Are Booksignings Worth It?

Booksignings were always part of my mythic dream of the Published Author.  I couldn’t wait to have my own flyer in the bookstore window, to be sitting there with a stack of my books.  A friend even bought me a fancy pen to use at my first signing.

January, 2005.  That's my 'PLEASE buy my book' face.One of my earliest booksignings was for the Five Star edition of Goblin Quest [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].  Considering I was pushing a $25.99 hardcover by an unknown author, it went pretty well.  Much better than the one a month  later at B&N, when I sat there for two hours without selling a single copy.

Last week I drove out to Ann Arbor for an event at Nicola’s Books.  These days I’m better known, with five books in print, all available for the more reasonable price of $7.99.

Eight people showed up.  They bought a lot of books, which was great (gotta love Christmas shopping), and I enjoyed hanging out and chatting.  But as I was driving the 60 miles back home, I found myself wondering if it was worth it.

I sold maybe 20 books at that signing.  At $0.48 per book, that’s just under ten bucks.  That doesn’t even cover gas.  Even my best events, the book launch parties I do at the local Schulers, don’t have much financial payback compared to the time and work the booksellers and I put into them.

But it’s important to look at the long term.  I’ve built up a wonderful relationship with the folks at Schulers, and as a result, they stock more of my books than any other store.  I do really well there, in large part because they hand-sell my work.  At Nicola’s last week, I left about twenty signed books which will go back on the shelf.  So even if the signing doesn’t go well, you’re building relationships with booksellers and leaving signed stock that will continue to move after you’ve left.

There’s also the “sneezer” factor.  Tobias Buckell describes sneezers as the ones who get excited about a product early on and talk about it to their friends and family.  Person X might buy a single book, but if they enjoy meeting you and like the book, they’re more likely to go out and spray that enthusiasm all over the place.  I can think of individuals who have sold dozens of my books through word-of-mouth recommendations.

But for every well-organized, “successful” signing, there are others where you and your rapidly-wilting ego sit at a table for two hours while a total of four people wander by, only to have a bored staff member later comment, “Saturdays are usually slow for us.”  (Leaving one to wonder why the store invited you to come out on a Saturday.)  Or the store that ordered only a handful of books that sold out before I arrived.  Or the one where the CRM  doing the event was fired the week before, and they had no books and no record I was even supposed to be there.  (Always call ahead to confirm!)

Basically, the magic is gone.  I’ll continue to do signings, particularly my book launches at Schulers.  I’ll happily do autographing sessions at conventions.  But I’m not going to call every bookstore in a 100-mile radius trying to schedule events, and I’m not going to feel like a failed author if I don’t have at least ten booksignings set up for every new book.  It just doesn’t feel like the best use of my time and energy.

What do you think?  As authors, readers, and booksellers, are signings worth it?