If we want to do live book signings, as we covered in The Power of the Live Author, what is the best place to hold a book signing? The short answer is anywhere and everywhere. The more you vary your venues the larger and more varied group of readers you reach.
The long answer is that it depends. First, it depends on your goals—are you just trying to garner exposure or do you need to maximize the money you make off of each book sold, do you simply need a location for those that you’ve invited or are you seeking a location that will drive traffic for you? Second, it depends on your book.
Let’s digress for a moment then move backwards. Let’s quickly define what a book signing is, or, what we want it to be. What we don’t want is to sit at a table for two to four hours waiting for shoppers to come up and buy our book. This type of book signing rarely yields much fruit in sales or engagement. We want to hold book signings that are literary events, that give us a chance to engage an audience with a reading, a short talk, and/or a Q&A session before we get down to the business of signing and selling books.
TIP: A book signing with multiple authors can draw a larger crowd, and larger sales for all authors involved, but we will save the how and what of book signings for a later post and get back to the where.
Now, back to the question at hand:
To Bookstore or Not to Bookstore?
This question brings us back to your goals. If you need to make a book signing financially lucrative then stay away from bookstores. Bookstores take a fairly hefty cut of the profit leaving you with little in the way of revenue for each book sold. Yes, this means that you will have to buy the books to sell at the venue, but the increased profit margin to yourself (generally 40-55% of the cover price) makes this the best strategy.
Bookstores can be a good place to have a book signing if they are willing to promote the event and draw people in, basically earning their stake in the profits. This is particularly good for authors that are more concerned with building their audience than gaining returns. Local, independent bookstores tend to do this better than the national chains and are generally more willing to make your signing into an event rather than sit you at a table for a few hours to wait for your Facebook friend’s to show up and give the store the lion’s share of profits.
TIP: If you still want to seek out bookstores after reading this, use Google Maps to search out bookstores in your area (Tutorial Here). Visit each store’s website. Bookstores that keep an up-to-date events calendar already featuring literary events are a good place to start.
Thinking Outside the Bookstore
So, you have decided to stay away from bookstores, or you are a wise author and want to gain as much exposure as possible by expanding your venues. So now you ask, “Ian, where is anywhere and everywhere? Where is the best place to hold a book signing?”
There is really no wrong place to have a book signing, really. There are the go-to places like cafes, libraries, restaurants, schools, community centers, etc. There are also places that most people wouldn’t consider. I have planned or attended successful literary events at a furniture store, in a random college student’s basement, at a yoga studio, at a dive bar, in the middle of the mall, and so on. If you can get a reading with a student group at a college, even better, as they do all of the promotion for you and have a built in audience.
What you are really looking for is a place that can help draw in an audience and can benefit from the audience that you work together to create.
Begin with places you are comfortable with or to which you have some connection. Do you know the owner of the local drugstore? Set up a signing there and leave a few books behind for them to sell. Worked out theological details of your Christian fiction book with your pastor? See if you can hold a reading in the fellowship hall. Belong to a local club or lodge? Speak with the events coordinator about a signing during an annual event or as a standalone event.
Even some chain restaurants have hosted authors I’ve worked with because they spent so much time writing there. From there explore other go-to places and then start to think outside the box. Start close to home then expand geographically.
Venues that have a connection to your book’s theme can also be invaluable. You published a non-fiction book on sports? Approach a sporting goods store. Your mystery novel is set largely on a golf course? Consider a reading and a game at the country club? The possibilities are endless.
Some months ago, I spent five minutes of a morning meeting with my team of Book Consultants on an activity brainstorming venues that were feasible for a book signing. I listed bookstores and the other go-to venues before we began. Within five minutes we had fifty different venues.
Where is the Best Place to Have a Book Signing?
Again, the answer is anywhere and everywhere, so long as you are comfortable approaching the venue, they are willing to have you, and it will give you a chance to engage an audience instead of sitting at a table. The best place isn’t a single place, but as many places as you can muster.
The long and winding road of becoming a successful author is often not what people imagine it to be. In the same manner, nor is the artful and treacherous path of starting a business or founding a startup. With the many artists, authors, and musicians that I've known and worked with over the years, even the greatest amongst them often forget something critical: their identity as an artist is a business, and should be cultivated as one.
If you want people love what you have to offer, leave them wanting more, and get them to share it with their friends, then becoming an author or an artist is truly like founding a startup in every way. Here's how you can accomplish that:
You must have complete conviction
Above all else, many investors agree that it's conviction that sets apart entrepreneurs in their startup pitch. How determined are you to see your vision through to success? How far are you willing to go? Your conviction to your idea, or to your product, will draw the line between selling books, and not. As an author, you need to infect readers with the contagion of your conviction to your books, and writing process. Your enthusiasm about your books should be like an infectious disease that people can't escape. No one can be excited if you're not. No one can be sure until you are.
Diving in, and taking Risks
How far are you willing to go? You can't go far without taking risks. People in business recite this like some kind of mantra, but it's at the core of every great success. Take risks with your books. Don't be afraid to get them out there. Don't be afraid to invest in promoting them. You can't possibly hope to succeed if you're not taking risks.
Building the Brand
Every author has their own personal brand. Many outstanding writers forget this when starting their journey. Think of successful brands; what made their brand successfully stick out in people's minds? Twitter has an iconic name, logo, and symbolism that ties into the function of their simple, yet addictive, product. It's important that you create an emotional connection with your audience that engages them to recognize not only your name, but the appearance of your work from a distance. You're not just selling books, you're selling a brand, when you've built the basis of your identity as an author. You're selling your name and self.
Building the Tools and the Team
Being a great writer alone in today's age is not enough to be a successful author. You must build a platform and a means by which people can connect with what you're putting out there. This means the proper tools, and the proper team. There are all sorts of little nuts and bolts and tiny pieces that many great writers overlook when seeking to publish. In reference to turning the manuscript into a published book: Who's going to Edit this thing? Who's going to make the the art for the cover? Who's going to actually design the cover? Who's going to format the interior typeset of the book? Who's going to manage my social feeds? How's this thing going to get out there? These questions must be answered, but simply are not always answered appropriately. Each of these details is equally important and should not be overlooked, and should be professionally addressed. As an author, you should be building a team around you, that can handle these things, and also acquiring the tools, both metaphorical and physical tools, by which you can share your work.
You must build a Tribe
Every great startup, and every great artist, built a tribe of friends, followers, and supporters. Your tribe is much more than your fan base; it's your community. Build a tribe around you, with which to rely upon, for making critical decisions, or propagating your works. A tribe can't be bought, it must be built. You must work diligently to connect with your fans and supporters in a way that encourages them and engages them to be on board with what you're doing, or what you're writing. Anne Rice has built an outstanding Facebook presence, with whom she is constantly connecting with on a personal level. Arguably, it is her relationship with her tribe that contributes to the maintenance of her power and relevance in writing culture. Building your tribe is not the same as building your team. Your team should be hired professionals, or at the least, your inner-circle. Whereas your tribe is the outer circle. Your tribe are your regulars at the coffee shop, whilst your team members are helping you serve them.
Create Products that Enhance People's Lives
Quite simply; are you creating something that enhances people's lives? Do people want to consume your product, in the way that they might consume a sandwich? The answer to these questions should be "Hell Yes!" - what you have to say and share must be worthy of consumption. Sometimes, as an author, you are the product. As Ira Glass said in a recent Podcast on This American Life, "it's not the product, it's the person." While this doesn't mean that people should consume you, it does mean that they should be excited and invigorated in some capacity by the brand that you have created - enough maybe to wear it on their sleeve, literally.
Yep. Money has to be spent. Even if it's just a little. Money alone is not the cause of money, but it certainly helps. If you're sitting there thinking "I can do this without spending any money," or "I'll do this one day, when I have the money" your peers, equals, and indeed, those ahead of you, are already doing it. If your product is great, or if you're great, yes, you can get your tribe and your team to invest in you. If your tribe and your team are investing money in your product or brand, like in a Kickstarter, then they become like your partners. When that happens, a beautiful thing has occurred, and suddenly a weight is lifted. But how can you get to that point? How can you define yourself strongly enough so that people want to give you their money? You have to answer this question. You must make people want to give you their money, or at least, you must make people want to buy your product or person - in the way that they would want to buy a sandwich. Your readers aren't thinking of it that way, however. But as an author, you should be.
There are many facets to marketing a book and building your platform as an author (i.e. gaining an audience over a variety of media). There are also a lot of articles, blogs, and experts telling you how to market correctly and which facets to put your energy into. It seems that one of the most overlooked (or abandoned) practices for authors are live events. That is, an author engaging an audience through a reading, signing, and/or speaking engagement. A launch party is a great way to kick things off but continuing to hold live reading and signing events will perpetuate the following positive results for new and veteran authors alike.
Add Value to Your Book
Just as an album signed by its band becomes more valuable, so does a book signed by its author. Readers that receive a signed copy of a book are more likely to recommend books throughout their sphere of influence, leave an online review for the book, or post the book to social media sites. There are even ways to encourage your readers to do this when meeting them face to face. Too many authors tell me that they don’t want to schlep their book, as if it is somehow beneath them. It was not beneath successful authors like John Grisham and Louise Hay, among others, who both started out this way. Remember that selling is marketing. Every signed copy that lands into someone’s hand is another person that can tell others about your book.
Engage and Energize Your Audience Directly
Beyond getting a signed copy in their hands, performing live and being able to speak with and shake hands with your audience makes them more engaged in your book and in you as an author. This is the reason why politicians travel on a campaign to give stump speeches instead of simply airing commercials, doing interviews, and reaching out on social media. It lets you get to know your audience and them to get to know you, to make a personal connection. People buy products from people they like and they suggests books by authors they like. Not only will you have made a personal connection, but you have a chance to ask your audience face to face to leave a review on Amazon, follow your blog and social media sites, or post your book on their Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or other social media site. Even a small reading or book club can turn out to be a very intimate event and lead to some of your most ardent reader-promoters.
Rise Above the Internet Noise
The bad news is that there are more authors than ever trying to promote their books. The good news is that a vast majority of these authors are trying to promote solely by means of the internet. This kind of competition makes it even more difficult to get noticed online, but holding live events puts you into a unique class of author. Not only are live events a great way to seed your social media following by reaching fans through a noiseless medium, but it can add content about you are your book to the online world. Live events give not only you, as the author, but your audience something to post about online beyond a review of the book, excerpt from the book, or summary of the book. It is refreshing to read about an author having a great time with fans instead of another thinly guised plea for you to buy and promote their book. It is a great way to supplement your online efforts with additional advocates and unique news content.
Give the Media Something to Report About
Your book is out, you’ve sent out a press release about its availability to every newspaper and online news source in the world, but months later there is nothing new to excite the media masses. What to do? Though a book signing or author reading won’t make the front page of the New York Times, or much of a splash in any large city, it can garner attention in smaller communities with smaller newspapers. Not only can you get exposure in these smaller towns and cities, with a crowd that can become even more excited about this event that is more rare, more special to them, but most publications (even small town newspapers) post online now. This will help your online clout and give your book additional Google listings when it is searched.
Make More Money
While bookstores are the go-to place authors think of when they want to launch their book or have a signing, it isn’t necessarily the most effective and certainly isn’t the most profitable. We will cover this more in an upcoming article, “The Best Place to Hold a Book Signing”. One of the greatest benefits to having live signing events (outside of bookstores) is that it gives you the chance to become your own bookseller. This means that you make the lion’s share of the profit of the book because you don’t have a distributor or bookseller taking a huge discount—this portion goes back into your pocket. This is especially great for self-published authors who are trying to not only gain an audience but recoup the costs of publishing their book. If you do not want to appear like you are schlepping your book or seem like a salesman more than an author, have a friend or family member sell copies of your book at one table while you greet readers and sign books at a second table.
1. Less is More
In book design, clarity is essential. Typically, you have only milliseconds to appeal to your potential reader. Therefore, keep it simple. The best book covers have one incredible piece of art, and basic typography. Don't burden your cover with unnecessary effects or extras.
2. Find a Brilliant Photo or Illustration
Find a unique image that represents your book, identity, and brand. Remember: in a matter of moments, to a potential reader, the image, as well as the title, will tell the reader everything they want to know. Sometimes, to compel your reader, all you have is an image; so make sure it counts! Finding a brilliant photo or illustration often means finding a brilliant photographer or illustrator. Stock photos do not count! Remember, you want a unique image.
3. Typography & Font selection
A title speaks 1,000 words, even if your title is only one word. However, it is not only the words that will speak to its readers on a subconscious level, but the typeface. Correct use and alignment of typography is often greatly overlooked by the Indie Author. You want to be sure to stick with fonts that are clear, easy to read, and also strong. Your font should never be an overused, or overdone font, such as Times New Roman, Papyrus, or Comic Sans, and you almost never want to have more than three fonts on the cover of your book. Furthermore, never mix moods to the point of confusion.
Bring to life a cover that matches the mood of your manuscript. If your book is satire, you want the life of your cover to reflect the satyrical nature of your book. If you've written a thriller novel, craft a cover that takes the potential reader into the suspense of your tail. Treat your book cover like a living thing, allow it to speak for itself. A great book deserves a great book cover - allow for the mood and atmosphere to resonate with the reader upon the first glance.
5. Tell Your Story
The cover of your book should deliver a microcosm of your story. The very first edition of The Hobbit, by J.R.R Tolkien, portrayed a simple illustration of one of the books chief characters Smaug, and a simple portrayal of the Lonely Mountain at the top. This first illustration, by the author, is an example of the kind of minimalism we're discussing here, which gives readers a magical piece of the story, begging them to look deeper. Later, the over art was re-illustrated more elaborately, but still executed the same principles.
Whether you've crafted a work of fiction, a Children's book, or an educational treatise into health and happiness, tell the readers a story by delivering a cover that gives an insight into the nature of your core message.
Remember that a great cover design is something to be carefully considered. If you're an independent author, or you're using a self-publishing service, sometimes the temptation to design the cover yourself is strong. If you want your book to be in the hands of readers, it's worth your time to invest in great design. Carefully chose designers, or a company, that can fit your budget and design needs.
Also remember that designing for web is not the same as designing for print. Make sure that your design utilizes high resolution images and files, and is also standardized for web, so that you can get the best of both worlds.