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
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
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
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
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.
OVER TO YOU
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 Click To Tweet