When Jane Sutter Brandt told me about her hometown book signing plans when we met for lunch in March, I knew it would be a huge success. I asked her on the spot to write a blog post for us after it happened. Jane is an award-winning journalist with more than 30 years of experience writing, editing, blogging and managing newspapers, magazines, and web sites. She resides in Rochester, N.Y., where she runs Sutter Communications, which provides a variety of services including writing, editing, public relations, and social media. Her book, Sutter’s Sodas Satisfy: A Memoir of 90 Years of Sutter Drug Co., was published in April 2015. For more information visit her blog or Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter.
How to sell out at a book signing without being a celebrity
By Jane Sutter Brandt
I recently returned to my hometown of Burlington, Iowa, for a signing of my first book, Sutter’s Sodas Satisfy: A Memoir of 90 Years of Sutter Drug Co., about my family’s business, which existed from 1903-1993.
It was an amazing success: I sold every book that I had with me – all 99 of them. The book store owner ended up taking orders for two dozen more that day.
I must have done something right, right?
Book signing success tactics
Here’s my to-do list of tactics that contributed to my success:
- Write a marketing plan. Putting a plan on paper forced me to focus on public relations in advance, in addition to developing ideas for the event itself. I modeled my plan after ones I’d seen in books and on the Internet. Ultimately I didn’t do everything on the list, but I did much of it.
- Develop a partnership. Chris Murphy, the owner of my host, Burlington By The Book, alerted the Arts Center of Burlington next door about the signing two months in advance. His enthusiasm was contagious, and Assistant Director Hillaurie Fritz-Bonar came up with the idea to schedule a coordinating event involving “Pop Art” exhibits to draw people downtown to meet up-and-coming artists.
- Build excitement in advance on Facebook. Of course, we had a Facebook invitation page and I created a Sutter’s Sodas Satisfy Facebook page. But a key to my success was a page called “Pictures of Burlington, Iowa,” to which anyone can contribute photos (new and old). While I was writing the book and before the book event, I would post a vintage photo every few weeks. Some of these generated more than 300 likes and more than 100 comments. So, when the book signing came around, people’s appetites had already been whetted.
- Share part of the book in a blog. My book signing was on May 2 and on March 17, I launched a blog using WordPress. Just like on Facebook, I shared interesting photos with a few paragraphs of information. On the right side of the blog’s homepage was information on the book signing. I promoted the blog via Facebook and Twitter.
- Plan the book signing as an event. I called it “Sutter Drug Store Homecoming and Book Signing” in press releases and on social media. I invited former employees and patrons to come meet other Sutter family members and reminisce. My mother, sister, and cousin were all there to greet people.
- Be diligent about contacting local media well in advance. I mailed press releases with copies of the book about a month before the event. The local newspaper did a large article with photos on the Sunday before the event (and covered it the day of). In the interest of full disclosure, I was a reporter at that newspaper in the early 1980s but almost none of that staff remain. The local talk radio station did a live interview with me on the Monday before the event.
- Make the event participatory. I had a poster board on an easel and colored markers and asked attendees to write memories using colored markers. Many did. It’s a treasured memento now, which I’ve shared on Facebook. I asked every person whose book I signed if I could have my photo taken with them. Most said yes, and my family took turns shooting photos with their iPhones. (I posted these on Facebook later.) A headshot of my great-grandfather was another prop.
- Have promotional materials to give at the event. My budget was limited, so I opted for business-size cards that simply stated the name of the book, my name and phone number, and the URL for the blog. I put a card in each book after I signed it.
And a few regrets
- I didn’t have enough books with me. When I returned home, I mailed enough for the additional orders and then ordered more from my printer.
- I needed a guest book that people could sign and include their email or mailing addresses.
- I also would have had my family who took photos record the names of each person they photographed.
My homecoming book signing event was memorable in so many ways, and I’ll apply what I learned to future book signings.
What have you done right at your book signings? What would you change? Please comment.
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