy, with hindsight) until a few years ago when decided to really commit to the book being published (once it had grown to become a novel). And voila! Here it is!

'Crackpot' author, Fiona Trembath

Fiona Trembath - crackers for 'Crackpot'

Tell me about the process of completing the book.

The process was long. However, there was a point where I thought I’d nailed it as a novel, and so after what seemed like the hundredth rewrite, I sent it to a manuscript assessment service.  The critique I received was really encouraging, so did a few more rewrites, sent it back again, and from there on I was ready to send it out into the big wide world. First stop was to enter it in a few literary comps: ‘Childrens and Young Adult Writers and Illustrators Conference’ in 2006, which it won, and then ‘Voices on the Coast’, in 2007, which it also won.  I then signed up with an agent, but nothing happened for two years. Out of frustration – and with the last breath of conviction in me – I took it to Avant Press.  Euan Mitchell phoned me two days later and said those words every Wishing To Be Author wants to hear: ‘I loved your story.  Let’s run with it!’

What did your publisher expect from you in terms of rewrites?

By this stage I was pretty sick of my own story, but knuckled down and did a few rewrites in one or two sections of the book.  Working with an editor, after being an editor myself for so long, was a real pleasure.  It’s so nice to have someone talk to you with such detail and intimacy about the characters in your own book.  You can imagine that by the time I got to read the proofs, I was really, really, really sick of the story (I feel guilty saying that). When the proofs came through, Euan insisted I read it ‘just one last time’, which I resisted, right up until the 11th hour. Thank goodness I read it!  A whole chunk of a rewrite had magically disappeared!

Did you do a book proposal for the book? If so, did it help you?

No, I didn’t. I’m not good at selling myself, so shied away from that. 

Why did you choose to submit your manuscript to a small publisher over a large one?

I had tried the larger publishers and aside from the fact that it takes so long to get a reply (which I fully understand), I didn’t have the stamina to get knocked down again by a publisher that I revered. (The punch hurt more.)  And I’d heard good things about working with smaller, independent publishers, so decided to give it a shot. 

Do you have an agent?

Yes, I did have an agent, and stupidly thought ‘I’m home and hosed’ (what does that really mean anyway? ), and had heard, time and time again at various festivals and writers’ discussions, “It’s harder to get an agent than it is a publisher.”  It’s not necessarily the case, as I found out.  

How did you negotiate your contract with the publisher?

Easy.  ‘Where do you want me to sign?’  It’s a partnership with Avant, so we both have financial interests in the book.  I felt valued and respected by Euan and Avant, and never had to do any serious ‘negotiating’. 

What aspects of publicity do you plan to do?

Although Avant were able to assist in smaller, behind-the-scenes promotion, I was responsible for most publicity and promotion, and so engaged the services of a professional publicist.  He was invaluable – and still is – although I am responsible to maintaining momentum and interest in the book. 

What part of the book promotion will Avant handle?

 Avant don’t have a publicity budget, aside from intranet, internet and word-of-mouth.  

Did you do a book launch?

Yes I did.  It was fantastic! Elly Varrenti launched Crackpot two days after I held the book for the first time in my hands, and three days before I turned 50.  I committed all the money from the sales of the book at the launch to go to a charity in India that I support.  A few weeks later I personally handed over the money – in rupees.  It was a great moment, and one that I will cherish forever.

I notice you’ve done book signings. Were they worthwhile?

As part of my promotion and publicity campaign, I did  a book-signing at the Angus & Robertson bookstore in Greensborough, which went really well. It was a lot of work (I was so worried nobody would turn up), but worthwhile, as I sold lots of books and had incredible support from the A&R team.

Tomorrow, Fiona talks about hiring a book publicist and how she promotes her books in schools.