How to Approach Libraries for a Book Signing

            I asked one of my Facebook writer groups if they had suggestions for topics on our writing advice blog. One of them asked “How does one approach a library for a book signing?” I thought it was a perfect topic! So first thing’s first, I went to my boss, Joan Brinkley, the director of Goshen County Library and we put our heads together to bring you this article.

            That’s the first thing you as an author want to do. Figure out the name of the director of the library you’re going to query. The director of a library is the head librarian. You’ll sound a lot savvier if you use their name and job title rather than calling the library and asking “May I speak to the head librarian?”

            Joan prefers phone calls (I prefer emails but no one cares because I’m not the director). When you call a library, after you know the name and job title of the person you want to talk to, the next thing you need to be ready with is your elevator pitch. All bosses are busy. You need to be able to make someone want to read your book in the time it takes to ride in an elevator with them. If they want more information, great! Just keep it concise. Joan admitted one of the most annoying things an author can do is keep her on the phone for too long. We’re all very excited you got your book published! Truly! But keeping the director on the line for an hour and a half will not buy you brownie points.

            Just after I tell you to simmer down here’s another thing Joan stressed: BE CONFIDENT. To quote Joan herself “You’ve already spent years putting it together. Since it’s published it’s already gone through a lot of editing and criticism. Be excited about your book so we can be excited too.”

            If you’re like me and you hate phone calls with all that is within your soul emails are also acceptable. Just make sure that your email has a hyperlink to your website, your contact information, a summary about your book, and any other information you want us to know about you or your book. One of the most annoying ways to contact a library is just messaging their social media with a link to your book on Amazon and nothing else. Don’t do that but with an email! But do an email. You don’t want to just message the Facebook page (or whatever platform you’re on) because you never know who’s actually going to get it. It’s probably not going to be the director. (In our establishment it comes to me, the web manager.) But again: Make sure your email has a hyperlink to your website, your contact information, a summary about your book, and any other information you want us to know about you or your book.  

            Joan and I agree it’s best to do book tours. You schedule two or three book signings in a row in towns near each other. For instance, you have one in Scottsbluff, then you come here, then Niobrara County Library. Sometimes, no matter what you do people just won’t come out. It’s okay. That’s why it’s nice to have the next one ready to go so you can just have better luck in the next town.

            Once you’ve got the book signing the next thing is to prepare a presentation. At the very least a spiel! I’ve had— I’m not saying it to sound cool, I’ve literally lost track— over 10 book signings. Every library and every event is different. Some want you to do an entire presentation, some want you to sit in the corner and look pretty, and some want to involve you in some bigger project. (In Rapid City the local teens and I got to play with typewriters for NaNoWriMo!) I carried around a folding poster board for a year. There were a lot of places where bringing it out just wasn’t useful or helpful. So from that I learned, always have a backup plan! You can always be cooler than me too and have a power point presentation. Just be prepared to carry a laptop and a projector, and know how to use it. The only thing with tech is that it glitches. So, again. Have that backup plan.

            All in all, if you never ask the answer is always “no”. Be polite, and personable, make us love your book as much as you love it, and have a plan.

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The Recipe for a Successful Book Signing

            Take 12 ounces of published book
            100-300 pounds of enthusiastic author
            Add a venue
            and some curious bookworms

            Yield one book signing

            If only it were that simple! At the heart of it it is but from being on both sides of a book signing— the venue host and the author, it’s also not. Last month Joan and I discussed how authors should approach libraries to ask about having a book signing. We came up with so much helpful information I felt the need to split it into two articles. Once you’ve landed the book signing, and hopefully several in a row from several different libraries so you can do a book tour, then comes the hard part. The execution!

            You’ve got your presentation planned, right? No? Fret not. It’s not as terrible as it sounds. Public speaking frightens everyone. The trick is to be confident but not conceded, and humble but not shy. One of my favorite quotes is “Writing is show business for the shy.” From Lee Child. That’s why I treat book signings like concert nights. (I also sing and play the trumpet. I don’t make time for either now.) For any performance you dress up, show up early, and have a well-rehearsed plan for what you’re going to do once you have a room full of people’s eyes on you. I even do my preshow rituals in my car. Think of going through your presentation like putting on a show. Not public speaking. (Public speaking burns!)

            For the content of a presentation: Think of some questions your friends ask about writing when they take you out to lunch. Write those down, then answer them confidently in a projected tone that the entire room can hear. Honestly, it helps to pretend you are either friends with or becoming friends with the audience. When CJ Box was here the crowd spoke to him like they all knew him, and he spoke back in the same manner. They were a crowd of people who had been following his work for years, who had been hearing his voice in their minds for years. They did know him well because it was like they had been one sided pen pals with him for years. And he knew them because they had been the ones breathing life into his career. The audience is either your friends or people who want to be your new friends. Tell them about what inspired you to write the thing, what kept you going, which publisher did you use and why, what drives the plot. All of it! They’re all very curious book worms who are very excited to see you.

            One of the things that phased me the most for my first book signing(s) was “Omigosh, what am I going to wear?” What does “dress nice” and “business casual” even mean? At the time I published my first book I was a dewy eyed 20 year old with crazy hair. I had no idea. So a lot like I did for job interviews, I had a book signing shirt. It was white and I paired it with black slacks. A lot like I did for concert nights as a kid. Having one thing I’d wear for book signings made it easier because it was one less thing to think about during the event but the downside was that, unlike job interviews, pictures of you show up on social media. Everyone knows you’re wearing the same shirt. No one’s called me out on it so I haven’t ever changed my evil ways. Really, wear whatever it is you’d wear if you worked in an office (I didn’t at the time so that was unexplored territory). Either way, the goal with your look is to look like you want to be there and meant to be there.

            Another tip: Buy a cash box and keep $50 of $1’s and $5’s. It helps to have someone run the cash box so you can schmooze. It works even better if the person running it isn’t your identical twin. That way people who saw your picture before the event won’t ask your cash-man questions about writing books.

            Don’t do exactly what I do before every event we host at the library. Don’t get stressed up! Go with the mindset that you’re there to have a good time. That’s what the audience wants to have too. They left the comfort of their homes to be entertained, meet this cool person who wrote a book, and have a good time. Go make some new friends!

            All you need to remember is have a plan, have another plan, be a showman, the audience wants to be your friends if they’re not already, show up early, dress nicely, watch the cash box, and act like you want to be there.

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