Are Book Signings Worth the Time & Effort?

In today’s online culture, are book signings becoming an outdated marketing tool?

I’ve heard plenty of book-signing “horror stories.” In fact, I’d even convinced myself that I wasn’t going to do any, except for my local community book release party (which was a fantastic experience—read about it here.)

But when my Bethany House publicist contacted me with the possibility of doing a book signing at a LifeWay Bookstore in Toledo, Ohio, I knew I couldn’t automatically say “no way.” I had to at least consider her suggestion.

Toledo is only a two and a half hour drive from where I live—so I couldn’t use distance as an excuse. Instead, I tried to use my debut status as a way out—after all, who would want to come to a bookstore to see me, a new, unknown author?

But my publicist was quick to inform me that other debut Bethany House authors had liked their book signing experiences at LifeWay stores. In fact, LifeWay would take care of the promotion, would make sure to have enough of my books in the store, and would be having plenty of sales to draw in customers. In other words, for a first book signing, a LifeWay store was the perfect place.

After some debating, I decided to give the book signing a try. So my publicist made all the arrangements, the bookstore sent out fliers, and I drove the distance.

When I walked in the store, it was already busy with shoppers. The manager had positioned a table near the entrance and had arranged my books into an attractive pyramid. Another author, Mary Ellis (who writes Amish fiction), was also scheduled to participate in the book signing and her books were neatly piled on the other side of the table.

As I arranged my bookmarks and promotional cards in baskets and put out a dish of candy, a man and his daughter approached the table. He smiled warmly. “You look just like your picture.”

I caught a glimpse of the flier in his hand advertising the book signing—and yes, there was my picture next to Mary Ellis’s. I introduced myself and chatted with him only to discover he’d been to my website, read some of the blog reviews about my book, and because of them was excited to read my book. (So, thank you to those of you who’ve taken the time to write reviews! And if you write one, let me know. I’ll add it to the list.)

The two hours went fast. There were never any lines of people waiting to have books signed. In fact, there were lulls when no one came to the table. I don’t think I sold more than 15 books. Compared with the sales at my book launch party, the number seemed dismal.

So, was the book signing worth the time and effort? Now that I’m on the other side of the experience I’d have to answer “yes” and “no.”

Yes, book signings are beneficial—for connecting with readers.

There’s something to be said for making real connections with people. One older woman had purchased my book the week before, but when she learned I would be at the store, she came back to get her book signed. Another man was buying books to send to his elderly mother. When he shared how his mother had written him one letter a week since he’d left home at 17, I could understand his love for her and why he was going to the trouble to do something special for her.

I also got to meet several blogging friends. Deanna Rupp and her daughters drove 40 minutes to meet me. Also, Jill Kemerer came to the store for the morning to take pictures and support me. She stood by my side, pointed people to the table, and raved about my book. (Thanks, Jill!) And then afterward I had the opportunity to go out to lunch with Jill and another blogging friend, Patrice Kavanaugh.

Those connections with readers and friends were priceless.

But no, book signings aren’t beneficial—for selling lots of books.

From a financial standpoint, the day was not cost-effective. Sure, the bookstore’s promotional fliers may have generated interest in my book beyond the actual sales at the signing. But overall, selling 15 books (if that!) doesn’t make up the costs to me—not only in terms of money, but also in time.

As a busy mom trying to juggle my writing and family responsibilities, I realized I have to reserve my time for the things that will help my career the most. While the connections at book signings are wonderful, I don’t have the luxury of giving up an entire day. If I wasn’t at such a busy point in my life, I might be able to justify taking off a coveted writing day for the fun of meeting a few readers. But the reality is that my writing time is limited, and I need to guard it carefully.

~My summary: For the average author, book signings are a great way to connect with readers, but not necessarily a great way to sell large quantities of books. If we have the time to spare, if the signing is in a close location, and if we keep our expectations realistic, perhaps we’ll find some benefit. But overall, I think book signings are becoming an out-dated marketing technique.

What do you think? For published authors, what’s been your experience with book signings? And for pre-published, what will you do? What do you think is the future role of book signings?


  1. Hmmm....I don't have any clue what I'll do when that time comes. I'll probably do book signings locally, and after that, I'll probably do whatever my publisher wants me to do. :) But I love how you bring up the point that regardless, we have to be very diligent about gaurding our writing time. I think that probably becomes even more important when you're under contract. There's so much more excuses for putting that time aside.

  2. Even though I agree with you about guarding your writing time, it was great meeting you!! And, you never may write a book about a mom and her son and the letters she handwrites him every week!! :) But I do understand the time it takes away from your young family. Keep up the great writing!!

  3. Nice breakdown.

    I have daydreams about book signings. I'll probably do a lot. Whenever we travel anywhere, I'll try to set some up so I can hit all over the US. I love that customer interaction. It's a great way to spread word of mouth too. I don't homeschool my kids though, so I'm probably less busy than you.

    It sounds like a wonderful day you had. Thanks for sharing about it!

  4. First of all, I got on Amazon the other night and read your reviews - they were great! I'm so proud of you!)

    Secondly, I recently wrote about this very kind of thing on my blog. By going the self-publishing route, I'm learning that the marketing/sales part is very difficult, but the personal connection part of selling my own books is absolutely priceless.

    The other night I took four books over to some people that used to go to South Marion, and honestly I probably haven't seen them in 15 years. They invited me in, and even though I had a chore list a mile long that night, I went in, stayed for an hour, and left realizing I'd learned about LIFE in that hour. They'd said things to me I needed to hear - and lessons I can use in future writing. So from that standpoint, it was a profitable hour, despite the laundry and dishes that still piled high at home.

    It's those sorts of moments that make the book signings worth it to me, even if they don't sell much. Meeting those who WANT to read my writing is a gift I don't take lightly.

  5. 15 books is still a quite respectable number! Sometimes booksignings can yield fewer than that for even NYT best selling authors, so kudos!

    I rarely do booksignings anymore, but, if a bookstore asks, I will usually do it. I visit book clubs - and you can do that via Skype, as well - so much fun! And being on conference panels (or some part of the program), seminars, etc, is a good way to meet readers, and other writers.

    But . . . the best part about them is that I love meeting readers and the bookstore owners/employees, so when I think of it that way, if not many books are actually sold, I was out in the community and that's priceless :-)

  6. Definitely sounds like a great experience. Nice that you were there with a fellow author. :O)

  7. Jody, I've done a number of signings now, and your experience mirrors some of my best ones. As for the worst ones, picture yourself as a panhandler on the street with everyone turning away as they approach your location, afraid to make eye contact. That's when I learned to say "Hi" to everyone who passes by. It really helps.
    As you've said, it's a great way to get to know people, even if they don't buy your book right then. I've given away lots of bookmarks, and I hope that they result in sales at a later time. If so, great. If not, I tried.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  8. This reminds me of when I recently learned I missed out on a spontaneous book signing by Wally Lamb at our local B&N. Bummed is not even the word.

    Great points. It's something I'll have to consider in light of the time I can allot to it. I've heard the same, that it is a dying marketing tool, but there's something cool about the face to face aspect that we are losing more and more of in our technological climate.
    ~ Wendy

  9. I've done 4 book signings. One was at a convention where people got my book for free, so there was a line the whole time. One was like you described. Chatting with people, sold about 15 books. One was absolutely awful. And the other one? BEYOND absolutely awful.

    It would take an act of God to get me to do another one. :)

    On the flip side, when I SPEAK first? I sell lots of books. So, that's encouraging.

  10. I can totally see where you're coming from as far as time, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited about the prospect of a book signing. Even a small one. I love taking my children to book signings and watching their faces light up to meet the writer behind the story. Funny how they always start working on their own stories again the following week. I guess I always thought of a book signing as having "arrived" as an author. Perhaps that's an age old mindset. I still wouldn't mind a couple of them. Have to get published first though. :) Congrats. The pictures were wonderful and you looked so beautiful and happy.

  11. It sounds like a nice way to support the book stores and possibly encourage them to recommend your book. And a way to connect with readers to establish long-term readership.

  12. I think you're making the most of the opportunities coming your way, Jody, even if it doesn't translate into immediate book sales. Plus, you're networking--invaluable!

    FYI - I wrote a blog post reviewing your book, The Preacher's Bride, and am giving it away this week on my blog!

  13. Jody, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I've wondered about it and I hear opinions both ways. When the time comes and I have the opportunity to do book signings...I don't know. The idea of that intimidates me but so do a lot of things and I'll still do them to follow my passion and grow with my writing. We'll have to see.

    Oh, and I am SO jealous you got to meet Jill. I'm glad you guys were able to spend some time together--sounds fun!

  14. We do find book signings worthwhile, but realized from the onset that if they were going to be successful, we would also have to do a lot of the promotional work ourselves.
    Our first signing with our very first book and as unknown authors was at the Borders in Syracuse, NY. There was a long line when we arrived and we sold more than 100 books. But we consider anything a book store actually does to promote a signing as a bonus. Once we have a date, WE contact the local media - radio - print - television.
    Because we also self-publish our books, when we do sell books we make the lion's share of the profit. Now in our 10th year, we have passed the 100,000 mark for sales in the series.
    We are all busy, but there is no way around pounding the pavement and doing the grunt work to promote your work.

    Gary VanRiper

  15. Hi, Jody. Thanks for the window inside this experience:-)

  16. Here's the sick thing about me - I've actually practiced my autograph! All this before even landing an agent. Maybe if I spent less time dreaming about a table with my books in a pyramid I'd actually get my proposal in the mail! LOL
    Glad to get your feedback though. I will put it in the recesses of my mind for future reference. Which means, I better tab it with a mental neon post-it or it might get lost! LOL
    Love the blog, Jody!!

  17. Wow, Gary! That's incredible! Thanks for chiming in with a book signing success story. It sounds like you've done an incredible amount of promotion before the book signings to help make them successful. I wonder if that works better for children's books vs. adult fiction? Not sure! The Lifeway store I was at in Toledo did a great job promoting the signing--they even sent out fliers to their mailing list with the announcement. But I'm not sure why that didn't draw in more people or more interest.

    Thanks for adding to the discussion! I'm really enjoying hearing everyone's thoughts today!

  18. Interesting takeaways, Jody. I would enjoy doing a launch party and could see myself doing book-signings at some of the tourist stops near my hometown since it's the setting in my book. Outside of that, I'm not sure that I'd do much more. Online marketing seems so much more effective for the time commitment involved.

  19. Our local group for the past few years has done a mass booksigning for all of our published authors. (we have a lot of them!) Even with having pretty big names, they weren't great turnouts.

    I think, to a point, people are sometimes nervous to approach an author at a booksigning. At least that would be ME. However, I'm thinking even having your name/book on all those promotional flyers, even if they weren't able to make that date/time, is a really cool marketing tool! You really have no idea what kinda sales will come out of that.

    That, and now the store has a big supply to sell for all those others that come in later and are like, "Oh, I saw that book!" Name recognition is a good thing!

    Also, those 15 people might now, because they bought the first book, might go and buy your next book too. Then that would be a net of 30 sales... and if they buy the 3rd book too... is 45 sales... and then since they all love the book, they might each tell a friend or two about this great book...

    Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is that I think selling 15 books is not too bad.

    OH OH! And I saw on the lifeway flyer even here... that on the front cover was The preacher's Bride in a stack! I squealed to everyone, "I know her, I know her!!!" *grin*

  20. As an unpublished author, it's difficult to say what I would do. However, I am a MAJOR people person, so I assume I would probably want to do the signing. You never know for sure until it happens, though. Right? :-)

  21. I love Lifeway! It is one of my favorite stores.

    I have to agree with Krista that you can't underestimate the influence of the 15 people who did buy your books. They will be more likely to buy your future books and to tell others about you. People in the store who didn't buy are still more likely to buy later because of the name and face recognition.

    Can I give a shout out here to everyone that I am hosting a GIVEAWAY of "The Preacher's Bride" on my blog this week? Stop by for your chance to win!

  22. Jody, great post!

    With my author hat on, I'd say that meeting readers is one of the most valuable (and rewarding) aspects of having had a book published. Even email or blog contact isn't the same as real life.I love it, and the readers seem to as well.

    But with my bookseller hat on, I have to say the signings (as opposed to readings) rarely draw in the crowds. Customers these days want more than just a hello and a signature, especially from unknown authors (like me). They want to hear something: a reading, why you wrote the book, anecdotes, answers to their questions. Something they can't read on a website.

    I've now done 10 events for Swiss Watching since it came out in June and the best ones by far (in terms of satisfaction and sales) have involved me reading and speaking. Of course, there was a lot of promo work involved, both from the bookshops and me, to make them a success, but that goes with the territory.

    So maybe the answer to your question Jody, is that signings are outdated but author events are not. A signing falls between two stools: giving more than an email but not as much as something more personal, even if that something is shared with 45 people at once.

    But even in a modern virtual world, no authors should underestimate the power of word of mouth. Yesterday I sold 31 books at a signing, and I'd say a third of them were down to someone else recommending my book to the buyer. Until we are in the Bill Bryson or Sophie Kinsella league, our biggest marketing tool is our readers, and anything that we do to connect with them can only be of benefit.


  23. I have a numb feeling just thinking about sitting behind that table and having not a soul in the world to talk to! I read once where now a famous author used to do book signings where no one came and he dreaded going. Of course now they line up around the block for him, that would be Nicolas Sparks.

  24. Jody, congratulations on your new book, and I hope it will continue to be very successful! Thank you for sharing your experience with book signings. I agree with what you say. The sales made at them are usually small but the connections made with people are big! You can usually also leave signed copies in the store, and people will buy them later.

  25. An additional benefit to book signings beyond the actual sales...the connection with the book store staff. They're the gatekeepers who determine whether readers even see your books on the shelf in the first place. At my worst signing (out of state, 3 copies sold), I still chatted with the staff and let them know about my book - which they now stock. At my best signing (in town, dozens sold), I met the manager, buyer, and several other staff members. They all got excited about my book, made it their "hand-sell" book of the month - and this is a Barnes & Noble! - and put a table with my books by the entrance for over a month with each release. Many of the sales clerks have read the books, love them, and recommend them! Their PR lady is even suggesting the book to other B & N stores. That was worth a couple of hours and a bag of Lindt Truffles :)

  26. I envision doing signings because that's one way to connect with readers, one I think I'd enjoy.

    I like Diccon's idea to turn the experience into an author event. I attended Nicholas Sparks' signing in Sacramento recently (where he grew up), along with 1,000 others (verified count with bookstore staff). The lines were l-o-n-g, so I didn't wait around for his signature, but I thoroughly enjoyed his Q&A session, as did others. I think taking the focus off me and putting it on those in attendance and what I could give back to them is what would make the event fun for all.

  27. Jody, you have such an engaging personality. I was impressed how easy you were with the readers who approached the table. I know you made great connections with readers, and they will remember you, and of course they are going to love your book!

    I'm so glad I was able to attend!

  28. I'll encourage you with one thing Jodi: Before I became a mother and writer I worked in branding. If my time in that industry taught me anything it was this:

    The success of your product is and always will be based on the purchasers perceptions of the product itself and the business behind it.

    The very, very best and most effective sales tool you have are advocates: People who have such a positive perception of your product that they go out of their way to sell it for you.

    Without realizing it, you probably built 10-15 advocates in that time. I have no doubt you were polite and personable, approachable and interested. Those people now associate any work you do with those positive feelings and - more importantly - will tell others about it and build THEIR positive perceptions of you.

    10-15 book sales may, with time, develop into hundreds as each person hears the positive message, purchases the product and has that message affirmed, and thus passes it on.

    Outdated? Maybe. A slow way to build sales? Definitely. But if you can be patient, this kind of audience interaction is the single most effective way to build your brand.

    Hmmmm...rant... sorry!

  29. Sarah has it totally right. As a bookseller it means so much more when you have met an author (even if you never read the book!). Simply put, you're far more likely to remember the name when the next customer asks you for a recommendation.

    When the time comes Keli, please make sure you do an author event. It really is fun. A little nervewarcking at first if faced with 186 people (as I was in Bern last month), but owrth every minute.

    And Aimee, your term advocates is a far better way of what I was trying to say about word of mouth. I may be an author, but sometimes words fail me :-)

  30. I met Patti Lacy at a book signing, and she's become a close friend, writing mentor, editor, and advisor. I would not be in this spot in my writing without her.

    I think book signings aren't primarily for selling books, but developing relationships. You planted seeds in many hearts that day, both readers and Lifeway employees. That may lead to huge harvests in the future for you.

    When my books are published, I plan to do as many signings as I can fit into my calendar, simply to connect with people and pass along the goodness Patti gave to me.

  31. I have a book signing coming up on the 28th down here in Adelaide and I'm a little unsure of how it's all going to pan out. For the most part, I'm doing the leg work in terms of promotion, ensuring stock and planning the content and that's kinda tough but when your publisher resides in another country I guess that's the price you pay.

    And I've struggled in capturing the interest of mainstream media outlets. I've instead used as much of the onlines tools I have at my disposal in order to generate interest as well as connect with local libraries, book groups and friends and family.

    This is the forth event I'll have done in support of my novel. I have no expectations at this point.

  32. In the past, I've participated in two, with friends who were selling excellent books. Signings weren't any better in the 80s and 90s than they are now. Both signings had dismal turnouts. But the bookstore DOES get to know you. However, money for travel and the time involved wouldn't be worth it for most of us--only I would think if you have a really big name. Even with the excellent promotion you've done, you've discovered the book signing wasn't financially and personally worth it. Your family IS top priority!
    p.s. Your beautiful book is on my Read This table. My life is so hectic lately I haven't read anything!

  33. I agree with you, Jody. I don't like the idea of obvious self promotion, so instead of just a signing I'd prefer combining it with an author event that includes something more for the audience... a talk, Q&A, handouts, etc. As my novel includes a few pages of the MC's favourite recipes I might choose to print one of the recipes on bookmarks to give away. I'd like attendees to feel they weren't there to be coerced into buying my book, but were appreciated and rewarded for their interest and support.

  34. Yeah, so I totally brought up your post today as I was talking to my publisher. I love how you show the good sides to book signings and how to keep our focus in the right place.

  35. Honestly, I've only been to one--and that was for a specific author. I'm definitely up for doing them, but I agree with you. So glad your blog friends were able to come... that makes for a great day!

  36. I'm willing to try anything out once, but if I get to that point I'm sure it will be a bit nervewracking for sure!

  37. Hi Jody -

    At this point, I can't say I'd rule out book signings. We have several local Christian bookstores. I might try those.

    Susan :)

  38. Hi Jody, loved your pic. Book signings are usually done on the day of the book launch in India. People who have bought the book line up to get the book signed by the author.

    I am sure with your sweet personality you would have won over the people.

  39. I understand that, in the end, it comes down to sales. You must sell books to continue being published. I was disappointed, however, to be left feeling like it's ALL about sales; that meeting your fans wasn't worth your time because there weren't enough sales. I'm sure those who had already read your book were honored to meet a published author. And those who bought your book and talked to you that day at your signing would be disappointed to read your blog here and learn that they were just a number to you.
    On a side note, bookstores are great places to have an author event/reading. Also try your local libraries. Most public libraries love to have author events, and they take care of the promotion and planning. All you have to do is show up, talk about why you started writing, etc., read and excerpt from your book and hopefully sell a few books. As far as cost, you can ask the library to pay for your travel expenses-most will if it's not too much. It's up to you how far you are willing to travel.

  40. As a pre-published author your blog post definitely brought up some great pros and cons of book signings. Of course, if you're a big name, then it's a no brainer. However as a newbie, you do have to weigh your options. For me, I would find author events (such as Comic Cons, because my target market goes to things like this) much more beneficial then a bookstore. Of course, if I was offered the opportunity to do one, I wouldn't turn it down, however I wouldn't invest so much into it because the risk of low sales is so great.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing your experience! :)

  41. I admit that I was very curious about how your book signing went. I confess that I've always looked at these events with a little suspicion. I've seen authors at these events, often with not a single person near their table, and I usually find myself thinking 'I'm never going to do that'. I do think that doing the signing with another person is a great idea and can increase your traffic, but I think your take-away message is the one that matters: for those of us that are dreadfully busy, our time and effort might be better spent on some other form of marketing. Or simply in writing our next manuscript.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

  42. Here's what you need to know about signings, Jody. They're not really about selling books, they're about participating in an event for a bookstore. It's the bookstore owners that remember you, appreciate you and suddenly you become a real person to them, not just a name on a list of authors with books releasing.

    I've been told by a book retailer that there is an uptick in the sales of your books still as long as two years after the sale just because the owner/manager is a bit more of a fan, just because you did something nice for them. They're more likely to recommend your books to customers. A bit more likely to remember you when someone wants a certain type of book similar to yours.
    Be enthusiastic.
    Never sit down.
    Get there early and browse in the store so you can make yourself useful is someone asks where the CDs are...or the bathroom. :)
    And look at is as an event, something to advertise for the owner, and also consider if that people come in to see the author, even if they don't buy your book, they might buy something ELSE in the store, making it a more profitable day for the owner, who will remember you fondly.

  43. I have so far not had any book signings and even so the sales of my novel Loot are going well and as such I haven't felt the need. Here in Australia it is very hard to organize book signings as bookstores are finding it difficult enough to get by without the added expense of promoting a one off appearance by a little known author. Afetr recently relocating to a provincial town though I have reconsidered book signings and after reading your blog I have decided to contact the local bookstore to try and arrange a signing in their store.


© All the articles in this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without prior written consent from the author. You may quote without permission if you give proper credit and links. Thank you!