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In today’s online culture, are book signings becoming an outdated marketing tool?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

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