We’ve been asking our authors and illustrators for their tips for book signings – last week we heard from Lulu Delacre, Joseph Bruchac, and Lee Bennett Hopkins. More helpful advice below from those with considerable experience on the road for those who are just getting started.
Authors and illustrators are required to wear many hats if they want to be successful in the book business. Not only must they be the driving force behind the creation of their book, they also have to act as the book’s biggest cheerleader. Some may not be comfortable donning the marketing/publicity hat, but skills in this area can be developed over time. One question you should ask yourself is: Who else knows my book better than me? After all, your book is a project that has taken you months, even years sometimes, so isn’t it worth the effort to sing its praises from the highest rooftops?
What follows is a collection of tips from some of our authors and illustrators on how to make an impression when talking about your book during a signing, spreading enthusiasm, and selling books.
Open Invitation: If you are an author or illustrator and would like to contribute your own tips, please leave a comment below. Everyone benefits from passing the hat and sharing.
Tony Medina (author, I and I Bob Marley, Love to Langston, DeShawn Days, Christmas Makes Me Think): My advice for authors or illustrators just starting out is multi-layered. The first thing I advise is that you know your book through and through. This basically means that you can explain it in one sentence to a person at a book signing, a reading, a conference, or, as I have done, in a bookstore where you just happen to be shopping and notice someone looking at your book. The idea is not to come across like a used car salesman, but as someone who understands children’s literature and what teachers, librarians, and parents look for. In this way you can assess the child’s age range and if your book would be perfect for that particular child. I have gone as far as reading a poem or two from my book, which sells it right off the bat—not to mention the fact that the actual writer is there to sign the book in person. I have also allowed people to mail me a book to sign. This is a great incentive.
At book signings, remember that teachers, librarians, and children are your biggest fans. They are there to see you in person and get a book signed by you. It is always good to let them know that you are genuinely happy that they stopped by. Talk to them; be personable. If you can, offer to have a picture taken with them. Having a good personality and creating a fun and relaxing environment at a signing is very important.
Additional ideas for self-promotion are: create a postcard and/or bookmark for your book with the cover and all the relevant information about it. Children, teachers, librarians, and parents love to get free stuff, particularly when they can’t afford the book at the time.
Finally, my advice to the writer and artist just starting out is to understand that the children’s and young adult literature world is a community of book lovers who genuinely care about one another and the great work that is being created. Embrace it and let them know you have arrived to lend your voice to the ongoing discourse.
W. Nikola-Lisa (author, My Teacher Can Teach. . . Anyone!, How We Are Smart, Summer Sun Risin’, Can You Top That?, America: A Book of Opposites, America: My Land, Your Land, Our Land): Ready for your first conference appearance or bookstore signing? Well, don’t get too excited (not that you shouldn’t be); it’s just that they’re too unpredictable to know what to expect. I remember my first bookstore signing some years back: a mother showed up with her six-year-old child. That was it! One kid, and a mother who wanted me to interact with him—for the next forty-five minutes! Now, years later, I’ve learned a few things. No matter how many people show up, look them in the eye; give them all your attention. Be ready to tell stories, about yourself, and about your book. If you’re an introvert, leave him or her at home. Greet your public with a smile, a handshake, a pat on the back . . . engagement is the name of the game. And, one last thought, every outing leads to another. That’s been my experience. So, even if only one person shows up, that person could be the key to a school visit, a conference presentation, or, who knows, a world tour. You just never know.
Anastasia Suen (author, Baby Born, Toddler Two/Dos Años, What Do You See at the Pond?, Pencil Talk and Other School Poems, Make a Turkey, 100 Day, Ice Cream Money, Block Party, and Here Comes the Bus):
- Make eye contact with the people walking past the booth at the conference. Unless you are signing books, stay focused on the crowd passing by. (If you are talking to your editor, your body language says “don’t interrupt me,” and you’re not going to sell any books that way.)
- Ask a question. If you engage the people that are walking by, many of them will stop and come into the booth. My question is always related to my book, so when I am signing my board book Baby Born, I ask, “Do you need a gift for a little one?” This focuses on the teacher or librarian, not me. People who are looking for baby gifts always stop and come into the booth. People who don’t have any babies will give a negative reply and keep walking.
- Hand the person your book. That takes the attention away from you and moves it to the book.
- Talk about the book cover. This gives you a chance to summarize the book again. For Baby Born I say, “It’s about a baby’s first year.” After they ooh and aah over the cute babies on the cover, most teachers and librarians open the book and start reading.
- Talk about the inside of the book. Depending on what they are commenting on, I either summarize the book again by saying, “It’s my daughter’s baby calendar,” or I talk about the illustrations. (I didn’t create the art, so I can brag about it!) Sometimes I simply say, “I can sign this for you if you’d like.”
If the book meets the customer’s needs, then we have a sale! Not everyone you talk to will buy your book, but if you start a conversation, you are much more likely to sell your book. Like everything else, it’s all about relationships!