BookSigning Etiquette

njbooksigning2The other day I went to my first booksigning from the author side of the table.

A chapter mate Eve Silver was signing His Dark Kiss, her wonderful Victorian gothic.  Fascinated with the whole process, I watched Eve promote her second book and got some valuable lessons in how to run a book signing.

I later got additional input from Kelley Armstrong, author of many exciting paranormal stories and veteran signer.

Curb your Expectations

A booksigning usually sells about five books unless you’ve hit the sweet spot of perfect timing and location. Eve sold thirty-seven in the hour and half of her signing. Kelley has sold as little as two and as many as one hundred copies of the same book.

View your signings the way your publisher does–it’s all about you and your buzz. A well-attended booksigning is intended to sell all of your books, not just the one on the table in front of you.

Find a Busy Location

Eve’s signing was held at a bookstore located in a very busy underground shopping concourse. It connects a dozen or so office towers to three subway stations and the central train station. So there are LOTS of commuters looking for a good read.

There’s a paranormal readers club based at this store that pounce on each release. Customers have offered to unpack the monthly Harlequin delivery in order to get their hands on them at the earliest possible moment.

Treasure your Store Manager

Lori, the current manager of the Coles Bookstore in the Royal Bank Plaza, Toronto, is romance friendly and local author friendly; a dream manager. She placed Eve’s books beside Nora Robert’s new release on the top ten shelf.

The store provided a table, table cloth, cookies, and book props. Less fattening than TimBits, tidier than cake, cookies are the ideal temptation, especially for a lunchtime crowd. Several people stopped for a cookie and ended up buying a book.

Some bookstores will promote your book long after you’ve gone with signage, a prominent location, maybe a media mention or two. Store staff who can say they’ve met you will point buyers to that shiny ‘signed by author’ copy of your book.

Be Prepared

In return for all this lovely buzz, make sure you show up at the right time. Double-check with the manager, regardless of what your publisher or agent say. Even if your publisher takes the blame, it still looks as if they’re covering for a tardy author.

On your way to the store, review your answers to common questions, including rude ones. ‘Why do you write romance novels?’ can be voiced as an insult. Try answering it as an honest question to derail the offensiveness.

Ask the manager what’s expected of you. Kelley walked into a “signing” to find an audience sitting on chairs, waiting for her to read…and had to grab a book from the shelf!

Welcome your Readers

Stand, don’t sit, behind your table. It intimidates people. As well as making it so much easier to hug friends who drop by.

Eve wanted to get out in front of the table, but then she’d get lost in the crowd. One of those big campaign style ribbons with Eve’s name and ‘author’ on it would have snagged the attention of passersby.

Put on your ‘extroverted author’ hat and initiate conversations.  Watch for that hesitant smile and fleeting eye contact that tells you a person would love to chat with you. But the Big Important Author (yes, that would be you) makes them nervous. Smile back, offer a cookie, tell them a bit about your book, and you’ve made a sale.

Bring Your Posse

Ask your friends, chapter mates, and readers to drop in and stay a while. The casual party atmosphere attracts notice. Passersby feel more comfortable approaching the table.

Be careful not to get caught up in chat with your posse. They’ve already bought your book. The newcomer is your newest reader, so they get your undivided attention.

Men WILL Buy Romance

Yes, they will. For wives, daughters, girlfriends, sisters etc. Having them dedicated by the author gives them that special touch for a gift. So don’t ignore them when they approach the table. They may even read your book before they present it.

A Don’t

Don’t bother trying to collect email addresses at a book signing unless you’ve got a lineup and they need something to do. Instead, Eve chats up her website and newsletter. She got 500 names with her last book release and only three have unsubscribed.

A Caution

Kelley was caught by an unscrupulous fellow who took almost all her bookmarks at an event, had her sign them, and then sold them on eBay.  Plus she was left without goodies for those who’d been waiting in line to see her.

Be Nice, Be Nice, BE NICE

You just don’t know who’s buying your book or showing up at your booksigning. Here are some stories to show what I mean.

At Eve’s last booksigning, a bag lady (complete with bundle buggy) stood at Eve’s table and chatted with her about her kids, her life, etc. Eve declined when the manager asked if she would like the woman hustled off.  The bag lady asked Eve to sign a napkin, Eve obliged. The lady asked her to sign a free bookmark, Eve obliged again. The lady had Eve sign a book and then proceeded to buy another $100 in the bookstore and paid with her gold Amex card! Don’t judge a book by its cover.

The second story is one from the manager. Another author of children’s books had only sold two books at an event. The buyer of the second book had been trying to contact the author via agent and publisher without success. The buyer was overjoyed to stumble across the author at the signing. Turns out, the buyer was also the developer of children’s programming for CBC and wanted to create a TV series based on her books. She only sold two books, but…

While we were there, a Young Adult author who was scheduled to sit at the table next week dropped by to see the manager. He chatted with Eve and I for a time. He handed us little marketing things for his book and bought Eve’s. Next week, Eve will buy his book and spread the word just as he’s promised to do for her. So network outside the genre, you just never know where your next reader will come from.

Kelley had a teen come up to her in Calgary, very quickly get her book signed and scuttled off. Minutes later the teen was brought back by her mother–the girl had written a letter and was too nervous to hand it to her, let alone say what she wanted to say in person!  Learn to read the “I really want to ask/tell you something” signs, and have a question or two to draw them out.

Read excerpts from Eve’s novels at Discover Kelley’s books at


Since I wrote this article, I’ve been to my own book signing at the Put Your Heart in a Book Conference sponsored by the New Jersey Romance Writers. That’s me in the pic. 🙂 I’m really glad I knew this information before I went.

More Articles

More articles by Joan Leacott can be found at Articles for Writers.

© Joan Leacott 2011, 
previously published in romANTICS, 
newsletter of the Toronto Romance Writers


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