Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Introvert’s Guide to Solo Book Signings

Since our focus is on bookstores this month, we thought it would be a good time to touch on the subject of book signings. Mary’s talked about them recently and had some compelling reasons for doing a buddy signings. But what if you simply don’t have another writer you can pair with? What’s an introvert to do?

Alas, not having a buddy does not give you carte blanche to completely bow out of book signings altogether. Book signings, specifically book signings at independent bookstores, are worth their weight in gold, even if only two people show up. How can that be? Remember—publishing and bookselling are all about connecting with readers. Indie bookstore employees are some of the most dedicated, passionate readers around. Even if no one else shows up, you can take the opportunity to chat with them, ask what books are going like hotcakes in their store, what their personal favorites are, what helps them sell and get behind a book. You can also sign stock.

So repeat after me, even poorly attended book signings give you a terrific opportunity to connect with booksellers, and connecting with booksellers is one of the best tools in your marketing arsenal.

But what are some other strategies you can employ to help you feel less like a pimple on the bookstore’s nose as you sit at a table waiting for someone to come buy your book. Here are a few suggestions.

1) Think abundance. Mary and I have found through trial and error that if you sit with a big pile of your books, it tends to draw people to you. Occasionally, we’ve sat at tables with just one or two of our books with the bulk of the copies some place else. This doesn’t seem to work as well, so see if the store will let you have plenty of books on your table.

2) Bring a couple of ice breakers along. Candy is always good. Few can resist a piece of candy, although I recommend something that can be popped into one’s mouth in a single bite in order to avoid any sticky residue on fingers that could end up on the inventory!

3) Consider a raffle or giveaway. That way instead of asking people if they’d like to BUY something, you can ask if they’d like to WIN something by entering a drawing. This can be much more comfortable way to approach people. You can raffle off a copy of your current book, an earlier title, or even a small prize that ties into the theme of your book.

4) Schwag. Have enticing little piles of bookmarks, pencils, tattoos, whatever. Things that you can ask customers if they’d like (free) so you can break through that invisible wall that seems to exist between customers and signing authors.

6) Consider donating a portion of the proceeds to some worthy cause: the children’s library collection, a literacy group, the local Girl’s or Boys club. Often if you can find a way to give back to the community, the community will feel even more enthusiastic about supporting you. Plus, it shifts the focus from you to your worthy cause.

7) Keep your expectations realistic. Do not expect throngs of people. Every author has had a book signing where only one or two people show up.

8) Stay in the moment and focus on gratitude for those people who did show up. Connect with them, chat for a few moments.

9) See if the bookstore hosts any reading groups or knows of any local reading groups who might be interested in your book or attending the signing as a group.

10) When setting up the signing, ask if the bookstore will consider doing presales for customers who would like a signed book but have other obligations on the date of your signing. This helps make the even just that much more worthwhile for everyone.

11) If all else fails, be a mimic. Pretend you’re somebody else, someone you’ve seen who is able to interact comfortably with people and always seems gracious. Just pretend you’re that character for the duration of the event.

12) If you know you’re bad at small talk, make up a list of conversation starters. What books have you read recently? What grade are you in. What are you studying in school right now? What’s your favorite book? Have you seen the new Spiderwick movie? Whatever. But something that shifts the focus from you to them.

If any of you have other strategies that you’ve found helpful, or if any indie booksellers out there have additional ideas on what you’ve seen work well, feel free to pass it on in the comments!


Shari Green said...

Great tips! I'm tucking them away for future reference. :)

Katia said...

Just the kind of advices I need. Especially number 12. Small talk???? Agh! Thank you so much, Robin.

Anonymous said...

This is really helpful!

I've found that sweets are always a winner (white chocolate mice in my case, or mousecakes if I find time to make them) as are badges. Badges just seem to be the killer giveaway - although they have to be cool enough to adorn a bag.

Another thing I've found useful is to have a friend - not necessarily another author - come along who can mill about and make people aware that you are who you are (maybe by carrying the sweets and offering them out). It not only puts you at ease by knowing that a friend is with you, but it also aids the folk heading to you.

jenn said...

These are really great tips! Thanks for sharing them. I saved this post to my "promotion ideas" folder for when that day comes. Thanks again!

R.L. LaFevers said...

I'm so glad to know the tips were helpful, guys! Thanks.

And Alex, a resounding yes to having a buddy there, even if they are not an author. The buddy system rules, for all the reasons you mention!

jenn said...

I'm not sure if this is how I leave indie bookstore nominations, but I wanted to recommend three.

First is The Reader's Cove in Fort Collins, Colorado. Their website is This bookstore has a true community spirit and I think is especially noteworthy for the way they go above and beyond supporting local authors. I posted on my blog about the letter-writing campaign they've organized for children's author Todd Mitchell ( if you want to read more about it and join in the efforts to help) and they have another campaign going to try and get a local pediatric psychiatrist's book on Oprah.

My second nomination is for The Linden Tree in downtown Los Altos, CA. ( This is a wonderful, wonderful children's bookstore. I worked there for about a year and I thought I knew a lot about children's literature going in, but boy did the staff there prove me wrong. They REALLY know their stuff. I don't know if he still works there, but Tom especially could field the most obscure requests. The Linden Tree has an incredibly wide selection of children's books including educational materials for teachers and they have a great selection of children's music, audio books, and educational toys.

And my final nominee is Boulder Bookstore in Boulder, CO. ( This is a big store--three stories in a charming, old building on Pearl Street (downtown shopping district) of room after room of books, books, books. It's a must see destination if you are a booklover visiting Boulder, CO, but be prepared to spend hours wandering around the store. They also offer a wide range of author events with a little something for everyone. (Although they bend toward the liberal side because Boulder is traditionally a liberal town.)

Anonymous said...

I just want to reiterate the bit about every author having signings where only a few people show up. Years ago, I lived in Gresham, OR which is more like a suburb of Portland. It had a small children's bookstore and so when Paula Danzigger hit the road to promote the Amber Brown books, they booked her there for an afternoon. Well, no one showed but me and maybe two others. FOR PAULA DANZIGGER!!!! She was fabulous. She was so nice and friendly and she was wearing purple sparkly Doc Martens. She signed the two books I bought, but also the first book of hers that I'd ever read, back in high school. I was just starting to write then and she wrote: I hope to see your name on a book jacket someday.

Well, she didn't live to see that (not that she'd remember anyway), but seeing her so happy and cheerful even though I was the only one there for most of the hour, just totally inspired me.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Thanks for these tips! I think every writer has that nightmare vision of sitting alone in a bookstore with a table full of books, while the clientele scurries past, avoiding eye contact.

I wonder--do picture book writers appear with their illustrators? It seems like it would be great, as well as more comfortable, to have both of them there. And the illustrator could draw pictures to entice people.

Robin L said...

Jennifer, thanks so much for the nominations!

Joelle, that is the perfect story to illustrate exactly what we're talking about. Thank you so much for sharing it! And lucky you, to have a few moments alone with the lovely Ms. Danzigger!

Liquidambar, as a general rule, the author and illustrator don't appear together, mostly for logistical reasons--quite often they live on opposite sides of the country, or even in different countries! Also, coordinating the two schedules could be problematic. But I do love it when someone can draw something quick and fun in a book they're signing. That's always a huge bonus!

Mary Hershey said...

Fabulous post, Robin! Thanks much--


Wild About Words said...

Yowza! What a useful blog post. I'm taking notes. Thanks for the great ideas.
I'd heard recently from an agent at a conference that the average number of people who show up to book signings is . . . three. Here's to us introverts being waaaay above average.
And I loved that story about Paula Danziger, Joelle. I took one of her workshops a couple years ago and found her to be so generous and knowledgeable. Of course she'd have been full of fun and grace even though her book signing wasn't well attended. Look what an important impression she made on you. One never knows the impact she can have on one person.
Thanks Mary and Robin for promoting the indies. What a great idea to show them the love they so deserve!