What's the point of book signings?

Strictly Come Dancing's Tess Daly has had a tough time lately. First her husband, Vernon Kay (er, right - who?) owned up to some sleazy shenanigans. Now the Daily Mail has jeered at her 'disastrous' writing career. Her book, The Baby Diaries, about life as a new mum, is apparently a flop - because when the Daily Mail looked at Amazon, it ranked a mere 351.

Oh no! 351? And there's me feeling pretty happy if my book's at 351,000. What's worse, according to the Mail, is that Tess did a signing at a Dublin bookshop and there were 'less than (sic) 30 people' there!

While I don't give two hoots about Tess's (or anyone else's) experience of motherhood, I do sympathise with her about this snide coverage of her supposed failure.

Selling 30 books at a signing is brilliant, and the photos show Tess quite rightly smiling. For losers like me, the shops only order about 25 copies in the first place (which is good, because I can say 'I sold out!' and people are more impressed than they really ought to be.) Some authors and publishers are ambivalent about the value of signings because of the time involved for relatively few sales, but the number shifted on the day is only a minor measure of an event's success.

The main benefit of a book signing is the publicity surrounding it - for most of us this is at a
rather more local level than for celeb writers, but is still not to be sneezed at. You can't exactly keep firing off press releases titled 'Book came out last year, author still begging everyone to buy it,' but a release about a specific event has a good chance of attracting interest. Often the papers will not only mention the forthcoming signing but also send a photographer on the day, so you can grin like a gormless hamster from the pages of next week's edition too.

If you live near the venue, you can ask local shops to display posters - all helping to make the cover art familiar to readers next time they see the book. At the signing itself, you can give out bookmarks (see here for instructions on getting them cheap) or postcards with your web address. Only a really miserable sod will refuse a free bookmark. Any of this publicity can lead to someone picking up the book at a later date, and you can be spotted by festival organisers, local reading group members, librarians - anyone who might be in need of a friendly author for an event. My first ever signing resulted in an invitation to speak at a literature festival; the next got me a county reading groups event and a couple of library talks... which meant the library authorities had to buy a few copies, which have been constantly out on loan ever since (yeah, I do check the online library catalogues, I'm that sad.)

A signing is also a great opportunity to meet the booksellers who talk to your potential readers every day. Make a good impression on them (i.e. by being an average nice person – anyone who has ever worked in retail will know that's rare enough) and maybe they'll recommend the book to customers - maybe even put it face-out on the shelf.

Though the Mail's unpleasantness about Tess Daly is all we can expect from the tabloids, I hope she isn't too disheartened. A signing's success isn't down to the number of sales, but to the sometimes surprising opportunities that can result - and perhaps even the negative coverage will bring The Baby Diaries to the attention of people who will appreciate it.


Debs Riccio said...

Hear hear Caroline! I hope Tess does a daily check for all thing 'Strictly' and reads your brilliant post because she's sure to be encouraged by it. I guess it's supposed to be more of an embarrassment for her because of her elevated status in the world of entertainment, but lesser mortals would be hugely delighted - I know I would. *Will.

Anonymous said...

Aw, poor her. Not. lol

Fionnuala said...

This post made me realise that I've never seen any book signings advertised at my local high street bookstore - never, in fifteen years living here? Strange.
And now I want one - a book signing - not a baby diary. Mine would be ideal but anybody's would be fine. Wake up Waterstones!

Old Kitty said...


I always think it's so lovely when authors or actors make time to attend booksigning events/sign autographs. I know this may sound silly but it's like it makes me more of a fan that I get to see them if only for a few seconds and they sign my book/picture personalising it!

Take care

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, Caroline - you're reminding me (not that I'm in a position to use it at the moment!) how proactive a writer needs to be. And I think it's not just in order to get more readers/publicity - there's something really good about being wholeheartedly involved with your 'baby' at every stage of its growth. Hope yours flourishes!

Emma Darwin said...

All so true.

I suppose if you live by the gutter press, you die by the gutter press, and they say there's no such thing as bad publicity. But it is a shame if lots of perfectly normal authors and their friends, for whom 30 people's a very respectable head-count, now feel they've failed. And Caroline's absolutely right that much of the value of a signing is in the collateral things, not the bodies who turn up on the day.

Gillian McDade said...

Maybe the resentment is to do with the fact slebs usually have a publishing deal handed to them? And in this case perhaps people see The Baby Diaries as a book any half-literate mother could write?

I've no interest in her book, or her for that matter, but I think selling 30 is commendable.

Interesting post, Caroline!

Essie Fox said...

I think your ideas on promotion are really good. Handing out bookmarks...ingenius.

Katherine Langrish said...

Well said, Caroline! Book signings aren't all about selling books anyway - it can be quite brave of a member of the public to approach an author standing behind a pile of books - they do not know if they will like the book, but feel if they speak to you, they may be obliged to buy. Quite often, if you just chat pleasantly, they may come back later. If I solf thirty books at a signing in a bookshop, I would be thrilled.


Roderic Vincent said...

Caro, I'm surprised to hear that you, "don't give two hoots about Tess's (or anyone else's) experience of motherhood."

I thought her experience was tragic - she was badly treated by both Angel Clare and by Alec. Whilst not exactly "A Pure Woman", she had a rough time of it.

Caroline Green said...

Interesting insight into signings Caro...now dearly want to reach position of being able to make some bookmarks! I'm loving the idea of those bookmarks...sigh.

My local bookshop only has sports people or local authors in for signings. Shame, would be nice if it was a bit broader in remit.

DT said...

At my one and only book signing - held in a bookshop owned by friends (who had eagerly bought in 100 copies - it's a cheap book), we met and greeted four people over the cause of a day. In fact, we sold more copies after we'd left - I'm not blessed with looks so maybe I should do absent signings in future. And Rod's spot on about Tess. Those Derbyfields, eh - what are they like?

Sheila Norton said...

Well said, Caroline. It gives no hope whatsoever to struggling authors like ... ahem ... the rest of us! - to read that 30 people at a book-signing is a failure. I'd have fainted with joy if 30 people turned up at mine. I had to have a friend outside the shop, at my last one, trying to drag passers-by in. And I spent most of the time yelling at people like a market stallholder: 'Come and buy one!' Amazing how people can pretend they don't see or hear you!

And as for Amazon rankings, they are the work of the Devil. Checking them every day is like weighing yourself every day when you're on a diet (and have I checked them every day myself when I've had a new book out? No - every hour, sometimes!). They're a very unreliable indication of how well (or badly) your sales are going - but we can't stop looking at them because THEY're ALL WE'VE GOT TO GO BY! But incidentally, I'd faint with even more joy if I ever achieved a ranking of 351. My highest EVER was 1540 (not that I've memorised it, at all) and I'm usually nearer ... 351,000, as you said!!

Oh. I've said all that, and just realised I've got no idea who Tess Daly is, anyway. Sorry! x

Essie Fox said...

Ha ha - Rod. That's brilliant!

E.G. said...

Rod! hehe, I liked that.

Caroline, another excellent post (and timely for me, soon to be book-signing-virgin no longer). I am currently organising my own launch, in Oz...I know what publishers think of nobodies like me having launches (because I used to work on The Other Side) but as you say, you never know where an event like that might lead. And bookmarks! Yes, I'm having those, too. Laminated. Get me.

Emma Darwin said...

Ah, Amazon rankings... That way madness lies... Which means we're all mad.

I would say, though, that they're NOT quite all we've got to go by. For a modest sum - I think I'm right that it's something like £75 per title, for a year - you can get Nielsen to send you your very own weekly through-the-till figures (much more useful than your publishers' out-of-the-warehouse-and-just-you-wait-for-the-returns figures).

Just remember that it doesn't represent the full number, since bookshops don't have to report to Nielsen. My editor says you should increase the figure by about 30% for trade booksales, more for academic.

But you do have to ask yourself: do you really want to know?

Emma Darwin said...

Come to think of it, 'modest sum' isn't quite so modest if you have as many titles as you do for example, Olivia