"I had a great book signing. I talked to a lot of people and I sold 5 books!" the author states enthusiastically.
Well, that's good. I'm always glad to hear the author had a great time at their book signing event. Is five copies sold a good result for a book signing event? Probably not. If the bookstore ordered 20 copies of the book for the event and only five were sold, chances are the other 15 books are going to be returned to the distributor. The author is actually in the hole after their "great" book signing. Other times, an author will tell me this was a "lousy" signing, and the bookstore "didn't advertise my event at all!"
The good news is it doesn't have to be this way. There are things that authors can do to ensure successful book signing events in which they not only sell all of the books the bookstore ordered, but have to dip into their own supply as well. These tips will presume that the author is doing a regular book signing, as opposed to a consignment sale (which we'll cover later.)
1. Get 'em in the door. Don't just expect the bookstore to advertise your event and bring in throngs of people eagerly awaiting to sign your book. Stack the deck in your favor. Send out invitations to your family, friends, co-workers...anybody you can think of. Don't just assume they won't come to your event. The more people you invite, the better. Bookstores schedule events because they want authors to bring people into their store. When I schedule book signing events for authors, the first question bookstore managers ask me is "how many people can they invite and get into the store?" The bookstore is looking for more customers, and they expect the authors to bring them.
2. Get the word out. Don't just rely on emails. Post a notice on your Facebook or MySpace page, on Craig's List for your community, and on any free events calendar listings in your local area. Send out press releases to the local media. You might get a small two line notice in their events calendar section, or a reporter might event want to interview you prior to your event. Some authors want to purchase ads in the local paper. In my experience, these really aren't very effective and can be very expensive. If they actually worked, your publisher or the bookstore would place the ads themselves. There is a reason why they don't.
3. Work with the bookstore. Ask the bookstore manager where you will be seated in the store (ideally, you'll be near the entrance), if they need posters or bookmarks to promote the event and if they know of any media contacts that have promoted their events in the past.
4. Dress up your table. Don't expect the bookstore to do it for you. At the very least, have a tabletop poster announcing who you are, or have a large one mounted on posterboard at the local Kinko's and place it on an easel near your table. If you have props that are applicable to your book, display them. I have an author who wrote a book about WWII who displays his Army gear at his book signing events. He even wanted to bring his old military rifle to events, but I told him it was probably best that he not bring firearms to the mall. Anything that will attract people to your table is great, but make sure the bookstore manager is fine with it first.
5. Have a pre-written announcement ready for the store to read over their intercom system. Not all stores have these, but the larger ones do. They will appreciate the fact that it is one less thing they have to prepare for the event, and this will let people in the store know who you are and where you are located.
6. Be outgoing. Don't just sit at your table and wait for people to approach you. Engage the customers in conversation. Tell them who you are and about the book you have written. Many bookstore customers love to meet authors, but they may not be the first ones to make a move. Sell yourself, and the merits of your book (without being pushy, of course). I have heard of authors who have spent the entire 2-3 hours of their signing just sitting at their table hoping people will line up for a book, or worse...reading a magazine or newspaper during their event. Have you ever seen those people handing out free food samples at the supermarket? They talk to everyone that walks by them, with a big smile on their face. They talk about the product, and how great it is. Authors could learn a lot from these people. Remember, you are "on the job" when you are at a book signing event. Treat it like one.
7. Thank the bookstore manager or events coordinator. Let them know you appreciate their support. Send them a thank-you card after the event. They will be more likely to recommend your book, have you back for future events and recommend you to their sister stores, if they have any. A great attitude goes a long way.
Remember, nobody is more passionate or believes in your book more than you!