What Seventeen Years of Book Signings Have Taught Me

February 16, 2022 11:16 pm Published by 2 Comments


I’ve been doing book signings for about seventeen years, starting shortly after my first thriller, Category 5, was published. That was back when we had two dominant bookstores: Borders, and Barnes and Noble. Borders provided me dozens of signing opportunities. After Borders withdrew from the scene, Barnes and Noble picked up the slack; they have been as good to me as Borders ever was.

My book signing skills have improved over the years, and I have learned important lessons. I would like to share with you what I have learned.

Number 1: To sell a lot of books, you need to meet a lot of people.

The beauty of Barnes and Noble stores is that a lot of folks come in. This is important. Why? From my experience, I’d say that, roughly, only 5-10% of shoppers entering the store are a) interested in buying my particular genres of book, and b) in a mood to buy. In my case, I am hawking two separate genres: I have a trilogy of thrillers (Category 5, Prophecy, and White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy) and a sequel (Retribution Times Two). I also have one historical novel, How Much Do You Love Me? Unless you’re a famous author, you can’t have a two-hour signing and expect to sell many books. So what do I do? I cheat. I stay all day.

Now, here is an important point that didn’t take me long to learn. Do not presuppose that someone approaching your table fits a particular stereotype who you’ve concluded will have no interest in (or money to buy) your book. A relevant story makes my point. Early in my book-signing career, I had a nighttime signing on a cold, rainy winter night. How cold and rainy was it?..I digress. Through the front door came a lady, dischevled, dripping with water and, as best I can recall, wearing either no shoes or bad shoes. I’m ashamed to admit that I thought she was homeless. Still, trying to being respectful, I addressed her, and we talked. Well, guess what? She ended buying something like five or six books–a record for me at the time. Of the lessons I’ve learned in my lifetime, that one resides in the top ten.

Number 2: Ask the store to announce your book signing as often as possible over the intercom.

Some customers don’t see me when they come in and need to be reminded that I’m there. To make it easy for the store, I provide a written example of what the announcer might say. Here’s one: “We have with us today author Paul Mark Tag, who is signing copies of his historical novel, How Much Do You Love Me?, a mystery and love story that revolves around the forced internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Paul is also signing copies of his brand new thriller, Retribution Times Two. Please drop by the front of the store and say hello to Paul.”

Number 3: Bring your own advertising.

Often, the store will put up signs anticipating your signing. In case they don’t, bring in a large poster board that advertises your presence. On that board is a picture and description of the primary book I’m selling. I’m usually allowed to put it somewhere by the entry door. Bring your own easel. I have a neat one that folds up small.

Number 4: Advertise ahead of time.

Unless you’re famous, just go for the simple and obvious. First, I make sure that my Amazon author’s page has a listing of upcoming signings. My website, www.paulmarktag.com, has a similar listing on my Media Room page. And, importantly, a day or so ahead of the signing, I make an official announcement of the upcoming signing on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/paulmarktag. Use whatever social media tools you have available.

Number 5: Be personable and enthusiastic when talking to customers.

Other than Number 1 above, Number 5 is probably the most important of all. Unless you are excited about your book, you can’t expect customers to be. Start out by telling them about yourself and where you’re from. In the case of my thrillers, I then convince them that they’re going to have a doggone good time following the exploits of my hero and heroine.

For my historical fiction novel, I say that my book, in addition to reminding us all about the World War II travesty that was the Japanese internment, is a page-turning mystery and a touching love story. As your customer turns to leave, thank him or her sincerely for buying your book. It is the rare exception when buyers of my books don’t walk away reciprocating in kind, thanking me for our discussion and for signing their personal copy.

Number 6: Odds and ends, in no particular order:

6a: Have a pair of reading glasses handy for the customer who wants to read the back of your book but has forgotten theirs.

6b: Take your own pillow or seat cushion; often, you end up with a hard bottom chair.

6c: Have reviews of your books handy in case someone needs additional persuasion.

6d: Unless you’re on the witness protection list, if asked, always agree to have a photo taken, but preferably alongside the customer. Immediately, ask him or her to e-mail you the picture right then, ask for permission to share the photo on Facebook or other social media, and then do it. The photo you see at the top of this blog was taken at the Almaden Plaza Barnes and Noble in San Jose.

6e: In conjunction with Number 5 above, ask customers if they will share their name and e-mail address (I keep a clipboard on the table just for that purpose). I’d say that somewhere around 95% agree. Next to their name annotate which book they bought. Then, after you get home, send them a personalized e-mail thanking them for buying your book; I ask them, if they like my book, to please consider writing a short review on either the Barnes and Noble or Amazon websites. Before they leave the store, also ask them if you have permission to use their e-mail address for your occasional newsletter; annotate the list accordingly. This catalogue of happy (hopefully) buyers will prove invaluable when you go to advertise your next book.

6f: Get to know store employees, by name if possible; they are your allies and will drive customers your way.

6g: If your book has received any kind of award, don’t fail to mention it. If you have related stickers, have at least one on display.

6h: If you have to leave your station, leave a preprinted sign that says when you will be back. I have two: one saying 5 minutes and one 20 minutes. You don’t want to lose a customer because they think you’ve gone home.

6i Thank the staff before you leave the store. And the next day, always send a thank-you e-mail to the store manager. Although he or she already knows the book tallies, I include an itemization of books signed.

6j: And last but not least, have something on your signing table that might attract customers. For example, I have recently added a bowl of good chocolates.

That’s pretty much it. The tips that I’ve learned over the years have helped me be a better representative for my books and for the store. Please write if you have questions, and feel free to share this blog.

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This post was written by paulmarktag


  • Ed says:

    Paul, You give your patrons the royal treatment. I especially like the way you follow up after the sale. The little things you do would pull me to chat and buy. Good job!!!

  • Sharon Toston says:

    I bought “How much do
    You love me” 12/17/22 and finished it a few days later. I didn’t really know what Historical Fiction was until it was explained to me by the Author. I finished the book in about a week and thoroughly every chapter. As I write this review it is 1/17/23 and I am almost done with my 2nd reading (I enjoy reading and am so much more engaged in the story when I know what happens next) . I have enjoyed my 2nd reading as much as I did the 1st. This book is not only a page turner but a must read for anyone interested in this regrettable part of U.S. history.