You've self-published your book and hold the brand-new, fresh from the box, manuscript in your hand for the first time. After years of living off beans on toast it's the realisation of a lifelong dream: your book, in print, ready for the entire world to see.
Now comes the hard part.
If the world is to see the book, then you need to let them know it exists. Without the backing of a large publisher, and an even larger advertising budget, you may need to do this alone. A local book launch and signing can be an ideal place to start, and organising one could be easier than you think if you follow these five simple steps.
Start with a local bookstore. Phone them, ask who arranges events, and then find out the best time to call in and see them. If you're a regular customer and known to the staff, just pop in and ask who you need to speak to. You may be pleasantly surprised at how eager they are to have you. Most bookstores love to work with local writers, and, even at the large chain stores, author signings can prove very popular, earning extra publicity and sometimes a mention in the local papers.
Timing can be important here. Calling during a busy lunch period, early on a busy Monday morning, or just after closing time when shop workers are hurrying to get home won't earn you any popularity points. Try mid-morning and if you're asked to call back, find out the best time to do so.
The same applies when choosing a time for your event. You might be dreaming about a glamorous evening launch party but, if you are in a small town, a simple signing event during a busy period of the day can prove far more productive. You will have a steady stream of potential customers, ready to be persuaded that your book is the must read title of the week.
If you are given a choice of times, then choose the busiest period, over lunch and into the afternoon. If asked how long you want to stay, then ask how long they will have you. If you have the time to spare, then four hours are better than two, though you might find that business tails off towards the end of the day.
Now that you have your space, you need to consider what you are going to do with it. You can turn up with a few leaflets and a nervous smile, and hope the book will sell itself, but remember that it's competing with a whole array of half-price bestsellers, and thousands of pounds worth of advertising. Make an effort to personalise your space, whether it's a small table near the entrance, or a pokey corner in the sci-fi section, and stand out from the rest.
After checking with the bookshop, you can prepare posters, bookmarks, a coloured tablecloth or ribbons, balloons, and anything else that you think will draw the attention of shoppers. Some sort of freebie to hand out can be a useful icebreaker: attractive bookmarks with your name and book details are perfect for this. An eye catching outfit and some practised sales-patter can work for some, but only if you are comfortable with it, otherwise if can appear contrived and fake.
A Family Affair
The big day is looming and you're feeling nervous. Your supportive partner offers to drive you, your mother calls and promises to drop in and buy a copy or two, and three friends assure you that they'll be there to help.
This is great! The more you sell, the more likely that the bookshop will invite you back again, and a few admiring fans can't help but make you look popular and take the edge off your nerves. But be very careful not to overdo it: seeing the author surrounded by a small chattering 'in-crowd', who are exchanging stories about mutual friends, can be very off-putting to the potential customer who would like to ask for a dedication. This is a book signing, not a tea party. Once you've set up and settled in encourage your friends to go shopping and meet them later to celebrate.
Self-promotion is difficult for all but the most confident. If you prefer the company of a cat and a computer while you're plugging away at your writing, then public appearances can be a scary prospect. It is tempting to set yourself up at your table, accept the offered mug of tea, and sit quietly, waiting for your first customer to approach you. You could be waiting all day.
If you really want to make a sale, make the first move. Get up, make eye contact and start selling. Greet each person as they enter the shop or approach your area. Introduce yourself, hand them a copy of your book and then move away. Hovering hopefully while a customer examines your book can appear desperate. Be available to continue the conversation and sign the book if they want you to; smile and thank them if they don't.
Remember that many people who enter bookshops are browsing, passing time during a lunch break, or idly searching for their next read. A personal approach and book recommendation at this point could make a sale.
You've launched your book and, hopefully, you now have a few sales to celebrate. Congratulations! Now, before you retreat to the closest pub with your nearest and dearest, there are a just a few more things to take care of.
Whether you think the event went well or went badly, whether you've sold two copies or two hundred, now is the time to put on your smile one more time and heartily thank the shop staff and manager for their help. Don't forget that, in your absence, these are the people who will be selling your book.
Offer to leave some signed copies and ask them to put your promotional materials on the counter. Bookmarks are best for this as there's more chance that customers will take them and less chance they'll end up in the bin. If you're local to the shop, and have had some success today, then feel free to ask about another possible event in the future. Perhaps a follow up signing in a few months to coincide with the holiday season or other event would work well. You can call at another time to arrange the details.
That's it. You're now a published author with a few sales under your belt, and the confidence to move forward with organising more events. In between writing your new bestseller, that is!