Book Signings That WOW

The idea of doing a book reading or author signing sort of terrifies me. I don’t know why this is, because I love writers–we share the same passions and interests. It’s great to chat with them at conferences, see what they are reading, discover what they are writing themselves. I always leave a conference with new friends, and in today’s digital world, some faces to go with the names I recognize online!

So WHY should I be so frightened of a book signing? The people there show up because they are interested in my book, and what I have to say, right?

I don’t know how to pin down my fears exactly, but if I had to get to the root of it all, it would be to say I am afraid of screwing up, of doing or saying something stupid that I can’t undo. Yet, book events are important to authors and for building relationships with readers, so I need to move past my worries. I bet many of you feel the same!

Lucky for us, my friend Rochelle Melander, author of Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It) has some excellent words of advice on how to handle such an event! Please read on, and prepare to bookmark this gem of a post to reference for your own next book signing.

Book Signings that Wow

By Rochelle Melander

Last month, I headed out on a cold Friday night to attend an author event at my favorite local bookstore. Truthfully, I dreaded it. Okay, the idea of having pizza and wine with a friend sounded good. But then schlepping through the snow and ice to sit through a long and boring reading—not so much fun. Unless . . . the event wows. And this one did.

Mystery author Ian Rankin told stories (in his lovely Scottish accent) about how his newest books came about. (I won’t spoil it for you, but know it involved a secret military camp, a rock star, and drinking.) By the time he started answering questions, we’d laughed and shed a few tears. When Rankin signed my book, he asked: “So how was the evening for you? Did you enjoy it?”

You’re probably thinking, “But Rankin’s a star AND he has an accent. How can I wow like he does?” Never fear! Here’s my no-fail plan for wowing audiences at book events:

 Get the Right Attitude. When Ian Rankin asked me, “So how was the evening for you?”—I knew he’d approached his talk thinking: how can I make this event work for my audience? Face it—people can spend their night and their cash in a gazillion different ways. If you want to get them to attend your event and buy a book, you need to make it worthwhile for them. Start by asking yourself: how can I best serve my audience?

Promote Your Event. In the days leading up to the book signing for Write-A-Thon, I had a recurring nightmare that no one showed up for my event. It happens. I’ve been the only attendee at more than one author event. When I asked Daniel Goldin, owner of Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, WI, how to get people to events, he offered great advice:

 *Invite people! Ask your family, friends, and acquaintances to come to your event. Goldin says, “The best thing is person-to-person selling, and a personal contact will always be more effective than a bulk mailing. “I’d love for you to be there” is probably more effective than ‘I think you’ll like my book’”

*Pursue publicity. Connect with as many local media outlets as possible. Don’t overlook local bloggers—sometimes they can rally a dedicated group of fans better than a spot on a local television show. Goldin says, “Press is light years better than ads. You get the chance to tell what your story is about and why folks would connect.”

*Build good will with other authors. Be the kind of author who supports other writers. Blog about your friends’ books and events. Write reviews of their books and post them online. Goldin added, “Put your money where your mouth is (figuratively) and attend your friend’s events too. It’s like getting invited to a wedding—they’ll support you if you support them.” Plan your event. Don’t be the author who stumbles through a too-long reading while the audience members surf the net on their smart phones. Successful book events appear effortless. The author may sound like he spontaneously sang a few bars of a favorite old drinking song, but I’m sure he practiced. The authors who wow plan and practice their talks.

*Tell stories. I’ve attended more than a hundred events, and I always prefer hearing authors tell stories over listening to them read from their book. According to bookstore owner Daniel Goldin, “You can throw 5 minutes of reading into it, but make sure you’re a great reader. One technique that seems to work well is telling the story that leads to how the book got written. If you can expand that to 15 minutes, you’ve got half your talk.”

*Connect with the audience. When I attend a talk, just like when I have coffee with a new friend, I’m looking for how we connect. Goldin affirms this, “The #1 reason why someone buys the book at an event is emotional. You connected with them somehow and you’re promising that the book is more of the same.” You cannot manufacture connection. But you can give an event that creates connection: be open and authentic. Tell stories that show why you are passionate about this topic or these characters.

*Add Value. Think about the unique ways you and your book can add value to the event for the crowd. At my event, I gave everyone a complimentary bookmark (that was printed with a fun saying and info about my book). In addition, I held a drawing for Write-A-Thon goodie bags, filled with delicious treats and tools for a writing marathon. At other book signings I’ve attended, authors have given out temporary tattoos (Jeff Kinney), brought in artifacts from their childhood (Patricia Polacco), and served cake (Debra Brenegan).

 *Keep it short, Sherlock! Give some people a microphone, and they can talk for hours about how great they are. Don’t be that person! According to Goldin, “Leave the crowd wanting a bit more. You will always go longer than you think. Aim for 30 minutes, and never go over 45.” As you plan your talk, don’t forget to include fifteen minutes for questions.

 *Practice. Once you know what you’re going to say and read, stand up in front of your family or pets or even a dozen stuffed animals and do it. Then give the talk twenty more times until you don’t feel stupid or, if you do feel stupid, you don’t care!

 But what if I’m terrified? Get used to it. Everyone is. For most of us, speaking tops list of things we fear, along with heights, snakes, and spiders. According to author and certified professional speaker Mandi Stanley, the best way to manage fear is to remember, “It’s not about you, it’s about the audience.” If you need more practical help, she lists several tools in her book The No-Panic Plan for Presenters: An A-to-Z Checklist for Speaking Confidently and Compellingly Anywhere, Anytime:

*Remember that the audience wants you to do well.
*It’s easier to speak to people you know—so get to the event early and talk to people as they come in.
*If you have extra adrenaline or nervous energy, go in the restroom and jog really fast for a few minutes. If your hands still shake, Stanley recommends that you don’t hold paper. That way, no one will see you shake!

 After the event. Go home and collapse. You did it! The next day, send a hand-written thank you note to the people who hosted your event. If possible, send chocolate! Why? Bookstore owners, booksellers, and other event coordinators work hard to promote your event and sell your book. A note helps you to be remembered as that kind author who gave a great talk and said thank you (as opposed to the cranky one who sneered at them). And who knows, that might help you get another signing when your next book comes out!

Your turn: What are your tips for creating book events that wow?

Rochelle Melander is an author, speaker, and certified professional coach. She is the author of ten books, including Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It.

Rochelle teaches professionals how to write good books fast, use writing to transform their lives, navigate the publishing world, and get published! For more tips and a complementary download of the first two chapters of Write-A-Thon, visit her online at (TIP: Rochelle always has great advice, so look her up on TWITTER & FACEBOOK.)



Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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The Write Now! Coach
7 years ago

Beth, Congrats! I love the idea of having helpers with you–especially to serve the cake! Glad it went so well, Rochelle

The Write Now! Coach
7 years ago

Beth, Congrats! And I agree with you–having some in-person help makes a huge difference! Glad your event went so well, Rochelle

Angela Ackerman
7 years ago

Beth, that is wonderful! I am glad your event was a hit–congrats and kudos for pulling off a great book event!

Beth Overmyer
7 years ago

Update: Normally, signings at my library draw fewer than ten people. Well…

I had more than FORTY people show up! WOOT! ‘Twas a great two hours 🙂 I brought my book up on a computer that was hooked up to a big screen TV. People could read excerpts on the big screen or on the computer.

Half the cake was gone at the end, and 33 out of 36 cupcakes were devoured. Oh, and I passed out 30 bookmarks. All went very smoothly.

I guess my words of advice would be to have one or two friends help set up and keep things flowing, and make sure you thank the venue.

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7 years ago

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7 years ago

Absolutely fabulous post. Thanks so much! I have butterflies in my stomach just thinking about a book signing and my book is not even ready for publication yet. Ha! I will definitely be reading this one over and over again in the future.

Teresa Robeson
7 years ago

I am nowhere near being close to doing a book signing (I believe having a book is a prerequisite…LOL!), but I still appreciate the great advice that I hope I can use really soon. 🙂 Also passing it along to a critique group buddy who is now doing book signing. Thank you!

The Write Now! Coach
7 years ago

Peggy–I love the idea of authors coming together to do a reading/signing. Fun! Kittyb78–I think a book launch party is a great way to enjoy the publication of your book, and the library is a great venue! Beth–good luck! I had cake at mine, too–and it was a BIG HIT! Gutsy living–I love the sign in book idea. Thank you! And I love your phrase, Stay Gutsy!

Gutsy Living
7 years ago

Rochelle, I used to be terrified of speaking, but have found that videotaping each event and posting it on my website, has made me a better speaker.
1). I always hold a raffle
2). I have a guest sign-in book.
3). I start with something everyone can relate to, and link it to my story.
Thanks Angela for this wonderful interview, and as I say to myself, “Stay Gutsy!”
7 years ago

Most excellent tips! Make it an event or book talk. I love hearing the inside scoop as to why and how a book was written. Yes, don’t read too much – and practice reading out loud in an active voice. Even the best-planned events may attract few people, or even no one, but be gracious, thank the book store owner or venue manager, and count the event as a great excuse to publicize the heck out of you and your book

Beth Overmyer
7 years ago

Great post, and just in time for me! My book signing/launch party is two weeks from tomorrow *le gulp* It’s more of a mix and mingle/open house than anything. Cake, pop, bookmarks (with my book’s info and cover art), postcards (same), door prizes, decorations…I hope no one asks me to read, but I’ll practice, just in case.

7 years ago

No book signings yet, but I’m sure that will change. My first novel comes out March 29th. Maybe I’ll do something a the local library to celebrate?

Peggy Eddleman
7 years ago

This was such great info! I loved this post!! I went to a book signing two nights ago with six big authors. They played off each other’s answers a lot, which made it so much funnier. I say when you can, sign with other authors! It seems to make authors much more at ease.

The Write Now! Coach
7 years ago

Thanks for the kind comments all! Maybe we need to work on our accents? Somehow I don’t think my Wisconsin accent is as charming as a Scottish or Australian accent! Pam, thanks for the reminder that book talks are inspiring! We can bask in the glow of authors and hope it lasts until we get back to our desks.

And for those of us who are fearful: remember how many of us are experiencing this. No doubt most of your audience will feel the same way and WANT you to succeed!

Pam Glover
7 years ago

Two reasons I love book signings: the author is truly famous and I feel some of her glow rubbing off and an author took time to chat with our book club; as you mentioned, it was very personal.

I aspire to be on the other side of the table some day!

7 years ago

I really enjoyed your article. Book signings both excite and terrify me. The idea of standing in front of a group of people who are staring at me and then telling them how great my book is makes me shudder. Thinking about it as a different way to connect with my readers helps a lot… as does your suggestion to talk about how you initially came up with your book idea.
I’ll definitely remember to run through my talk 20 times.

Kayleigh Lawson
7 years ago

Very helpful, the very idea planning signing has always terrified me.
Especially the reading (it’s one thing if you have a Scottish accent.)
I will definitely keep these ideas in mind if i every manage to get to that point in my career.

Becca Puglisi
7 years ago

Super ideas here. I love the suggestion for contacting local bloggers. I never would’ve thought of that, but what a great way to get the word out to locals.

Thanks so much for sharing, Rochelle!

The Write Now! Coach
7 years ago

Jennifer: I love the pink tutu idea! I am sorry to hear that no one showed up (well, at least not all at once)–but now you have one amazing behind-the-scenes story to tell when you give the next talk! I’ve had my share of empty seats at signings–and the best thing is to chat with the staff and not take it personally. Robin, I agree–we want to hear the secret stuff, like what our favorite author eats for breakfast and such! BTW, I was in my favorite bookstore today, and the owner (quoted in this piece) said many authors are terrified. But, it gets better with practice.

7 years ago

I haven’t been to many book signings (I live in the middle of nowhere) but of the ones I’ve attended, it’s the stories behind the stories and the funny things that happened in the process that I want to hear, not so much the book itself. When one day I have a book to promote *crosses fingers* I’m going for the tell stories, interact, etc. and hoping to avoid reading:)

Kathy Johnson
7 years ago

I love going to author signings and have been to several,

middle grade ninja
7 years ago

Great tips. Hand written notes are an especially nice touch, though it does seem like work:)

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez
7 years ago

I did a signing wearing a full-length pink tutu (the book cover shows a puppy wearing a tutu). I raffled off a t-shirt with the cover of the book on the front, and I gave away bookmarks. The signing was held in a tutu boutique shop that stocks my book. It would have been fabulous had anybody attended! It was advertised at the local schools, but maybe ten kids showed up (and not all at once). I could have used some tips on how not to look awkward when no one shows up. And the cherry on the top was that the one boy who was dragged to the store because of his sister is the one who won the t-shirt. Argh!

Donna K. Weaver
7 years ago

Yes, the idea of doing these terrifies me. I’m copying this one. Thanks!

Angela Ackerman
7 years ago

You bet! It was by Amanda Palmer, a musician:

Very inspiring to see the connection she has established with her fans. 🙂

The Write Now! Coach
7 years ago

Janel, I agree with you–humor and warmth are exactly what readers are looking for. As well as being personable, as Tyra mentioned. Being authentic, as Angela describes it. By the way, Angela, can you give us the name of the person who did the TED talk? Thanks! -Rochelle

Angela Ackerman
7 years ago

I just watched an amazing TED talk on reaching out to one’s audience by being authentic and vulnerable…it was just amazing. These tips are right in line with that–a signing event is the chance to connect with people, so we have to make it meaningful and personable. Thank you so much for the great advice! A pleasure to have you here today, Rochelle!

Tyra Esterly
7 years ago

Though I have never attended a book signing, your article gave me much food for thought.

Like you mentioned in your article, I think being personable and giving guests a chance to know you better as an individual will go a long ways toward achieving the overall atmosphere of a good book signing.

Creating that sense of comradery gives the feeling of spending time with old friends, not individuals you may be meeting for the first time. This sets the stage (literally!) for establishing meaningful, supportive, long standing relationships in the writer’s world.

This is a wise investment not only for the author’s own networking, but to have as a wellspring of inspiration and confidence for their writing goals and for book signings to come.