Friday, 21 November 2008

Book Signings: Right And Wrong

Book signings are fraught with problems. I’m not convinced that they’re particularly useful promotional tools for anyone but the most celebrated of writers, but if you’re still keen to have a go here’s a cautionary tale from the luminous Jenna Glatzer, and a comprehensive guide to doing it right from J A Konrath.

8 comments:

Elle said...

Ha, I liked your comment on the cautionary tale - the idea has potential.

On a related note, I just read the post "The Myth that Publishers Don't Promote Anymore" where you say not everyone gets a book signing tour or interviews. What would be a "normal" or "average" promotion? How many books gets launches and signings, and how many just get the advance copies sent out for review? How often does the author get involved in the promotion?

Jane Smith said...

Hello, Elle.

Launches and signings do relatively little to get books sold.

ARCs (advance review copies) and good distribution achieve much more.

In order to sell in any great number, books have to be widely available--that is, stocked on the shelves for sale in most bookshops--and well-promoted. The promotion usually takes the form of reviews in respected publications, like national press and niche magazines.

All authors who are published by the mainstream publishers get a chance of that level of promotion, no matter how new or notorious they are, as all books they publish get ARCs sent out and get sold into bookshops by the sales teams.

Publishers aren't going to object to authors setting up signings, but on the whole that sort of activity doesn't have a big impact on the sales of most books.

Having said that, the more a writer can do to promote their books the better, as promotional activity can accumulate through the sales of several titles.

Does that help? If not, do ask again and I'll have another go.

Daniel said...

JA's way is great if you are on the pushy side of confident. I'm not. I would absolutely *die* doing what JA suggests. Problem is, as Sebastian Faulks said in an interview last year, most of us are quite happy doing a job where we sit at a desk and talk to nobody for 98% of the year, and then are totally thrown by being expected to be performing seals for the other 2%.

emmadarwin said...

I agree that it doesn't come naturally to many writers. Not all writers can do a J A Konrath, and not everyone (specially in the UK) finds someone doing a JAK on them attractive or appealing.

Launches cost a lot of money and make relatively little. Publishers resist them, it seems these days, because unless you're incredibly famous and they're hiring Buckingham Palace, there's no publicity value: financially speaking, all they do is give the author a party and sell copies to people who'd buy them anyway.

And for signings, you have to ask yourself, ruthlessly, why would anyone except your friends (who'll buy it anyway?) turn up to see you and spend £15.99 on your book?

When it comes to signings and small scale stuff, it's worth mentioning that, on the other hand, publishers do value authors who do their bit, so there's something to be said for looking if you're trying for such things where it's possible. Which means being in touch with your local bookshops and so on, perhaps dropping ARCs in to them, but accepting their wisdom about what does and doesn't work. The options seem to be:

1) a stock signing, where you just drop by whenever to sign copies which they'll then sell with 'local author' stickers. Lots are happy with this. You're happy with it not least because once the books are signed they can't be returned.

2) a signing, where they promote it beforehand, and then you sit at a table and they stand behind the till, and you all hope that enough people turn up for you all to feel it was worth it.

3) a reading/signing, which needs to be an evening, and to have enough friends to feel like an audience. The glass of wine helps. It helps even more if you can gather a writer friend or two and offer a 'crime evening' or whatever.

But I've come to the conclusion that as an author it's a matter of casting your bread on the waters. For example, not many people may turn up and buy a signed book from you betweeen 11 and 12 on Saturday morning. But your photo's been in the bookshop for a week, it's listed in the local free sheet, the local HE college's journalism course is practising by running a piece on you, and the people who've seen one of those, and then seen the review in their favourite glossy, might just suggest your book to their book group... It's cumulative, in other words: it takes several mentions before most people will buy a book, and a bookshop do is only one of them. And never underestimate the local media - press and radio, and just lettting them know what's happening, because they're always hungry for material, and they might just decide to turn up at your signing...

The bigger events - festivals, talks - are a bit different, and you need to work out between you if you or your publisher/publicist or your agent is the right person to pitch for them. Yes, you're a cross between a performing bear and a prize pig. It comes with the territory.

Jane Smith said...

Daniel, you're right--I don't think I could do most of what JAK suggests: but his way of dropping in to sign books does make some sense to me. And poor Jenna!

And Emma, I agree: all the promotional efforts that writers make are cumulative, and will help in the long run--so long as their books are available on bookshop shelves for people to buy as those promotional efforts accumulate.

If the books are only available at the time of each official signing, as is the case with most self-published and vanity-published title, then each signing is going to have a very limited impact on total numbers sold.

Marian said...

The kind of signing that makes me wary is the kind which costs the author money. Usually this is for a self-published or vanity-printed title.

The author buys the books to resell, and pays for promotional items like a poster, bookmarks, a T-shirt with a picture of the book's cover and maybe personalized candy as well. It might make the author feel that she's getting her name out there, but the number of books sold is highly unlikely to recoup the costs of all the promotion.

Even if the unsold books are left behind in the store to sell later, will they be in the store's database so that they turn up on a customer search? And will they be priced the same as commercially published books? A charming, persuasive author with a good enough spiel might make customers spend a little more if she's there in person; once she's gone, what makes the books sell?

Daniel said...

One of my fellow Doctor Who novelists used to do "guerrilla signings" - swooping into bookshops to sign any copies of his novels he could find, as Jenna G would have done if she'd had her Sharpie. He was never challenged! Not saying I recommend it though!

Jane Smith said...

Marian, I've read accounts of signings where not a single book was sold... it makes me wish people concentrated on other ways of promotion, but still the launch party and the signing are the first two things that people think of when they're new to the game.

And Dan--I'm so sorry, I've not put up that blog post for you yet! I'll do it, just wait a bit. I promise!