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Book Marketing: How To Sign A Book

Book Marketing: How to Sign a Book

Pauline Baird Jones at her book signing table

ALLi author Pauline Baird Jones, all set to sign

So, you've self-published a book, organised a launch event and done everything on your list to prepare for the big day: sent invitations, delivered the books to the venue, assembled any props that you need, bought refreshments, planned your talk. At last you'll be getting to do what so many aspiring authors dream of from the first time they put pen to paper to write their first book: sit at a signing table with a queue of eager new fans in front of you. But in your excitement, don't overlook the final important piece of planning: prepare to sign those books! Here are some practical tips to make sure you don't fall at the final hurdle.

Signing Your Name

  • Kathy Joyce signing a book

    Author Kathy Joyce positively enjoys signing books for her fans – surely not just the influence of the wine there!

    Practice your signature in advance. This is especially important if you write under a pen name that you're not used to signing on other documents.

  • Make sure your signing table looks attractive and welcoming, positioned in a clear space where it won't be jogged by passers-by while you're in mid-signature.
  • Arm yourself with a glass of water (or a glass of wine – you'll have earned it!) to keep yourself refreshed as you sign. You may be hoarse if you've just given a talk about your book, and there's often a lot of background noise after a launch that require you to speak at the top of voice. Don't lose it!
  • Take your favourite pen for signing, having first made sure that it's practical for the paper used in your book's interior e.g. will dry quickly, won't smudge, won't be repelled by the paper surface. Then pack a spare pen – you never know when your favourite pen might run dry.
  • Take your time and sign slowly. I'm sure I'm not the only one who sometimes misspells their own name if scribbling too fast.
  • British novelist Ian Sutherland advises: “Apparently, it's traditional etiquette to put a line through your printed author name when you sign your name underneath.” This tip also suggests the importance of choosing exactly which page you'll sign on – the most common choice is the page on which the title and author name appear, which usually follows any “About the Author”, “About this Book”, or “Praise for this Book” pages. (More advice on front and back matter will follow later this week in a post by Jessica Bell.)

What Else to Write

  • Ian Sutherland signing a book

    Ian Sutherland's book signing appears to be fuelled by chocolate…

    Ask “Is it for you or is it a gift for someone else?” – which might prompt them into buying a second copy as a gift for someone else!

  • Ask people if they'd like a special message when you sign it, and if they say yes, ask them to write it down on a post-it.
  • If they want it signed to a particular person (which may not be themselves), ask them to write the name clearly on a post-it note so that you get the spelling right. It can also be difficult to hear a shy person speak a name in a busy shop, so it spares the buyer embarrassment as well as saving you from writing the wrong name.
  • If you're signing at a big event or on a special occasion (even more special than your book launch! – e.g. Cheltenham Literature Festival or World Book Day), you might like to write “World Book Day 2015” rather than just the date, to make it a memento of the event. If unsure, ask the buyer if  he'd like you to do that.
  • US novelist Karen Myers recommends preparing standard lines, separately for each book, in the same was as you would a book description. (I often put “Good luck selling YOUR books!” when signing my book promotion handbook, Sell Your Books!)
  • If you're also an illustrator, consider doing a quick drawing as part of your signature. That's a very winning trick, which I saw in action when buying children's picture books at a rare joint signing by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. Their thoughtfulness made these birthday presents for young relatives extra special, and I'm sure it's predisposed me to buying more of their books ever since when I've needed a picture book for a child of the right age.

How to Make the Most of the Occasion

  • Caroline Batten at signing table

    Caroline Battens banner will ensure all the photos of her signing will be clearly branded

    Make the most of this rare face-to-face contact with your readers to help build a lasting relationship. Take a moment to chat with each buyer, unless your queue is huge and restless. Look them in the eye, smile, be personable and charming (asking them about themselves is very winning). Thank them for buying your book and tell them you hope they enjoy it. Consider offering a card or a bookmark with details of how to sign up for your mailing list, so you can notify them the next time you have a new book out. It may feel a bit presumptious, but actually the readers may feel flattered that you value them individually.

  • Get someone to take photos of your signing activity – really useful for your marketing resources, especially if you've set your table up to include some handy branding in the background.
  • Announce (or get your MC to announce) before you start signing that you're happy to be included in selfies with buyers if required.It may slow you down a bit, but you can be sure that any such photos will be shared widely on social media and shown to friends – that's why people take them. Result: enthusiastic word-of-mouth advertising for your new book at its finest, at no cost to you!
  • Also offer to be photographed in the process of signing, especially if someone's buying a book as a gift. At the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, my mum had the bright idea of taking a photo of Katie Fforde signing a book that she was gifting to her hairdresser, to whom my mum gave a copy of the photo along with the book as a very special and unique present – the kind of thing that money really can't buy.

Learn from Other Authors' Events

Atulya Bingham signing books for readers

All smiles from Atulya Bingham and her readers

To help you hone your signing process as your self-publishing career advances, attend other authors' book signing events whenever you can. You may pick up top tips and inspiration by seeing an experienced master in action – or equally be given a clear lesson in what not to do, as the following example conveys.

I recently went to see a talk by a very popular author, of national treasure status, who I'd seen speak several times before. I'd always queued afterwards to buy a signed book, either for myself as a souvenir of the event or as a personalised gift for someone else. The opportunity to exchange a few words with this particular household name (which I'd better not disclose) made me feel I'd got added value for my ticket price.

Yet at his most recent event, before a packed house at a premium price, I was shocked to hear at the end that while the audience was welcome to queue to have books signed, we were not to ask the author for anything other than a straight signature, nor were we to engage the author in conversation.

I felt short-changed. It was the last event of the night, so there was no obvious rush to clear the room for an imminent talk. It just gave the impression that his readers were not valued or respected. I don't think it will have been much fun for the author, either, sitting there like a signing machine plagued by resentful looks. Needless to say, this was one occasion on which I didn't buy his new book, nor have I bought it since.  I left the event feeling negative about the author, despite his talk having been first-rate. Don't be like that author, whatever else you do.


Please feel free to share your top tips about book signings via the comments box.

Top tips for #selfpub #authors on how to sign books by @DebbieYoungBN Share on X



This Post Has 23 Comments
  1. Debbie, this information give me everything I need for my first book signing for my first book written at the age of 83. The setting is for a large corporation in New Jersey which wants 150 books so I’ve decided to pre-sign them leaving a place for each person’s name. Also, I will use your idea of using Post-it notes to have people write their name so each one is spelled correctly. Thank you.

  2. This is not only helpful but very comforting as my first book, Starfire Wisdom, is just launched and I’m planning a book signing soon. You covered some very important preparations and also made wonderful suggestions to be more personal and considerate to the buyers and fans. I look forward to creating a fun event now, instead of feeling anxiety over this new frontier. Thank you!

  3. Thank you so much for this useful information. Just published my first book and in the process of arranging a book signing session. Love the post-it note and general set-up ideas. Can’t wait.

  4. Thank you! That will help a lot I am a very young author ( 15 ), and signing well was one of my biggest fears for the J day. But now, thank to you, I think I am more prepared for this special event.
    One again, thank you.

  5. […] Sometimes the simplest things are much more complicated than you thought. Once your beautiful book has been published, one of the things you are likely to be doing to market it is book signing. Seems simple, doesn’t it? If that is what you think, you may be surprised at the length of this practical post about book signing. […]

    1. I have a book signing coming this weekend. It is not the first time at an event for my books. I like the post it idea. Thank you

  6. Thanks, Debbie. Great tips. Totally agree about your unnamed author event – if you can’t take the time to exchange a few words with your readers, then why should they take the time to read your books?

  7. Helena, I have always signed too quickly also – and Debbie’s post helped me to understand why – and made me recognise something about myself. I have never been satisfied with my signings and one of the reasons is a discomfort with the process — of putting myself out there in that way (no problem putting myself out there in other ways, as we know! :-)) I have a very special signing coming up in August (the culmination of over a decade’s work) so I am determined for the first time, to thoroughly enjoy my signing, Debbie’s tips in hand.

  8. I do a lot of signings for school events and learned early on that time is very short as the children invariably need to get to the next lesson. So for most of my visits I provide a flyer and tear-off slips in advance of the event, which allows the school to email me a list of orders a day or two before I go. As well as helping me plan how many books I need (albeit there are always stragglers…) a couple of added benefits are that this allows me to be sure of the spelling for each name (never assume a name is spelt the way you think it is!) and to include a more personal message. I always say something along the lines of ‘I hope you enjoy the story’ etc, often add extra touches from time to time — for example, I normally let a child know if they share a name with one of the book’s characters – eg I might say “To Sophie – I hope you enjoy The Secret Lake – you’ll find a ‘Sohpie’ in here!” Or in the case of Henry Haynes (where Henry complains that his library book is boring and then gets sucked down into the story…) I sometime add – “…mind you don’t fall in!” with a little smiley face. I also do this at bookshop signings if it’s quiet… It also makes it more fun and less monotonous for me 🙂

  9. Thank you for these great tips! My first book comes out in about four months, and to say I don’t know what I’m doing is an understatement! I’ve been to a number of book signings and have tried to pay attention, but none of them were conducted in such a thoughtful manner. I learned a lot from you today, and I’m grateful.

    J.L. Callison

  10. Wonderful information. I just got back from attending ConQuest, and I picked up several signed books from the authors there. Needless to say, my favorite signings were those that included a note, whether it be as simple as hoping I enjoyed their book or where I picked up at, or as specific as including a quote from the book itself. Brandson Sanderson was the author guest of honor, and on his older books, he included a quote or phrase from the books– which was awesome because I could recognize them since I’d read them. It was a really nice touch, and needless to say, I left feeling like my expectations had been met.

    So that’s something I’ll definitely keep in mind. And the post-it note. That was also something he did, and I think it’s a genius idea.

  11. This blogpost came in perfect time. I’m having my book launch of Annie’s Story this Wednesday evening at the University Women’s Club in Mayfair. I have had a few launches but picked up so good tips. Many thanks!

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