Scheduling Book Signings

This summer, I'm sharing "writing tips" on Tuesdays from a series of articles I wrote for CAN (Christian Writers Network). You can read more writing tips from my blog here. 

We all know the story of the little engine who didn't think he could make it up the giant hill. That's sometimes how I felt when I thought of everything that was involved in marketing my debut fiction book release with Zondervan. How will I ever accomplish all that I want to do? And what's more, who am I to even try?
Though fairly inexperienced with the publishing business, that summer I learned a LOT about promotion and marketing. This week I want to write about scheduling book signings at bookstores, libraries, or other venues. As authors, we dream of the day we will have the opportunity to sign our first books. We consider what we'll write, if we'll use scripture, and we might even practice our signature--I know I did.

Once your book is released, your readers will want to know where they can find your book and have you sign it for them. I’ve found this especially true in my local area or region. So what do you do, little engine? Do you go out and try to schedule these signings on your own, wait for them to call, or leave it to your publisher to take care of?

Let’s face it, unless you are a best-selling author with a huge readership, your publisher is probably not going to schedule you for a book tour. Sorry to break the news to you, little engine. What does that mean for you? In plain terms, it means you must do the footwork and make it happen on your own. But it's not that difficult and if done correctly, it can be quite rewarding.
When Snow Melts in Spring released with Zondervan in 2009, my in-house publicist sent out press releases to local and national media. This along with a personal email from me helped to garner some local attention for my books—and because of that, I had people contact me about doing book signings.
That’s easy planning. Simply work out how many events you want to do or can handle each month and go from there. I always ask myself:
1) How far am I willing to travel? Is the time away from home and family, and my writing worth the friendships I'll make or books I’ll sell? How many readers might I reach at this event?
2) Does the event collide with other activities I have planned? Or am I stretching myself too thin by scheduling events too close together?
 3) Will I sell my own books or will the host take care of it for me? There are pros and cons to both of these. I’ll make more hands-on money if I sell books at my author discount, but those sales will not go toward my royalty sales.
 4) Will any of my expenses be reimbursed? Some places will offer to reimburse my travel expenses, which is always nice. If this is not the case, then I’ll need to evaluate whether I have the necessary funds to cover my expenses.
Note here: Five months after the release of my first book I found myself wearing down and in need of some recuperation time. If you find that’s the case, simply cut down on the number of events you schedule. Do what needs to be done to stay healthy and happy.
But how do you schedule book signings? Again, if stores aren’t contacting you, and this is something you want to do, contact them.
Icrs 016 

When my first book released, I took two road trips across Kansas to attend ICRS and the ACFW conference. I decided to use that time to visit bookstores along the way and introduce myself to the owners or managers. Rather than just show up unexpected, I sent emails to those on my route as a pre-introduction to let them know that I would be passing by their store and planned to stop in to say hello.
As the time approached to visit the stores, I went bearing gifts. I baked Snickerdoodle cookies and packaged them by the dozen to give to the store managers along with media kits.
My media kit consisted of: a nice folder with a picture of my book cover on the front; a news release about my book series that also included a bio; a bookmark or flyer about my series; a business card; a pen with my contact information on it; and a book (should they not carry it in their store). Fortunately, all the stores I stopped at did carry my book so I didn’t have to give any away. And most of the stores were very happy to have me sign the books they had in stock. If they don’t ask you to do this, be sure to offer to do it for them.
From these simple visits, I did two things: I made contact with the store owner/manager and hopefully encouraged a friendship/partnership in the business, and I made myself available to them for future book signing events.
Another thing you should consider when you schedule a book signing is to be sure that some sort of publicity is going to be done—either through the local media (news/radio) or through flyers at the store or even through store newsletters. The more the event is publicized the better. Then, even if you only have two people at the signing, you’ll have at least gotten your name out to the public, which could turn into future sales.
Connie, myself & Karen - The Rock Good Book Store, Hays, KS
One such event occurred at a book signing I did in Hays, KS. I happened to be traveling through and knew this would be the only chance for me to have an event at this store. So we scheduled it for a Wednesday morning—knowing full well that it would probably not get a lot of attention. But what it did get was attention from the Hays Daily Newspaper, which did a nice front page article in their paper. From there, it was added to an Associated Press list and attracted attention in other papers statewide—going so far as to scroll at the bottom of public television broadcasts for an entire month! Now that was a book signing worth going to! And the friendships I made in Hays were invaluable as well—truly lovely people there.
Last summer, I planned a two-day signing event with fellow Kansas authors, Deborah Raney and Kim Vogel Sawyer. We scheduled an event in Hillsboro, KS on Friday night, and then hit McPherson and Newton the next day. Even though each place was considered a "small" gathering, we attracted many readers to these local events. Was it worth our time? Every bit. The contacts made with the store owners and managers help to gain a return invitation AND they tend to be more willing to sell your books to their readers. 
If you have other suggestions on how to plan or make a book signing more productive, please share in the comment section of this blog. Next Tuesday, I’ll write more about author events and table displays. Until then, keep chugging up those hills!