Another look at book signings

TroublesigningAnother look at book signings

by Judy Alter

We’ve all been there—the book signing from hell. You sit at a table, maybe by the door of the store, behind a stack of books and smile at people as they go by. Most try to avoid looking you in the eye. A few smile, and some even stop to pick up your book, flip it over and read the back copy, then smile again and put it down, perhaps with a polite, “Maybe after I browse.” In two hours, you’re lucky if you sell two books, and then the store manager comes with six or eight books for you to sign and leave behind. And that’s it. Maybe you’ve driven thirty miles to get to this event, bought a new outfit, had your hair done. You may well be out much more than you earned.

I remember some wretched book signings all too well. At one a friend and I who both wrote about the American West were seated with a gentleman who wrote traditional westerns and dressed the part—boots, jeans, and a big hat. If someone walked by in jeans, he’d call out, “Hey, you look like you like westerns. Let me show you these books.” My friend and I wanted to sink under the table. A few experiences like that are enough to make you swear off book signings.

Indeed in this age of social media, maybe book signings are obsolete. Maybe you should concentrate on the various lists on the net, blogging, guest blogging, and the like.

For my first mystery, I sold 75 books over a two-day signing—but it was a little different. It wasn’t in a bookstore but in a café called The Old Neighborhood Grill, mentioned often in the novel. The owner reserved a table by the door for me and had flyers on hand beforehand. I sent out a newsletter to my mailing list (considerably shorter then) and announced the event on Facebook and Twitter. I put flyers in a few select places but not many stores are willing to give up counter space. I did purchase some plastic frames that you slip a flyer into and put them around, for instance in the local hardware nearby (not a chain but a wonderful eccentric place catering to the needs of owners of old homes—the novel had a lot about Craftsman houses and historic residential districts in it). At the signings, I had book marks and more flyers in those plastic stand-alone frames.

I signed from 7 a.m. until 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning, because the owner said that was when the readers came in. Friends actually came to have breakfast and buy books. It was fun and a huge success. Then I signed again from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. the following Monday night. Friends came to chat and have a glass of wine. I did not provide food or wine for either event, which was a huge help to my bottom line, and nobody seemed to mind. Many were Grill regulars, and they expected to pay for their food. The events also brought new people to the Grill and a steady stream of customers, so the owner was pleased to provide the space at no charge.

Subsequent signings have been good but not that good. I scheduled one for a night when the weather turned bitter, and the increasing sale of ebooks has cut into the signing party market. Unfortunately for some time there’s been a gap of six months or more between ebook and print publication (my publisher promises to remedy that in the year to come).

But I remain optimistic about signing parties that move out of the bookstore box. Even if you don’ t sell many books, you draw attention to your work. And you can have a great time!

Blurb for Murder at the Tremont House (launching Feb. 27MurderattheTremontHouse-md(2)

When free-lance journalist Sara Jo Cavanaugh comes to Wheeler to do an in-depth study of Kate’s town for a feature on small-town America, Kate senses she will be trouble. Sara Jo stays at the B&B, Tremont House, run by Kate’s sister, Donna, and unwittingly drives a further wedge into Donna’s marriage to Wheeler’s mayor Tom Bryson. And soon she’s spending way too much time interviewing high school students, one young athlete in particular. Police chief Rick Samuels ignores Kate’s instinct, but lawyer David Clinkscales, her former boss from Dallas, takes it more seriously.

Sara Jo arouses animosity in Wheeler with the personal, intrusive questions she asks, and when she is found murdered, the list of suspects is long. But Kate heads the list, and she must clear her name, with the help of David and Rick. A second murder confirms that someone is desperate, and now Rick is convinced Kate is in danger.

There’s a love triangle, a cooking school, a kidnapping, a broken marriage, and a lot of adventure before the threads of this mystery are untangled, and Wheeler can go back to being a peaceful small town. If it ever does.

Recipes included.

Author Bio

Murder at Tremont House is the second Blue Plate Mystery from award-winning novelist Judy Alter, following the successful Murder at the Blue Plate Café. Judy is also the author of four books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, and Danger Comes Home. With the Blue Plate Murder series, she moves from inner city Fort Worth to small-town East Texas to create a new set of characters in a setting modeled after a restaurant that was for years one of her family’s favorites.

Follow Judy at or her two blogs at or Or look for on Facebook at!/pages/Judy-Alter-Author/366948676705857?fref=ts or on Twitter where she is @judyalter.

11 thoughts on “Another look at book signings

  1. EARL STAGGS says:

    I agree, Judy. Bookstore signings seem to be a thing of the past. I gave them up several years ago. I’ve sold more books to parents on my school bus route.

  2. judyalter says:

    Thanks, PJ. It looks great. Just sold about 40 books over the weekend at similar signings at the same place.

  3. Janet Eaves says:

    Hopefully, Judy, the one on one, face to face, will experience a revival. It’s a wonderful thing for an author to see a smiling face when someone looks at their book cover, reads the back, and holds on to it tight!

    • radine says:

      I have had good success at Arkansas independent bookstore signings, but always, I think, because they have never been “just a signing.” Some related event was featured, like when I sign for Trolley Line Books during the annual Frisco Festival in Rogers, AR, or in conjunction with a featured meal in a local restaurant. But I also love signings at non-traditional locations–like on a passenger excursion train, and also a convention for model railroaders (JOURNEY TO DIE FOR) and (all books) at Harps Food Markets, a mostly-Arkansas grocery chain. I admit I generally do sell maybe at least five-ten more books at non-traditional locations than I do at bookstores, but I most certainly enjoy meeting the public at both venues! (At the grocery locations I frequently end up teaching a very short course in writing and publishing to shoppers who “have always wanted to be a writer.” ) But, they often buy at least one of my books.

  4. Thanks for a fun post. Book signing is right on my radar this month, as I’ll soon publish my first novel, Black Cat’s Legacy and will be holding a signing party at the local Sacramento Animal Shelter. folks can buy a book and adopt a kitten! What could guarantee a perfect afternoon? Thanks for sharing your insights.

  5. You have to have a sense of humor at booksignings. It can’t be about the money but about meeting and interacting with the public. Not everyone can afford to spend money for books, but they will have the memory of talking to you (and perhaps purchase your book at a more convenient time).

    However, I do have some “tricks” to selling. First, have an attractive table. I have freebies, usually something edible, that promotes my novels. These can be very inexpensive, use your creativity. I also find that binding my novels with raffia and putting a small cluster of plastic grapes makes the buyer feel like they are getting a little extra. And, I have no problem selling for $10 a book ($4 under price) because people usually have a $20 from the ATM and I don’t have to worry about making change. Think like the customer!

  6. I personally love book signings. Especially at conventions. I think they are the new wave of getting big groups of sales all at once. I can sell over 20 books a day at one signing and do more than break even. Sometimes I even get vendors tables for free by doing panels. I do not think they are a thing of the past at all!

  7. You’re right, Judy. Not all book signings are equal. At one signing, my husband and I sat outside on the sidewalk in a small village. In the morning, we froze in the shade (this was upstate NY in late spring) and in the afternoon we cooked in the bright sun. I like to do signings at arts festivals in the south where I can pitch my books as being set in that locale. Regardless of whether I sell or not, it’s always fun to meet and watch people. I do love those people who come by and tell me “I don’t read.” Really? Not even your cereal box in the morning?

  8. Dac Crossley says:

    I could be the guy in the cowboy hat who shouted, ‘Hey! Buy my western novels!” I stand in front of the table and greet everybody who gets near. It works.

    • Hey, Dac. Whatever works – works. I say just go for it. Your cowboy western book merits the cowboy gun. Maybe I’ll wear my cat ears when I do a book signing! what do you think?

  9. I think DAC has the right idea. You need to at least greet the people as they go by. Be a friendly face. And I also agree with those who said you have to enjoy it. If it is a chore to you, probably those walking by will sense that. Make it fun, not about the money, and if you can, do it with a friend.

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