Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Are Book Signings a thing of the Past (for unknown authors)?

Marketing research has been a big part of April and I discovered I am out of date on book signings. They are .. so pre-eBook, pre-2008 economic crash, pre-social media. Sort of.

First let me congratulate Acacia Awai on a SUCCESSFUL book signing. She sold out the Barnes and Noble in Hawaii!

This is a good segue to my findings:

  1. Book signings are on the decline—big time.
  2. The number of books sold at a book signing is concurrently down big time. The average “successful” signing is something like 15 books (again, kudos to Acacia!) for an unknown, or new, author.
  3. Often publishers (and authors) LOSE MONEY because of a signing, because of the number of books returned to the publisher.
  4. Virtual tours are becoming as successful as book signings in the past.
  5. It used to be that some of the independents (e.g. anything other than B&N these days) would accept a wholesale discount of 35% or even 30% for a book signing, or some would let you bring your own and pay a consignment fee. This is no longer true! ALL independents I have talked to or investigated now require a 40% discount and will only buy from a wholesaler and only accept books that are returnable. No exception. Due to the overhead that Ingram and Baker and Taylor charge a publisher has to discount the book at 55% (this is the standard large publisher discount). Ingram and B&T both charge 15% no matter what to all independents. To break even at 55% your book has to have a suggested retail of about 17.00. (If you include fees other than pure print fees).

This certainly shows why small publishers are not big fans of book signings. What about authors? The old feeling was that this was the way to market your book, at least locally. Book signings are big part of marketing, right?

No, not really. They are a shrinking component that has value for the well known and somewhat known author, but less so for unknown authors.That doesn’t mean they have no value, certainly they do, but not for book sales per se, or even stand alone marketing. It is the peripheral marketing where book signings add value.The add on marketing. If you get a book signing at multiple stores you MIGHT get a mention in a local newspaper, or community newspaper. If there is a surprise at the event, or you do enough of them, you may get noticed by other local media, and this could snowball a bit.

But, you—the author—need to pave the way, every step of the way. You need to get the signings lined up. You need to then notify all the local media outlets that cover this sort of thing. You need to consider doing advertising for the event (which is free advertising for the bookstore..hmm seems unfair) and certainly do social media announcements and on and on.  You get the idea.

But, if the bookstores make it so hard to do, consider doing the same at a coffee shop, or another venue. Figure out other marketing that will attract media attention.

Or consider a Virtual Tour.

Book signings still have their place. But, consider the latest phenomenon, Fifty Shades of Grey and the author E.L. James. If the publicity and going viral had depended on her at book signings the book would have sold one copy. She is shy. She would never read the fun parts of the book in public. She hates public speaking (although obviously is learning now).  Will she do signings NOW, sure.  Did she to get known? No.

The point really is book signings are not what they used to be – be honest how many have you gone to that were not someone you knew? They are part of an ALREADY successful marketing effort.

The unknown author should certainly try to leverage local book signings, but for the first novel or two, the focus should be marketing in general and writing! Get the next book out. Get fan base just large enough to make a book signing worthwhile and for book three you can start the snowball downhill, but generally you need to form the snowball through other means.

Of course there isn’t much snow in Hawaii, so my metaphor falls apart there and thus Acacia went out showed us that new authors can still make a book signing work.

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