You've achieved that goal--you have your first published work! And now, a second dream is coming true--your first book signing or author event.
It's thrilling to see your hard work pay off and your dreams come true. Seeing the sign on the door of your venue or bookstore is surreal. However, once the shock and excitement wears off, you might have one big, daunting question: What the hell do you do now?
I can remember seeing my picture on my local Barnes & Noble for my first book signing. In some ways, I couldn't rationalize that it was actually my picture. It felt like a dream because it had been a goal for so long. Once I got over the initial shock, though, panic set in. I didn't feel like a "real" author. I had no idea what I was supposed to do at a book signing. What if people showed up expecting a "real" author smoothly talking about plot arcs and characterization?
Or even worse, what if no one showed up at all?
Luckily, I had an amazing team of support to quell my fears, to offer me a Pepto Bismol when I felt like I was going to vomit from nerves, and to make sure I wasn't sitting all alone at a lonely, empty table. My first event went so well, and over the past few years, I've found myself getting less nervous for author events.
I'm still no expert. I still have my socially awkward "What do I do?" moments. I still shy away from the spotlight and lack confidence I should have in my salesmanship. Nonetheless, over quite a few author events, I've learned some tips I wish I had known when I first started.
1. Take a team who know your books with you.
Especially if you're on the introverted side, pitching your work to strangers can be intimidating. There are so many sales' techniques that go into a book writing career. You do have to be able to sell your work to strangers. I found this intimidating. Having friends or family members who know your book and can objectively tell others about it will help you out if you freeze up.
My husband is naturally extroverted and has an easier time talking to people. He's always right by my side during events because he helps make up for my shyness. He gets people talking and feeling comfortable; I've found sometimes customers are shy and nervous to approach.
Also, having a team with you is a confidence boost. It helps you to have fun, to realize it's all okay, and to not have to awkwardly look busy if there aren't any people approaching your table.
2. Practice your two sentence pitch.
Your goal at book events is always to gain new fans. If you can sell to one new reader, you've been successful.
Strangers who approach you at signings typically have a few questions in common
It seems crazy, but sometimes as an author, it is so hard for us to boil our stories down to a quick description. We spend so much time elaborating on characters and settings that when we're asked to take it back to the basics, we stumble.
Prepare a few sentences that describe your book. That way, you can give potential customers an idea. Typically, people feel awkward reading the back of the book when you're right there. Having a quick pitch to pique their interest will help you seem more confident. I've also found as a new author it helps to have comparison authors. "Readers compare my work or writing to___insert familiar author name____" can give readers a point of reference. Just make sure you're being honest. I always say my stories are similar to stories in the Nicholas Sparks' genre. I don't claim to be Nicholas Sparks, however.
3. Have attractive giveaways or freebies.
People like free stuff. Period.
Attract new readers to your table with giveaways and freebies. I use Vistaprint to make paper products like postcards with all my covers and business cards. Bookmarks with your book cover are useful; I like Overnight Prints or Print Runner.
Try to have a few unique items to giveaway, too. Make a few grocery totes on a photo website to give to the first few customers. I have had pins made on Etsy shops. I also have made my own bottlecap magnets by printing out pictures of my books and using Mod Podge to create magnets. These were really popular. Get creative. Think about what you would like to use. Don't limit yourself to book covers, either; you can use quotes from your book to adorn totes, bags, shirts, etc.
The goal is to make people remember you.
Tell everyone about your event weeks in advance, and send reminders a few days before. Don't be shy! The best way to ensure a good turnout is to take the initiative to invite people. Treat it almost like a party! Create a Facebook event page, send out flyers, and email relatives. Spread the word.
When strangers see your author table crowded, it helps reassure them that you're a good writer and worth their time. The more people at your event, the more likely you are to sell to strangers.
5. Ask for spellings of names.
When personalizing books you sign, don't be afraid to ask for spellings. I have everyone spell their name just because you never know if someone has a unique spelling. People aren't offended by this; they like that you want to get it right.
Don't know what to write in a book? Come up with a few common sayings you can tweak. I like to write something like "It was great to meet you!" People like the idea that if you get big, they will have a personalized book saying they met you. Also, date every book.
If you are super stumped, ask the purchaser what they would like you to write. If nothing else, just put their name and sign your name with the date.
6. Dress to be confident and comfortable.
You will be standing a lot. Wear comfortable shoes. Trust me.
I usually get a new outfit for each event because I want to feel confident. Find something that makes you feel good so self-consciousness isn't added to your nervousness. I always wear a dress to show readers I'm taking things seriously. I like to dress professionally to show my professional attitude toward my writing.
7. Be realistic in your goals.
Even J.K. Rowling had a few empty book events when she first started. Don't panic if you have an event where you only sell one or two copies. I've had quite a few events where I was lucky to sell two books. I've also had events where I sold over fifty copies in a few hours. All sorts of things like schedules, weather, time, and advertising can affect your turnout. Don't take it to heart if you have a sparse event.
Also, if you are a new writer, realize people are hesitant to spend hard-earned cash on a newbie. With each book you publish, it gets easier. People trust someone with a backlist. I've seen many more strangers willing to invest in my work now that I've released five books versus when I had only written one. Give yourself time to grow a fan base.
At the end of the day, you've done something few can say they've accomplished. Celebrate that. My husband always tells me even if only one person buys my book, that's one person who is reading words I made up. That's pretty exciting.
Celebrate each small victory and appreciate the journey. I know that's easier said than done, but be patient. Your time will come if you just keep at it.
8. Just smile and be yourself.
You don't have to know what you're doing. Seriously. Tell people it's your first event. Tell people you're still getting used to the author title. People like genuine. People like personality. It's okay to not be perfect.
Just be friendly, be yourself, and the rest will fall into place.
Have a question about books, writing, or the author journey? Let it in the comments and I will address it in a future blog post! Thanks for reading, and let me know how your signings go!