When I first published this article in 2020 after releasing my second book, I didn’t expect it to get as much traffic as it did! Since then, I’ve published my third award-winning novel, become a full-time author, and had more than 75 book-signing events in my career so far.
This blog has become a resource for writers and indie authors since its creation back in 2016. I’m glad that I’ve been able to mentor aspiring authors, both in person and through this website. It feels like a good time to revisit this post and give it an update with some new tips now that I have a lot more book signings under my belt.
If you’re reached this point in your author career, congratulations! You finished your book, survived the editing process, navigated through publishing, and now it’s time to autograph that beautiful work of art for readers. Here are my 20 tips to have a successful book signing.
- 1. Practice your signature beforehand.
- 2. Know how to sign a book — plan what you’re going to write.
- 3. Have a clipboard with a sign-up sheet for your newsletter.
- 4. Memorize your elevator pitch.
- 5. Have a unique setup.
- 6. A vertical banner is a great investment!
- 7. Give away customized bookmarks.
- 8. Postcards are another worthwhile low-cost marketing investment.
- 9. Have bags available for customers.
- 10. Have something tactile or interactive that draws people in.
- 11. Have plenty of pens on hand.
- 12. Business cards are a must.
- 13. Have enough starting cash in your cash box.
- 14. Optional: cosplay as your protagonist (or villain).
- 15. Bring an assistant to help you.
- 16. Log all transactions in your payment-processing app.
- 17. Art attracts attention — find a way to leverage that focal point.
- 18. Don’t get discouraged if the event has a slow start.
- 19. Engage with people.
- 20. Be memorable.
1. Practice your signature beforehand.
An elegant autograph rarely happens by dumb luck. I spent quite a bit of time signing my name, studying the letters, and deciding how to format my signature. (I’m afraid to ask my coworkers what they thought about the scraps of paper with my name all over my desk. They probably thought I was a narcissist…)
Once I settled on a setup I liked, I practiced it over and over and over until it was second nature. Even if you’ve decided to go for the tastefully illegible scribble-scrawl, it’s still a good idea to practice on scrap paper first rather than the pristine first page of your book.
Trust me… it’s no fun messing up your autograph!
2. Know how to sign a book — plan what you’re going to write.
If you’re not sure how to sign a book, it’s helpful to have a basic idea of what you’re going to write before you start. You can keep it simple and just sign your name, but a lot of authors include a little note. It can be as easy as “Enjoy the book!” or “Happy reading!”
Or you might pick a memorable quote or phrase from the book. Author DJ MacHale, for example, writes “Hobey-ho,” which is an exclamation he invented for his Pendragon series. It’s a fun shout-out that fans appreciate.
If you have multiple books, I recommend coming up with a consistent but different phrase to write in each book. I have three books out, and unless someone requests a specific message, I write a designated note for each book. That way, it’s easy to remember what to write instead of twirling my pen trying to think of something clever, plus I know that I’m not accidentally repeating myself.
3. Have a clipboard with a sign-up sheet for your newsletter.
Hopefully you have a newsletter already, and if you don’t, I highly recommend it! Having a sheet handy at your book signing makes it easy to collect new email addresses and connect with people who seem to be genuinely interested in your book.
You might consider adding an incentive such as a prize drawing for people who sign up. It’s a great extra incentive that doesn’t cost too much since there’s only one winner. I did this for a while, although I did end up discontinuing the practice (and I didn’t see a drop in sign-ups).
Psst… for more tips and updates (and for examples of an author’s newsletter if you’re in need of inspiration), you can sign up for my newsletter!
4. Memorize your elevator pitch.
An elevator pitch is a brief summary of your book, usually about three to four sentences max. It earned its name from the scenario of standing in an elevator when an agent steps in, and you’ve got only as much time to pitch your book as it takes for the elevator to stop on the agent’s floor. Once the agent steps out of that elevator, you’ve lost your chance, so you have to make every second count.
If someone walks up to your table and asks what your book is about, you need to be able to snap off an interesting pitch in just a few sentences. This is your elevator moment; if you don’t capture your guest’s attention right away and convince them to pick up your book, they’ll simply nod politely at you and walk away.
I still remember one of my earliest book signings. I’d been struggling with my elevator pitch and couldn’t seem to stop rambling; after stumbling for a few minutes, I stopped mid-sentence, chuckled nervously, and said, “I promise I write better than I speak, and the book is better than I’m making it sound.” Shockingly, the lady actually bought a copy! But that moment made me realize how important it was to have a concise, confident pitch.
Important elements of the elevator pitch: genre and conflict. If nothing else, get that information across. People make a quick decision about whether they’re interested enough to hear more or say “no thank you” and leave.
5. Have a unique setup.
This will help you to stand apart, which is especially important if you’re participating in a group event such as an author fair with many other tables of books. Why should a potential customer come to yours?
I was speaking at an author panel in Racine, WI last summer. As I was setting up my display, one of the panelists walked up and said, “Oh, I know you! You’re the girl with the black feathers. I’ve seen your photos on Instagram.”
I was shocked that not only did this author know about my work, but also that the recognizable images of the feathers were so embedded in his mind that he instantly knew who I was. I absolutely embraced that association because it made me stand apart. Ravens and crows are important in my books, which is why I use the black feather aesthetic, but once I saw how critical it was to be recognizable, I incorporated the feathers into most of my table displays, the only exception being outdoor signings when the wind is too strong. I also use wax-sealed envelopes that customers aren’t allowed to open until after they finish reading the book as a way of piquing interest.
Find something unique to your book. I’ve seen others set up elaborate displays that look like they’re in medieval times with candlesticks, lanterns, quills, parchment, daggers, etc. You don’t have to overcomplicate it; simple is powerful, too. I know an author who utilizes red rose petals to great effect. Maybe a dog is a key element of your book; set a figurine of a dog on your table and incorporate paw prints into the display. Whatever it takes to stand out and draw people’s attention.
Another technique that I use is arranging my novels into a bookstagram-worthy spiraling tower. It adds some height to an otherwise low display, and it’s interesting enough to pull people in.
6. A vertical banner is a great investment!
Seriously… GREAT investment!
7. Give away customized bookmarks.
Adding in a free bookmark when someone buys your novel is a relatively cheap way to earn bonus points. Readers get very excited when the book comes with a bookmark! It can be a symbol from your novel, or the cover, or character art, or even just your signature, as long as it’s unique and matches your aesthetic and theme. I’ve seen a lot of authors utilize a free bookmark that doubles as their business card with all of their contact information on it.
8. Postcards are another worthwhile low-cost marketing investment.
Making postcards (again, I used Vistaprint) with your cover on the front and the synopsis on the back helps you reach those uncertain readers. If someone seems to be on the fence about buying your book but then ends up walking away without making a purchase, you can give them a postcard to keep your novel in the front of their mind.
It’s helpful if you include information on the back about where they can buy it online, just in case they decide to purchase it later. They may even give your postcard away to a friend or family member who might be more interested in your novel. Either way, it boosts your chances of not being forgotten! I hand out a lot of postcards to potential readers who seem interested in the book but prefer a digital version (ebook or audiobook).
9. Have bags available for customers.
This is something I overlooked in the beginning. Sometimes, people purchase multiple copies; you don’t want to see them staggering away with their arms full. Even if they just buy one copy, they probably want to keep the book protected since it’s an autographed copy, especially if they’re at a market and will be browsing for a while.
When my first book came out, I created custom, eco-friendly bags in the hopes that other guests at events might see the title on the bag and then recognize it when they passed my booth. As I added more books to my series, I stop spending the extra money for personalized bags and instead went to larger paper bags that could fit all three hardcovers if necessary.
Whatever you decide to use, whether it’s customized or plain, having bags on hand is a good move! Nine times out of ten, if I offer someone a bag, they say, “Yes, please!”
10. Have something tactile or interactive that draws people in.
I created collectible pins based on symbols and elements from my books. Having them in a little wooden chest for people to touch and examine gives them a more memorable experience, and it draws kids in as well.
But you can accomplish a similar strategy by having a candy dish on your table. Cookies can also be enticing!
11. Have plenty of pens on hand.
This one should be a no-brainer, but sometimes it’s so obvious that we don’t think to include it on our checklist. The last thing you want is your only pen to run out of ink in the middle of a book signing! Make sure you have several, just in case!
12. Business cards are a must.
Make it easy for people to connect with you (whether they buy a book or not). Have a business card ready to go with your name and website at a bare minimum. You can also include contact information if you’re comfortable doing so. Letting people know which social media platforms you’re on is a good idea as well.
Business cards are also good for networking, because you never know whom you’ll meet at an event! As I started doing author fairs and larger events such as festivals, comic-cons, artisan markets, et cetera, I connected with all sorts of people. There have even been some collaboration discussions. Handing either a customer or professional contact makes a good first impression.
13. Have enough starting cash in your cash box.
Again, it seems obvious, but this is a small detail that can be easily overlooked. And it’s no fun having to awkwardly admit that you can’t break a large bill to make the sale.
If you’re going to accept checks, do so at your own risk. If they bounce when you try to cash them later, there’s not much you can do. Somebody got a free book at your expense.
I do recommend allowing credit and debit payments. I use Square, but there are other options available. A small fee will be taken out of your total, but it’s worth it. A lot of people don’t carry much cash, so you might miss out on sales if you can’t take a card payment.
14. Optional: cosplay as your protagonist (or villain).
If you’re a fiction author writing in a genre where your characters aren’t exactly dressed in convention clothes, cosplay can be a fantastic way to catch attention.
For my first 18 book signing events, I didn’t cosplay. I wore a nice dress, jacket, or blouse, put on lipstick, and played the role of a professional author. And it worked out well enough.
But when my second novel in the series was released, I stepped up my game.
I started cosplaying at my protagonist, Cato (featured on the front and back of Book II’s cover). The reason I started doing this was directly linked to the coronavirus pandemic. Book II was released in July 2020, before vaccines were available, so rather than resent having to wear a mask for my events, I fully embraced the mandate and went all-out with Cato’s unique mask and full Arena uniform from the book.
The effect was particularly impactful at festival-type events with lots of booths competing for attention.
I noticed that 95% of the people I talked to when I was cosplaying were really interested in my books, whereas before, it was more like 50%.
Because I was now attracting the right crowd. Before, people would walk up without knowing anything about the book or even the genre. They just saw a normal-looking author sitting behind the booth and came over to find out what the book was about. Some people, upon learning that the book was fantasy, would immediately set it back down and say they read only nonfiction.
But when I was cosplaying, people could obviously tell at a first glance that my books were fantasy (or at the very least, not nonfiction). They were already interested before knowing any other details.
15. Bring an assistant to help you.
I am EXTREMELY fortunate to have a phenomenal assistant who accompanies me to most of my events. As an introvert, I struggle to put on a sales hat and talk to people about my work, let alone try to upsell. Having a complementary personality with me who is able to fulfill that role is a lifesaver!
Even if your assistant is a shy friend or family member, having an extra person with you makes everything go much smoother, giving you time to autograph the book and talk to your new fan while the assistant processes the payment. It also saves time setting up and tearing down your display.
16. Log all transactions in your payment-processing app.
In the beginning, I did NOT do a good job of keeping records. I was using Square for credit card transactions but not cash transactions… and things got messy. Tax time was were a nightmare when I tried to go back and figure it all out.
Life became much simpler when I started keeping track of everything in Square. At the end of the day, I could go in and easily pull an itemized report to see every item that sold, how much sales tax I’d collected, when my peak sales hours were throughout the day, etc. Not only that, but I could go back to any day, month, year, whatever period I needed and have a complete report at my fingertips.
17. Art attracts attention — find a way to leverage that focal point.
I knew that I was going to have maps published in my third book. What I didn’t know was how eye-catching the first map would be when I incorporated it into my setup last year.
To my surprise, it drew people in like a moth to a flame, especially fans of D&D. I even had people ask me if the map was for sale even though they knew nothing about the book series!
Maps are great, but really, any bold, prominent artwork can have a similar effect. Just make sure that you credit the artist if it’s not your own work.
18. Don’t get discouraged if the event has a slow start.
I’m a night owl. My target niche also seems to be on a similar schedule. When I do festivals and markets that last all day, I usually don’t start getting momentum until mid-day. It’s easy to keep checking my early numbers and get discouraged, but I remind myself that if I had the choice, I wouldn’t be up at that time, either.
Be patient. Learn about your audience over time. You’ll eventually know when to expect sales peaks. If you’re like me, those bursts are more likely to come in the morning than the afternoon (or maybe you’re vice-versa).
19. Engage with people.
This is another one that feels like a no-brainer but still needs to be said. I’ve seen so many vendors hunched over at the back of their booth, eyes glued to their phone. They look unapproachable if anyone has a question.
You definitely don’t want to give that impression! Smile at people. Say hello. Make eye contact. You don’t have to be an obnoxious salesperson; there’s a nice middle ground. You’ll sell more books if you’re nice and engaging.
20. Be memorable.
This is going a step further than just having a unique setup. How you cement a memorable experience for fans is totally up to you!
When someone buys a book from me at an event, I let them pick out a wax-sealed envelope. I put them together myself, so each wax seal is a different combination of colors. Once the person picks out their favorite color, they see the other side of the envelope, which says that they aren’t allowed to open it until after they finish reading the book.
It’s a fun, memorable way to end our transaction, not to mention it encourages people to actually read the book. (I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you what’s in the envelopes).
That’s a very specific example of one way I make sure people remember meeting me. I will note that putting together the wax-sealed envelopes is very time-consuming, so that might not be something you want to tackle.
But you can still accomplish a similar result in other ways. Letting the customer choose something makes the experience interactive. You could have a variety of bookmarks or book-themed stickers and let them select their favorite as a free gift with their book. Or set up a photographic background and encourage them to get a selfie with you. Or create some sort of game or challenge.
Whatever you decide to do, just make sure that they remember meeting you!
Relax! You’re going to have fun!
It’s easy to get stressed out, but there’s really no need to! If people are interested in your book, they’ll ask you questions and push the conversation forward. The more events you do, the more comfortable you’ll become when you’re talking about your book.
I initially found it to be very awkward when first talking about my first novel. Because I write fantasy and had plenty of invented words, I felt very uncomfortable saying them aloud because I hadn’t practiced. Even saying the characters’ names out loud felt weird! And no, they’re not complicated names. It’s just a very strange feeling to have these people in your head for so long, and saying their names suddenly makes them feel real but taboo, as if you’re giving up a carefully guarded secret.
Don’t be discouraged if you have some events without selling a single book. It happens. If you’re a new author, people don’t know who you are yet. It’s okay; still take photos and add that signing event to your résumé. It’s another notch on your experience belt, and nobody else has to know that you didn’t sell any books! Just post a photo of you smiling with your display and let people know that you’re out signing books. Stay positive! Keep putting yourself out there.
What I love is seeing the evolution of interactions at book signing events. When I first started, I was a complete nobody. The types of questions readers would ask me were very generic: what’s your book about? How long did it take you to write it? What made you want to be an author? How did you get published? I was happy to answer those questions, of course, and I do still get them frequently.
But now that people are becoming familiar with my series, the questions are much more specific. People tell me who their favorite character is and ask me how to pronounce words. They hypothesize what’s going to happen in the next book. They ask me about symbolism and whether or not I had intended for the fantasy story to have so many parallels to current societal issues happening right now. I’m thrilled to have these much more in-depth conversations with fans who know the story, know the characters, and can contribute ideas and opinions!
I hope these tips are helpful! Just remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and the more book signing events you do, the more you’ll learn until you’re easily able to tailor your methods and displays to suit your personal needs. Good luck!
Originally published on September 11, 2020
I'm an award-winning fantasy author, artist, and photographer from La Porte, Indiana. My poetry, short fiction, and memoir works have been featured in various anthologies and journals since 2005, and several of my poems are available in the Indiana Poetry Archives. The first two novels in my Chronicles of Avilésor: War of the Realms series both received the Literary Titan Gold Book Award in 2020.
After working as a freelance writer for a time, I was shocked by how many website articles are actually written by paid "ghost writers" but credited to a different author. It was a jolt seeing my articles presented under the name of a high-profile CEO or an industry expert with decades of experience when in reality, I had none of those credentials. Just a talent for writing and the time to research topics. Ghost writing is perfectly legal and a VERY common practice.
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For a new author this was very informative. I did my first book signing and it was a success. I used some of what you described above before I even looked at your page. After reading this my next book signing will be even better with your ideas! Thank you~
You’re welcome! I’m glad you found some helpful tips in the article. Good luck with your future signings!