This resource was covered in my presentation “Buy Into Reading: 6 Bookstore Tactics to Create Lifelong Readers” for the Writing for Your Life 2020 Online Christian Children’s Books Conference, but I’m going to leave this list here because it is worth re-visiting.
Step 1 | Set Up the Details
Ideally, author events should be scheduled at least two months in advance. This allows the venue time to create posters, flyers, and social media graphics to advertise it properly. If a venue is too small to create their own marketing materials, authors can step in and create their own. With websites out there like canva.com, creating quality graphics is pretty easy and most of the time it’s free.
Step 2 | Tell Someone!
Tell your friends, fans and family about the event! Most authors are their own marketing machines. Even big name authors are expected to make some efforts to connect to their readers. If an event is happening, tell someone!
Step 3 | Show Up Early
On the day of the book signing event, show up at least 15 minutes before the event is scheduled to begin. 30 minutes might even be better. The goal of getting there early is to familiarize yourself with the space, use the restroom, and meet the people working the event. If parents come early, you can enjoy a bit of extra time with them before things start. Imagine how cool it would be if you got to hang out with a rock star before they played their concert. Now realize that you are the rock star.
Step 4 | Come Prepared
Technically, this should probably be step zero, but it’s too late for that now. Make sure you have a stack of your own books to sign. Occasionally, organizations run into trouble with the ordering process (the books weren’t ordered or didn’t ship on time), so it’s a good idea to have your own back up supplies on hand to sell on consignment. If you have bookmarks or activity sheets based on your books, bring them! You can always ask the venue to make copies for you.
Step 5 | Enter-to-Win Basket
Put out an enter-to-win basket to capture names and email addresses of attendees so you can add them to your email newsletter list. Make sure they know this will happen if they enter to win. Your book makes an excellent giveaway item, but you could give away other stuff too. The venue may also be willing to add something like a gift card to your giveaway too.
Step 6 | Sing a Song with Motions
As people start to trickle in, a good way to start the story time is by singing a song with motions. Obviously, this is best done for younger audiences. If you are writing a drama about a teenage protest leader with cancer whose parents mysteriously disappeared, song time may be a weird addition. But if you are writing a picture book, opening with a song is a great way to go. Author Glenys Nellist did this a number of times at Baker Book House and the audience always loved it. She would pick a familiar tune, then rewrite the lyrics to match the theme or message of her newest book. She’d always do songs with motions because it helps little ones get their wiggles out. Also, by opening with song time, you make it less awkward for parents who didn’t show up on time (and parents of young children are rarely able to show up on time). They can easily slip in while you are singing some songs.
Step 7 | Read the book
If you have more than one book, read a few. If you only have the one, read yours along with a couple of books you love or that influenced you in some way. Tell people why you love them or how they influenced you.
Step 8 | Do a Craft or Snack
This is an added bonus for families. Usually, the venue would be happy to supply this part of the event, but I’ve seen authors bring their own materials as well. This part of a book signing event is not necessary, but it makes it more memorable for the kids who showed up.
Step 9 | Draw the Winner
Draw the winner of the enter-to-win drawing you had people sign up for. This way, the people who didn’t win are encouraged to go buy your book instead.
Step 10 | Sign Some Books
Make sure you have some fine tip Sharpie markers or a good gel pen handy in case one is not provided for you by the venue. Ask parents how names are spelled. Maybe have a few stock phrases in mind ahead of time to write when you sign your name.
Step 11 | Sign Extra Copies
After the book signing is finished, ask if the venue would like you to sign a few copies to leave on the shelf. This makes it possible for parents who couldn’t make it to the event to still get a signed copy, even if it isn’t able to be personalized. Thank your venue hosts for the opportunity to come out, even if no one showed up to the event.
*Special side comment. I’ve hosted a few author events where, for whatever reason, no one came. The author and I would chat about writing and life and book sales, waiting for someone to come, but they never did. Was this a waste of time? No! If the author had a good attitude about it, it was a great experience because I was then able to tell shoppers how cool they were and any backstory stuff about their lives that would help me sell their books.
Step 12 | Send a Thank-You Note
Send a thank you note to the store. It’s a simple gesture, but a classy one.