Jenny has worked in the retail music industry, residential real estate, commercial real estate and finance. She is the second of four daughters, born and raised in Wiltshire, South West England, and relocated to Southern California in 1997. Jenny began writing novels in 2007. She is a member of Wolfwriters, a group of professional writers who meet bi-monthly in Northern San Diego. She is also a member of Sisters in Crime. Madness and Murder, her first novel, was released in July 2010. She is working on her third suspense novel, also set in San Francisco, featuring the return of homicide inspector, John Doucette. Jenny talks with us about the challenges of book signings today in a e-book world and if they are even necessary.
by Jenny Hilborne
With the e-market explosion, I want to examine book signings. They are often difficult to come by, and are they a wise investment of our time?
Take last month. I drove over 166 miles to a popular bookstore to sign copies of No Alibi, my 2nd novel. This bookstore is a place where celebs are known to stick their heads in the door and seek out a good read. Better still, I was invited to sign at the store. So, I was thrilled and excited to be there, not just to sign, but also for the fact a celeb might pick up my book. How cool would I look, then? Ha.
Unfortunately, competing nearby events stole a large part of my potential audience and the bookstore was almost deserted that day. Or maybe I’m just not a big enough name to draw a large crowd. YET! I sold one book, then trekked the 166 miles home.
This isn’t an isolated incident. I attend many book festivals and events, sometimes signing and other times browsing, and I see the same thing. Lots of readers I meet say they now read online (cool, most books are available for download) and tell me prefer to shop online, even for paperbacks. Some readers come to meet authors, or are drawn to a festival if they live close, but don’t buy. Some bring me a book to sign they already purchased (I love when this happens).
So, are physical book signings still worth the time and money invested? For most unknown and new authors, I’d have to say you often won’t recoup your cost, especially if the weather is crap or there’s another event going on nearby. Even if you sell well, you usually have to fork over a decent consignment fee to the bookstore, leaving you with very little if you sell books you’ve already purchased from your publisher.
Lots of people try to sell you their services at books events; editing, proofreading, publicity, and the like, all taking up the precious time you could be spending talking to potential readers. Lots of browsers don’t come to buy, they come to ask authors about the road to publication and try to pick up tips on how they can do it for themselves.
I’ve been asking myself why I still do them, why I get up early, give up my precious weekends, and drive myself hundreds of miles to stand up all day in the heat/rain/whatever and try to sell books, when I could stay home and market them on all the social media sites. The reason is I still believe face-face contact is one of the most important ways to connect.
Even if browsers don’t buy your book that day, you get something out of it. You make friends, connect with other authors at shared events, increase your social network, and raise your confidence level if you get the chance to speak on a panel. I’ve chatted with people and later discovered they are agents or publishers. Bookstore owners browse events – this is how I got invited to the signing I mentioned earlier (although I didn’t sell well that day, the owner has a new store opening and I was invited to sign there).
After some events, when I get back online, I notice an uptick in e-sales. This could happen days or weeks later, but those are sales I might never have made. I believe readers are more likely to give a review for an author they’ve met in person, and I believe they are more likely to hunt down your future works.