How to Score a Successful Book Signing Event at a National Chain

Your book has just been published (or is about to be) and you’re mapping out a killer marketing strategy. You may have heard that only bestselling authors have the opportunity to schedule a book signing at national chains. I’m here to tell you that’s not true and to offer tips on how it may be worth the effort. Events like signings and readings benefit both the retailer and the author. Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Costco, and other national retailers routinely host authors published by large traditional publishing houses as well as self-published authors. Such book-related events are part of the overall business strategy at bookstores, warehouse clubs, grocery stores, airport concessionaires, and other outlets. Because of these events, authors get their books into outlets that might not otherwise carry their titles. Retailers are able to showcase local authors’ work and get incidental business from the authors’ friends, family, and fans. What retailer is going to argue with more store traffic? It’s a true win-win! So how does an author go about setting up a book event at their local outlet of a national chain? Here are a few tips:
  1. Have a professionally published book. If you can’t meet this requirement, the rest of these instructions are useless. The content must be marketable. Would-be authors should walk the aisles of their local Barnes & Noble and examine the books. Really examine the books. They’ll see well-designed covers, well-constructed books, subject matter that is interesting and timely, and (of course) great writing. What they won’t see is books that “look self-published.” If you’re not familiar with this industry phrase, it means “sucky-looking.”
  1. Call or stop by the store you’ve targeted for your book event. Ask to speak with a store manager or the manager that coordinates author events. Be sure you’re able to succinctly communicate to the manager the following items:
  • Who you are and why you’re interested in holding an event in this particular store
  • A brief synopsis of your book
  • The book’s ISBN (org by Bowker), genre, and release date
Aside: I talked to a Community Relations Manager (CRM) at Barnes & Noble recently and she told me, in no uncertain terms, if an author doesn’t know their book’s ISBN, or worse if an author doesn’t even know what an ISBN is, she’s not interested in working with that author. Be prepared to deliver a complimentary review copy for the decision-maker. Don’t be stingy…this is worth it!
  • Why a book event would be good for the store and its customers
  • How the store can procure copies for the proposed event
Aside: This is important as stores like doing business through their normal channels, and that typically means sourcing through one of their preferred distributors like Ingram, Baker & Taylor, or Partners Book Distributing. Stores aren’t generally interested in sourcing books either directly from you or from your publisher (if you have one). And if your book is only available as a non-returnable, print-on-demand title, a book event is impossible.
  1. You’ve successfully scheduled an event. Congratulations! But your work is just beginning. Keep in mind, the store provides the venue, access to its customers, and minimal promotion (like putting the event on their online calendar, but not much else) – the rest is up to you. That means mobilizing your friends, family, and groups you believe will be interested in supporting your event. I urge authors to reach out to local media, and by local media, I mean community newspapers, local radio shows, local bloggers, not The Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times. Sorry, but unless you’re J.K. Rowling or an established bestselling author, Oprah is probably not going to bring attention to your book event. Harsh, I know.
  1. The day of the event has finally arrived, so what’s expected of you? Simple. Follow the guidelines established by your host store. They’ve held many signings before yours, and will hold many signings after. They have a system in place and, if you ever want to be invited back, you must get with the program. That means create a poster exactly like they want, offer a giveaway (like a bookmark) that falls within their guidelines, and stick to your allotted timeslot. If you’re not sure about something you’ve planned, always ask in advance.
  1. My last bit of advice is to simply have fun. It’s rewarding to know you sparked the creation of something tangible that entertains, educates, is thought-provoking, and ultimately, is appreciated. This is your moment to shine…take a moment to bask in the glory! Part of basking process includes taking plenty of pictures and sharing the photos on social media, writing about your experience, and letting potential readers in on the buzz your book has created.
I want to close by highlighting two Mascot Books authors that have followed the above advice and, as a result, have recently enjoyed successful events. Mascot Author Sean Stellato penned the non-fiction novel No Backing Down: The Story of the 1994 Salem High School Football Team. The book chronicles the story of his high school football team overcoming a controversial teachers’ strike that divided the community. The team went on to enjoy a Cinderella-like season that brought the fractured community back together. Sean initially focused on book signings at local outlets of national chains in Massachusetts. Within the first month of the book’s release, Sean was at Barnes & Noble, Costco, and independent bookstores. With a great book and a concerted local marketing plan, the title has gained national momentum and the author is now in-demand throughout the country. Here’s Sean at a Costco signing event. Sean Stellato No Backing Down at a Book Signing in Salem, MA                 Mascot Author Reetu Dua wrote the children’s book Ari Loves the Holidays as a way to help her son learn about and celebrate holidays throughout the year. The Calabasas, California resident had a well-written book, beautiful illustrations, and the subject matter was one that children (and parents) enjoyed. While not a local-interest title as such, Reetu wisely focused her marketing efforts locally by contacting the Calabasas Barnes & Noble about a book event. She did her research and knew the store had an established weekly children’s reading time and offered to hold a signing at a time that was convenient for the store. Reetu did a great job engaging her network and her presentation captured the attention of customers. The result was one of the most successful events held at that particular store over the past year. Because of Reetu’s efforts, she’s been invited back to hold a similar event for her second title Ari Loves the Solar System and other Barnes & Nobles have invited her to have events at their locations. Here’s Reetu at Barnes & Noble. Reetu Dua, Self Published, Barnes and Noble, Ari Loves the Holidays                     Feel free to contact me about this blog post or any other inquiries related to the world of publishing. Naren Aryal naren@mascotbooks.com @mascotnaren

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One response to “How to Score a Successful Book Signing Event at a National Chain”

  1. Brandon Wyrick says:

    Thank You! You’ve created a great article and it helped me tremendously. I’m about to schedule my book signing today!

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