Of Book Signings and Wingmen

If you are an author, you need to do book signings.

In your home community when the book launches, you can have a book signing at church or a local bookstore.

You might decide you want to travel to bookstores across your region. You might connect with bookstores who attend the Christian Retail Show and would welcome an author coming in their store to brighten a gloomy winter Saturday.

There are many ways and reasons to do book signings, but they all take a bit of thought and stage management, and you need to bring your own energy and charm.

And, you need a wingman.

Earlier this week I was chatting with a colleague who will be attending NRB to promote his newest book but for the first time will have an official book signing space dedicated for this by NRB. What this means is that NRB has agreed he may bring his books to sign and give away to attendees in the exhibition hall as a way of promoting the book. NRB will post a schedule of who is signing when at their four autograph booths scattered around the show floor.  Each autograph booth is a skirted tall table, as shown here at NRB in Orlando last June. There will be a simple poster of the book signing schedule and a list in the program with author names and book titles as well.

And that’s it.

That’s when I asked him if he would be alone.

Because a book signing needs a wingman, sometimes several.

In the photo shown, author Jenny Leavitt is signing her book, GodPrints, with the support of helper Bob Wallace (far right).

The helpers help you set up and tear down, keep your books organized, chat with people who may be waiting in line, and keep you relaxed and having fun.

As people come by, wingmen can keep things moving along.

And about that setting up. For a book signing in any location, we strongly recommend authors have made for them a 6 ft tall retractable banner they put up next to their table, like Jenny Leavitt did. Bookmarks and business cards, sometimes a one sheet, front and back marketing piece, about you and the book is helpful too, especially if you are a speaker. And if you are seeking to build your mailing list, have a vehicle for that too, perhaps a QR code to obtain a free download or if you don’t have time or skills to do that, a simple sign-up sheet on a clipboard.

What happens if you don’t have anyone to help you?

I hate to tell you, but chances are good you will spend more than you would like of that hour there by yourself, feeling awkward and wishing you had never come.

That’s how important the wingman is.

And here are a couple of other thoughts for book signings you set up at a bookstore or other venues where you will be selling your books – and remember while these book signings are similar in many ways, you also need to plan that all important sales aspect, unlike industry events where you are giving books away.

1.   You need to provide your own crowd for the book signing. The bookstores will do what they can to publicize it, but you need everyone you know to agree to show up at the store and hopefully some of them will buy the book. So, post it on social media, do a FB live at the event, send out emails, make phone calls, beg, and plead to get a dozen or so friends and family to agree to show up.

2.   If you are going to do an event at church and an event at a local bookstore, do the bookstore first so you don’t have your whole small group saying, “but we already bought the book at church.”

3.  Or plan one event at church and another further away, as long as it’s an area where you can get other people to come.

4.  Find out from the store what they will provide and what you then should bring. Do you need a tablecloth? Book stands? You will definitely need your own signing pen, and many authors use a Sharpie.

5. You still need that retractable banner, bookmarks and other marketing material.

6.   Think a little more about the presentation at the table and give people an excuse to stop. Free food or candy, bookmarks, coloring or activity sheets for kids if it’s a kid’s book, or interesting items to discuss. This helps to break the ice.

7.   Support the bookstore by making other purchases there when you can, and encourage people close to you to do the same.

8. And above all, before you do anything else, make sure you are clear on how the bookstore is handling sales and bringing in the books for the event.

9. Keep in mind although it helps them, they are really doing you a favor and behave accordingly.

10. Last but not least, be sure to bring that wingman — and have fun!

You likely have other ideas for things to include to make a book signing event successful, and I’d love to hear them.

Originally sent as an email to the Buoyancy community on January 19, 2024.
Joni Sullivan Baker
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