How to Prepare for Your First Signing Event as an Author
There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as readers flowing through an event, stopping at your booth or table, asking questions about your books, and exchanging money for an autographed copy. Although ads, marketing, and social media are all useful tools in your marketing belt, book fairs and events are probably the most exciting way to get your name and books into the world. You have a chance for a few hours to put yourself and your creativity on display, create bonds with potential readers, and network with other authors, some of whom will become friends for life. Yet as fun as these events are, they also can be daunting, especially if you’re new to the book signing world and aren’t sure how to prepare for one.
Not to fear—we’ve got everything you need to consider ahead of time, so you can feel confident enough to start practicing your signature.
Not Your Parents’ Book Signing
There are many types of events you can attend as an author, and while some of them are obvious, others may be more outside the box. Event Coordinators (ECs) across the world provide locations where authors can sign in the same venue. Some of these events are for specific genres, but some are multi-genre. They can include planned dinners or parties, tours of local spots, panels for authors to speak, or classes for authors and readers. Don’t forget that signings have booth or table rental fees, portions of which may not be refundable, so you’ll want to check into those before committing to a signing. Also, it’s wise to include the gamut of costs into your budgeting: books to bring, table decor, hotels, travel costs, food, and more. These can add up quickly if you’re not prepared.
Facebook groups, such as Author Events Around the World, feature posts from ECs about signing event opportunities, as well as posts from authors who are selling their tables at an event as they aren’t able to attend. Some ECs, like Anytime Author Promotions (https://anytimeauthorpromotions.com), are well known for their events throughout the year and are always adding new locations that draw in readers from across the country, such as authors signing in cells in haunted prisons or patient rooms in haunted asylums. Many events hosted by ECs also contain raffles in which proceeds go to a local charity or other events that directly benefit specific charitable groups, like Authors and Dancers Against Cancer and Scares That Care AuthorCon.
Comic cons are also a fantastic place to sign books that authors often overlook. Because of the nature of these conventions, they will almost always have certain genres that sell better than others. Horror typically sells exceptionally well at most cons, but if you’re at an event centered on Fantasy or Sci-Fi, it’s best to only rent a booth if you write in those genres. Genres such as Romance—or adjacent genres that involve heavy romance on the side—almost never mix with a comic con, so if that’s what you write, you’ll want to avoid a con. You can always check out the previous year’s merchants to find out if your genre will mesh with the general audience.
If you’re newer to book signings, larger events with other authors can give you practical experience signing, along with the opportunity to hone your table display and get advice from seasoned authors. Large events, however, are not the only way to sell books in public. For authors dipping their toes into the world of book events for the first time, taking part in something local can seem more manageable and help you connect with readers in your community.
Almost anywhere can make a great locale for signing with others. Some of these signings may not be set up yet; your area may just need their own EC. Farmers’ markets, art fairs, library-organized signings, and community events, such as Oktoberfest or a Renaissance fair, can all have opportunities to rent a booth or table. Join groups within your city or town to stay up to date on local events in your area. Check in with the chamber of commerce in your area about any upcoming fairs or to get on the list for future events. Newspapers or city magazines may also contain information about upcoming events that may provide an opportunity to sell books. Stop by libraries or bookstores as well to inquire about signing events by local authors.
Even if your library doesn’t have an event planned, consider whether you’d be willing to help organize something on your own. This is where experience with other signing events can come in handy. Volunteer to work with the library to create a new event for local authors. Advertise through Facebook groups, newspapers, radio stations, or other outlets. The same idea goes for local art fairs. If your area doesn’t already have one, contact the chamber of commerce about creating a new yearly event. Don’t limit yourself to what’s already established.
Just like with comic cons, before scheduling a signing with other authors, ensure you’ve signed up for an event that aligns with the kinds of stories you write. You won’t want to attend Naughty in Nashville if you write primarily Thrillers. Some events also require you to write a specific genre to attend. If you have any doubts about how well your genre matches after reading about the event, contact the EC to ensure you’re signing up for the right one for your books.
There are some events that sound genre-specific in the title but will allow all genres. However, Horror author Carver Pike, who also writes Romance books under the pen name C. M. Genovese, says you can use this to your advantage in certain situations. When Pike attends a Horror signing, he will only bring his horror novels with him because Horror readers do not tend to read Romance; however, for a Romance signing, he always brings his Horror titles as well. “A lot of Romance readers will and do also read Horror,” he says. “Also, some Romance readers drag their husbands or significant others along with them and that person might not like Romance at all, but they might like Horror.”
Prepare for Everything
Once you’ve booked a signing event, preparation is key, not only on deciding what to bring with you but also when communicating with an EC regarding any needs you might have. Even if the venue is halfway across the country, most ECs provide an address where you can mail books, or you can mail them directly to the venue. Most authors recommend bringing approximately ten to fifteen copies of each book, depending on the length of your backlist. If you’re an author with fifteen novels, identify your best sellers and bring more of those than others. If you only have two novels, you can easily bring twenty copies of each. The expected attendance size of the event also factors into how many books to bring. If it’s a small event, consider bringing fewer, but if it’s a large event with projections of three hundred readers, consider bringing extra copies of your more popular titles.
If you have a disability or need specific accommodations, coordinate with your EC in advance regarding arrangements for parking, table location, assistance with unloading or setup, or starting setup early. If you suffer from something like epilepsy, make the EC and venue aware in case you need medical help.
Author Autumn Marie writes that authors should consider everything, including how to get from point A to point B at the event location. As a wheelchair user, she’s had to get creative with transporting materials to and from her booths at events—she uses a wagon to tow her materials around and connects it to her wheelchair with a large S hook. “Set up can sometimes be a challenge, but I never back away from a good challenge,” she writes. “I try to get there early for set up because my cart is not the only thing on wheels … I am, too. I have no problem asking for help if I need it, because sometimes I do.” You will want to have an assistant at the event who understands your disability and can assist. Marie says most ECs are very understanding and willing to help those with disabilities, even those in wheelchairs, but to ask for assistance from ECs well in advance so they can plan to accommodate you.
A Final Word
Signings can be daunting, whether it’s your first or tenth, a group of fifty authors or only five. Just remember to have fun, Pike says, and that you’re likely not the only one who’s anxious. “You’ll be nervous. That’s natural. Everyone is a little nervous, especially for their first signing. Readers are nervous too. They’ll be the first to tell you.” Marie’s largest bit of advice is to slow down and make new friends. The more you enjoy the event and get to know others, the easier it will be to do the next signing and maybe even one day host your own.