Book Signings: You’re Doing it Wrong

I’m not going to lie, I’m new at this “published author” thing. Sixteen years of scribbling in notebooks could not prepare me for the trials and tribulations of self-publishing Estranged. But there is one area where I seem to be doing well, an area where most authors fall flat: book signings.

This isn’t to say that I’m a raging success at book signings. In all honesty, I’m a quivering introvert whose voice gives out every time someone walks through the door. Yet, somehow I managed to sell out my first book signing, and my second book signing was also something of a success. And the majority of those sales went to people who had never heard of me.

Before I go much further, I would like to point out that most of my success comes from reading this article before I jumped into the fire.

Drawing from this article and my own experiences as A. An author and B. Someone who manned a booth for a small publishing company, this is what I have found to be the biggest mistake authors make when trying to sell their books at cons and signings:

They Don’t Break the Ice

If you’re a new author like me, potential readers walking into the store or past your booth have no idea who you are, why you’re there, and they’re definitely not going to ask. You’d think large signs announcing “Book Signing Today!” would help, but they don’t. To them, you’re just the person behind the table awkwardly staring at them. So you have to be the one to start the conversation, even if it’s a simple, “How’s it going today?”

I have seen so many authors at cons and bookstores, sitting behind their table waiting for people to come to them. This doesn’t work. Or I should say, it doesn’t work very well. Most of these authors don’t sell more than a single book at Barnes & Noble. And it has nothing to do with the quality of the book itself.

Even as someone who is interested in books, when I see someone quietly sitting behind a table I’m intimidated, I’m scared to talk to them because I don’t know who that person is. As a somewhat anxious introvert, I could be dying to read their book, but I will likely walk away because I’m too scared to start the conversation. Silence is intimidating. Silence is death.

So start that conversation. Say, “Hi, how are you?” In most cases you only have a couple seconds to draw a person in, so you have to be a bit clearer about why you’re here, or why they should talk to you. I’m not going to lie, I saw a guy sell more than forty books in two days to complete strangers using the opening line, “Do you like science fiction?” We were at a comic con, so the typical response was, “No shit, Sherlock.” But even as they said it, they walked over to the table to hear what he had to say. It may not seem like the smoothest pickup line, but it works. Heck, I have personally done far worse. I stood behind my table, twenty feet away from the front door at Hastings, and greeted people with, “Do you like books?” I sold four books in the first hour. Seriously, it works.

Of course, there is a lot more that goes into setting the hook for the reader: putting the book in their hands, making the conversation about them, having a good cover and back copy, etc. But none of that can go into motion unless you can get them talking first.

So grab a pickaxe, break ALL the ice, and sell lots of books. You got this.