Setting Up Bookstore Signings and Readings

Danny Aiello doing a reading at Barnes & Noble
Mike Coppola / Getty Images

For book authors, readings — any event or appearance where you’ll also be signing books — can be an important part of your book marketing campaign.

How Author Readings Are Set Up

At a traditional book publisher, when a book is "sold in," the sales department is given information about the author's availability to booksellers. This is based on the hometown of the author and, if the book has marketing and publicity budget that allows it, the cities to which the author will be traveling. As the book launch timeframe nears, the publicity department sets up the book signings, timed for when the book is published. Generally, book signings are only set up by the publisher at the time of the book launch. 

Though authors are usually free to reach out to local and interested stores themselves, it's best to check with your publicist first. Note (and this is true for traditional and self-published authors), you have to know that you can sell enough books to make it worth the bookstore's while. A bookstore generally needs to be stocking your book before it is going to want to have you for an event, or your reason for having a signing needs to be very compelling.

For info on how bookstores and book fairs choose their authors and practical tips like what to wear on the interview, learn everything you need to know about author appearances. Already have your interviews set up? Make sure you don't forget anything (including fresh breath!). If you’re going to reach out for appearances, here are some tips for self-published authors to book their own appearances

Approach​ Bookstores and Other Venues at Least Several Months in Advance

Bookstores generally set their in-store event calendar a few months in advance. Many venues book even earlier to ensure to be able to list the event on their calendar, etc.

Pitch the Bookstore Event Manager or Event or Festival Programmer

Anyone planning on hosting your appearance will need to know what book is about, why they should have you, and what you plan to do. FYI, unknown novelists aren’t generally considered for signings unless they can demonstrate their ability to bring in a crowd.

However, if you’ve written a book to promote your business, you may very well be welcomed if your author appearance/book signing includes a program that might be useful to the bookstores' customers and drive sales of other books. For example, a tax accountant’s book on IRS tips would likely be welcome in bookstores in March, before the April deadline for filing taxes.

Help Spread the Word About Your Author Appearance

A bookseller is likely to have your event listed on the store’s monthly (or weekly) calendar. But as everyone (the store, the publisher, you the author) benefits from a successful book signing, it behooves you to help spread the word by letting your own networks know about the appearance. Put the signing on your author website, promote it on your Facebook page, Tweet it to your followers. Even if the signing is in an unfamiliar place, friends of friends might help spread the word.

And, if you’re self-published, you might go further and (if the store or event venue doesn’t customarily do this themselves), and get the event listed in local calendars, pin-up notices in the other retail establishments or bars you frequent or even in the library. Ask permission, of course (and note that it’s bad form to put the notice up in a competing bookstore—and you don’t want to piss off any bookstores).

Make Sure Your Books Are Arriving on Time for the Author Appearance

Don’t laugh. Many an author has been disappointed by a carton of books gone missing. Check and double check that your books are arriving. Get tracking information and stay close in touch with the publishing and bookselling staff members who are responsible (this is usually the publicist and the bookstore manager or bookstore’s event coordinator).

If you’re appearing on a weekend, make sure your books are arriving early (book warehouses are closed; shippers don’t always have weekend schedules); get the cell phone numbers of all people you need to contact if the books don’t arrive.

If You're Doing an Author Reading, Choose Your Passages Ahead of Time

Mark the passages well, and maybe select a range of possibilities depending on who shows up to your reading. That way, you're more likely to make sure your book appeal to whoever is in the audience.

BYOP (Bring Your Own Pens )

Publicists generally bring some, too, but don't rely on others for this. Keep your own with you, just in case. Sharpies are the standard for many authors. Thick or thin — your preference. But have plenty on hand. 

Be a Pro and Go With the Flow

The number of moving parts required for book signings means there's usually a bobble or two. Every venue does book signings differently; some bookstore and event staffs are more professional than others, things don’t always happen as you would expect or would ideally like. Be polite, be helpful, keep your cool. Give constructive feedback later - not in front of the audience or readers. 

Bring Your Book's Promotional Materials

 If you’re signing at a large event when many authors are signing as well, it’s great to have bookmarks or other promotional items with you at your table to bring some of the reading public to you.

Thank Everyone Involved in the Author Appearance

Make sure to write a note to your bookstore or event “host.” It takes a lot of effort to mount these sorts of events and your thanks will be much appreciated. Plus, it will help you get fondly remembered when your next book is published.