What authors (and venues) need to know about scheduling book talks / signings
Over the years, many publishing houses have been scaling back on traditional book tours — not the least because bookstores themselves are disappearing — because travel can be expensive (and time-consuming) and sometimes there can be cheaper and just as effective ways to sell books. That being said, there continue to be plenty of authors speaking at non-traditional, i.e., non-bookstore, venues.
If you are an author booking a talk for yourself (or a book publicist trying to answer an author’s questions), here are some tips to keep in mind / pass on:
- Before agreeing to a speaking engagement, consider requiring the host venue to either sell books themselves, arrange for a bookseller, or — the holy grail of arrangements — purchase them in advance for attendees. Venues are looking for stellar speakers. For them, book sales rank somewhere between a secondary issue and an annoyance. If they won’t / can’t sell books, think about whether your personal connection to the organizer, the “caliber” of the audience or, in some cases, the fee, make it worthwhile for you to speak anyway.
- Some venues assume that authors will sell their own books. Some authors don’t mind doing this (books are purchased at a steep discount but sold full price — you do the math), but if you do not want to go through the trouble (many authors don’t), make sure you inform the host that you will not be selling your books and that they will need to make alternate arrangements.
- If you will be speaking at a venue shortly after a book comes out, you might consider waiving a speaker’s fee if the venue sells books. Or ask the venue to use the fee to buy books for attendees. (Obviously, this is not an option for everyone, particularly if the venue is not covering travel costs.)
- Be vocal with the event organizer about the importance of book sales. If you feel awkward “hawking” your book, talk about how hard you worked on the book, how much it means to you to get the book into the hands of readers and how strongly you feel about supporting local bookstores. If you don’t raise the issue of book sales, the organizer won’t know this is concern for you — don’t assume they will “get the message” because a publicist or someone else has asked about book sales on your behalf.
- Make sure the organizer / bookseller knows about your most recent book — they may not think to promote this title. (Many authors are well-known for books they wrote years ago.) Likewise, if your paperback has just been published, let them know this edition is now available.
- If at all possible, meet with the bookseller just before the event to sign all their books (signature only — no personalization); that way people who dash out of the event before the end are still able to purchase signed books. (Of course, people who want books personalized, i.e., “To Mary …” will need to wait for you after the talk.) The bookseller will bring back unsold (signed) books to their store where they can sell them or they can return them to the publishing house.
- Plan for your talk and Q&A to last no more than about an hour — people tend to get antsy after that and many will head out without buying books. Discuss the timing with the organizer / moderator ahead of time and have them issue a “Last question” just before the hour is up (or you can do so).
- If you anticipate a large crowd have someone — the event organizer, an assistant — work the line with a pad of Post-Its. This way, your helper can flap all books to the title page and write names on a sticky attached to the book cover before the reader gets to the front of the line. (Otherwise, you will be scrambling to find the appropriate page to sign and figure out how to spell the name … for every single person in line.)
- If you regularly speak to large crowds and have any restrictions when it comes to signing books (signature but no personalization, no photos, only signing the current book, only signing books purchased at the event), let the event organizer and / or bookseller know ahead of time. (Of course, if you are a celebrity author, there will likely be a number of other issues with which to contend including fans bringing gifts / memorabilia and security, but that’s another post for another day.)
- If you are cornered at the end of the talk, rather than remain on stage, encourage the people asking questions to talk and walk with you to the book table so you can start signing immediately.
- Bring a nice signing pen — although it’s not against the law to sign with a Bic pen, people are spending good money on your book!
- If you have any time restrictions, i.e., you’re rushing to catch a flight, make sure to let the event organizer and bookseller know beforehand.
And here are some suggestions to pass on to event organizers. (Bookstores are old hands when it comes to events and probably don’t need this information.)
- There are several ways for books to be available for attendees: your organization can sell books (purchased at a discount, sold full price), you / the book publicist can arrange for a bookseller (if you don’t already work with one regularly) or, if budgets allow, you can purchase them in advance for attendees.
- If you are looking to buy books in bulk (you will get a discount), you can do so in a number of ways:
- Purchase directly from the publishing house — the editor / publicist can provide the phone number / email address of the appropriate contact.
- Purchase from 800 CEO Read (if they carry the book).
- Purchase from Hooks Book Events. I have worked with owners Perry and Loretta for years and have always been impressed by their initiative, organization and — most importantly! — ability to sell loads and loads of books. Sales go through their local independent bookstore, but they offer discounts comparable to what can be obtained elsewhere.
- If you choose to work with a bookseller, you will need to let them know all the event details (date, time, location, etc.) and also how many people are expected at the event so they can bring an appropriate number of books. Typically, most booksellers will operate on the assumption that one out of three attendees buys a book. Unless you let them know otherwise, they will plan to spend about two hours at the event, arriving about half an hour beforehand and leaving about half an hour after the talk ends.
- If you or a bookstore are selling books, at least one table and chair with the books should be set up, about 30 minutes prior to the start of the event (since some people do like buying books beforehand). A second table and chair may be required at which the author can sit and sign books, particularly if there is a large crowd.
- The book selling table should be positioned where people enter and leave the room / auditorium — usually just outside works. If you don’t force people to walk by the book table, they won’t.
- If you are working with a bookseller, you can expect them to bring a cash box and credit card machine (and books, of course). They will take away unsold books at the end of the event; if at all possible, it is helpful if you have packing tape on hand. Some booksellers need to be near electrical outlets (for certain credit card machines) — they should specify this if this is the case, but it probably doesn’t hurt to check.
- If a post-talk reception / dinner is planned, please allow some time for the author to sit and sign books once the talk finishes (usually 15-30 minutes, more for a couple hundred people or more). It’s tricky for an author to sign books at a reception (no matter how informal) / dinner.
- Promotional materials for the event should mention the book signing (in addition to the talk). If you can, include the name of the store that will be selling books — they will appreciate the mention.
- At some point during the introduction, the author’s latest book should be mentioned. Also, as the talk begins and ends, the moderator should let the audience know that the author’s book(s) are available for sale.
For more information about book events in general, you may want to check out:
What are your top book event tips (or questions)?