As always, I begin by pointing out that this isn’t necessarily a guide from an expert. It’s my experiences, laid out in a way that I certainly hope is helpful. Essentially, I’ll be discussing my top tips for putting on a book signing, and how my own efforts have evolved over the years. This is very much aimed at those who are self published or are just starting out after recent traditional or hybrid publication. Chances are if you have an agent, they’ll look to take on most of the work themselves when arranging a signing event. For those of us without agents, it’s down to us to muck in and do what’s necessary to give a book signing event the best possible chance of success.
Firstly, let’s think about the type of event. The venues can vary a great deal. It could be at a school, a library, a shop, a comic con or a literary festival. I’ve certainly had the most experience selling and signing at comic cons, because ultimately I’ve been attending them for many years, as have my target audience. Whatever the venue, you’re essentially allotted a space in which to set up. It’s important to be sure of how much space you have. When booking a table at a comic con or literary festival, you should be able to determine the size of it. At a smaller event, perhaps a small shop or a library, the space is likely to be smaller. Either way, use the space to your utmost advantage.
When I was a student, browsing through the local Waterstones, I recall seeing a man literally standing by a relatively small display of books and telling people he’d written the book and would they like to buy it. While I had no cause to doubt him, I have to say the direct approach didn’t sit well with me. There was no signage, nothing to attract the attention of passers by, just this individual approaching people with what verged on an ultimatum. However you set up your book signing, don’t do that. While it may certainly get people’s attention, it is not going to convince them to buy your book.
What gets people’s attention, by and large, is a display. The overall look, the presentation, the razzle dazzle. Take a look at my very first set up:
This was at my very first book signing at a comic con in Worcester. Apart from the red table cloth, it doesn’t exactly grab you, does it? I’ve since traded in the red table cloth for a more inviting dark blue. Suffice to say, putting on book signings has been a learning experience for me, and my display has slowly evolved over time into something a little more eye catching;
This was at my most recent book signing at Bristol Comic Con & Gaming Festival, which itself was a welcome return, having not done events at all since late 2019. Looking at this, it really does feel like a great deal has changed over the years. Not only have I published two more books, but my approach to selling them has evolved. You won’t catch me claiming that I’ve got nothing left to learn. There are always ways to improve. Again, this blog is more about sharing my experiences with those who are just starting out, so we’ll proceed by looking at each component.
My first book banner was, shall we say …a little basic.
Simple design, with a simple phrase designed to suggest what the book is about, and of course the book cover (always include your book cover!). For some, the image of the book cover alone might be enough to capture their attention. However, as I published the second book and began producing the live action book trailers for the Figment Wars, I figured that my promotional roller banners should include these. I therefore had a new banner commissioned for the second book, and eventually commissioned a new banner for the first book to mirror the second.
Having this second banner, rather than trying to incorporate both books onto one banner, certainly felt right. It contributed more to the overall display, providing a more full backdrop. When the third book was published and I decided to get a new banner again, I opted for the one, larger banner that you can see in the more recent photo. Just as before, this provided a full backdrop to the display and is large enough to catch people’s attention.
There are many things to take into consideration when going about getting a promotional banner. First, decide on the size. If you’re more likely to do events that provide a large table, then perhaps a larger banner is better. If you only have the one book, there is nothing wrong with having a smaller banner that focuses entirely on that one book. The key in either case is to have the book covers displayed prominently, with anything else going further down the banner. Smaller banners like the ones above are more ideal for smaller events, where ultimately you might only have space for a small table for your books, a chair and some space behind. Such banners still let people know that something special is going on.
Be prepared to invest in your banner, for it is certainly the largest piece of equipment you’ll have to bring along. They come in a variety of styles and sizes. Some can be set up in seconds, whereas some require more construction. I personally favour the roller banner because it is simple to set up, and there are times when I do these events without assistance. If you have a gift for graphic design, then all power to you, or if you have a friend who’ll design one for you, all power to them. I personally have always gone with Roller Banners UK, as they not only offer a range of different kinds of banners but they also offer a design service, ranging from the basic to the more complex. There is a cost for this service, but I still maintain that you might as well invest in a decent looking banner.
The Book Display
Now, this is one aspect that I’ve made several different approaches to, sometimes even changing the layout of my books during an event. You need to take a necessary amount of copies of your book to sign, that much is obvious. I keep the vast majority of them in large boxes under the table, ready to replenish the displays where necessary. Space is at a premium on your signing table, and while it is important to display your books, you can go overboard.
At first, I just had stacks of books, on one side of the table or the other, ready to sign. I’ve experimented with different ways of stacking them, and eventually splashed out on some single book stands so that at least one copy can stand atop the others. It ultimately depends on how many individual books you have to sell. After I published my third, I decided a better setup was required.
I’d seen a few stalls over the years with some amazing book stands for the table, but I’ll confess it was not easy finding them online. Eventually, I came across this on Etsy;
Probably intended for a different kind of product, but I found it suited my book display needs admirably. That isn’t to say that there weren’t challenges with it. After putting it together for the first time (it comes apart for ease of travel), I decided to try turning it 90 degrees to see how it would look.
Now, while this looked brilliant in my view, this was for a matter of moments at home. What I discovered when setting up at Bristol Comic Con was that the slightest breeze sent the top level of books crashing down, taking everything else with it. I therefore swiftly turned the display up the way you see it in the other photo. While the individual covers weren’t as prominently displayed, they at least stayed upright. I wish I had more to offer about where to find decent book displays for exhibitions. Indeed, there are a fair few for other literature such as leaflets and brochures, but not so many for books. I had my eye on what was essentially a card stand, a wire frame that could hold six levels of books, but sadly it wasn’t going to be back in stock in time for the signing. For the moment I’ll keep my current display stand, but in the future, who knows?
If you can produce free giveaways such as bookmarks, postcards or business cards, do so. Then have them displayed right at the front of your setup, so that they are easy for people to access. As a general rule, I strive to be generous with these, not making them conditional on making a purchase. An item displaying your book cover is better off out there with someone than it is just sat on a table. You may want to purchase holders for these, but personally I think they’re better off lying flat on the table. Reserve upstanding positions for your books!
Now, if you’ve made it this far into the blog, first of all, congratulations. Secondly, if you don’t have an agent and must rely entirely on your own wits to set up a book signing, it’s important to consider everything you’ll need. There’s nothing worse than arriving at the venue and discovering you’ve forgotten something. Be as organised as you can. I find making a list is helpful.
Pens. You can’t sign books without pens. Invest in some decent ones and get a few. Nothing worse than your pen running out halfway through the day. There are plenty of types to choose from, and ultimately I’ve bought a fair few of most of them over the years. These days I tend to favour a V ball 0.7.
Post Its. You may find yourself needing to scribble on something from time to time. Testing to see if a pen works or writing out a name before you commit it to the book. Get some post its and have them to hand.
Cash. You want people to buy your books, obviously. Even pre-covid, people would ask me if I took card payments and unfortunately at the time, I didn’t. For Bristol Comic Con I invested in a SumUp card machine and it was remarkably simple to use. I still use a simple cash box to hold money, for even now there are still some who prefer to pay with cash. Be prepared for both, and make sure you have a bit of change to hand.
Blu Tac. The best friend of exhibitors everywhere. Whether it’s attaching posters or other promotional material to the front of your table, attaching price tags to part of a display or to your books themselves, it’s always a good idea to have some blu tac on you.
- Be tidy. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to set up before the event starts, and be meticulous in your presentation. Tuck all boxes and everything else you used to transport your wares away. This not only makes for a more appealing presentation, but removes any potential hazards to the public.
- Paperwork. Keep a tally of how many books you sell. This is better than trying to remember how many books you brought and how many you sold after the fact. Keep it tucked away and just take a moment after each sale to add the necessary tally.
- Insurance. Some events don’t require traders, dealers or in this case authors to have Public Liability Insurance, and some make it a necessity. I find it is better to not exclude yourself from any events, and ultimately to be covered is better than not being covered. There are a range of types of insurance available from a range of trusted providers.
- Let the display do its job. Once you’re set up, let your presentation do the initial work of attracting people to your stall. Position yourself comfortably behind the table, standing or sitting, and be mindful of staring into space. It’s important to be welcoming when people do approach your desk, but let them take a moment to really look at it before engaging them properly. Being too full on will put people off. Answer questions, but don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. If you feel someone is monopolising your time, ask them gently if they’re interested in buying a copy. This usually either prompts them to make a purchase, or to ultimately move on. You can be friendly, but you’re not there to make friends with every person who approaches your table.
I certainly hope this has been helpful in some way. As I said, my own experience of selling my books continues to evolve. I hope yours will too.