Friday, June 1, 2012

A Shift in Book Signing Methods

By Chester Campbell

I've done hundreds of bookstore signings all around the country since my first Greg McKenzie mystery came out in 2002. I've attended dozens of mystery conferences and conventions where I sat at a table hoping someone would come along with a book to sign, but I don't recall a store event when I didn't sell a book. There have been some where the number was terribly few, but many others have produced a decent amount of sales.

I've noticed a change in the climate over the past couple of years. Fewer bookstore patrons seem interested in trying a new author they're unfamiliar with. And working closely with my current small press publisher, I've learned more about the industry's problems. Like when a store orders twenty copies and the author sells only ten, returns decimate the profits.

As a result, I have just about stopped my bookstore signings. I can make more money and avoid the returns problem by concentrating on festivals and fairs and similar events. So far this year I have done a library author day, the Southern Kentucky BookFest, Franklin (TN) Main Street Festival, and Cool Springs (Mall) Festival of Art, Music and Books. Upcoming are the RC Cola & Moon Pie Festival, Horse Cave (KY) Bookfest, Gallatin (TN) Main Street Festival, and Kentucky Book Fair.

I'll add others as the opportunities arise. I find people at events like these more willing to try new authors, and happily I've had an increasing number of readers stop by to add more of my books to their collections. Although the book fairs usually will order your books for the event, I volunteer to bring my own, thus avoiding the problem of returns.

Since I've made all of my books available as ebooks, I'm selling a lot more online than on paper. And though I price my books low, with Amazon and Smashwords' royalty rates, I still come out okay. I suppose this is part of the changing paradigm of the book business. I do a lot less traveling and spend less on book promotion.

I remember back in my early days I kept hearing that you should break even on your fourth book. Now that I have eight out, I can assure you it ain't necessarily so.

Visit me at Mystery Mania


Patti Brooks said...

I agree bookstore signings are disappointing. That's why I gathered together 8 authors and artists who have horses trotting through their work and formed the "Equine Artists & Authors of CT." Next week will will have free space at a +/-300 horse horse show. We plan on doing the same at a 1000 horse horse show the end of July. Virtually all of the hundreds of people and exhibitors attending the shows like horses, so from the get-go we're way ahead.
Plus we have been accepted as a group on the CT Authors Trail (check them out) for a much advertised talk and library signing and then be accepted for authors' day at the huge Mohen Sun Casino.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Interesting insight. I've noticed that when I see authors at book signings, there are few if any people around their table. At book fairs and festivals there is already interest in the air . . . I think it might be also that authors are more approachable when two or more are gathered. Two authors I saw doing great business at a bookstore signing were sitting together and chatting with each other and anyone that walked up.

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog. I've found that author events at libraries don't generate sales, although it builds good will with the librarians and they're willing to purchase future books. I've looked into community festivals locally but most of them charge a booth fee of $100 or more The exposure may be good, but will the author sell enough books to cover the fee?
Sally Carpenter

Terry said...

I live in a small town (8000 pop.) and spent two evenings at a library local author event. After speaking to the group of about twenty people the first month, and about a dozen people the second, I sold and signed fifteen books in all.

Do you consider that a success or a poor sales night? I donated ten percent of my sales to the library book fund.

Do you consider that a success or a poor sales night?

Joanne Guidoccio said...

I've also noticed the poor turnout at local book signings. One well-known Canadian author commented that he had less than ten people show up at an afternoon signing. Good ideas suggested--combining forces with other writers, donating a percentage of sales.

Gloria Alden said...

It sounds rather depressing for this soon to be Indie published. Still, I never expected to make a living at this. I write because I love to write, and I think I have a mystery people would enjoy reading.

Morgan Mandel said...

I've also noticed a decline in sales at book signings. I think it's partly due to the economy, partly due to e-books.

Also, there aren't as many bookstores available, and the ones that are still around, are extremely picky about guest authors.

I've been doing my sales mainly online.

Morgan Mandel

Jean Henry Mead said...

I do very few book signings anymore and admire your resourcefulness, Chester. As Sally mention earlier, the fees of $75-100 for book fairs are prohibitive plus the cost of gas to get there when you live on a mountaintop at 7,000 ft. I've been pleased with online sales until this past month through the Kindle Select Program but even those have decreased with the onset of spring and warm weather activities.

Chester Campbell said...

My writers group colleague and I join forces for the outdoor events. That means a $100 booth costs only $50. I usually sell at least 15. Since I pay about $5 and sell for $15, I net around $100. Not a bad day's work if you enjoy chatting with people about books. If you want to get technical, it's only $12.50 an hour. Heck, my first job as a bicycle delivery boy for a drugstore paid only 12 1/2 cents an hour,

Steven J. Wangsness said...

I'd love to do a bookstore signing, but since my novel's published only as an e-book, the logistics are kinda hard!

The Stiletto Gang said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly, Chester, book festivals and craft fairs are definitely better places to actually sell books. I love libraries too and sometimes sell lots of books and at other not so many.

By the way, a big hint, if you are giving a talk at a bookstore, don't tell the whole story of your book. My daughter has gone to several with me and a couple of authors at joint signing have told their entire plot. As daughter says, "There's no need to buy the book."

Earl Staggs said...

I've stopped doing bookstore signings, too, Chester, and concentrate on word of mouth and online promo. Cons and seminars are good, especially if you're doing a presentation or on a panel.