A first time author asked about book signings. Here is my input/advice:
Honestly? Book signings are a pain in the ass. That’s only because they’re a lot of work and preparation for a usually small return on investment. They are a necessity, nonetheless.
Don't be discouraged if only a couple of people show up and you don't sell any books. That's normal for a first book. And to add insult to injury, the most commonly asked questions (depending on if you're in a mall or stand-alone book store) will be A) where are the Harry Potter books? and B) where is the restroom or food court. Be prepared for that and DO NOT take it personally. It's no reflection on you whatsoever. It takes time to build a following where people will actually want to be where you are...
Since the book is new, make sure you do a press release to announce your book as well as your signing. They should be 2 separate campaigns. When your book comes out, issue a press release. Spread that release as far as you can. (Please see free press release blog). Then as it gets closer to the book signing, do another release - and make sure you get listed in calendar events sections of every area paper/online news, etc. If the signing is outside of your local area, hit all those news outlets as well. You have to create a buzz around the book and yourself – that’s how you build up ‘demand’ and get people to want to come to the signing so they can see what you’re about.
If you’re ambitious, print up some flyers for the signing and a week or two in advance go around and post them wherever you can get permission.
To prepare for your signing, there are some other things you may want to take into consideration:
Having a conversation piece on the table with you (that relates to your book) is a great way to break the ice. I always have at least one grenade in plain sight.
You will probably also want a table cloth, and a couple of small easels to set your books UP. Otherwise people will be looking at a bunch of spines. Have a sign-up sheet where people can write in their email addresses for your newsletter. Have a small brochure with order information on your book, and bookmarks to give away for free. Everyone likes free stuff. You can get a small business card holder and place cards you made or had printed with your name, logo, web site and book title on them: anything to get the word out. I have a large laminated banner with my name on it to hang across the front of the table. I also have some of the major news articles about me and my books, reviews and my biography laminated and in a magazine stand. But I’ve been doing this for a very long time, and I have eight titles available.
Don’t forget, you’re going to have to lug all this stuff into the store. Make sure you have some good boxes – stackable ones with handles are helpful – I even invested in a foldable cart so I could wheel the items in. Especially if your signing is in a mall - who knows how far away you’ll have to park. And if it’s on a blazing hot summer day and you’re wearing a black suit – the last thing you want to do is run back and forth to your car seven times, building up a sweat and plastering your hair to your head.
Be nice to yourself on the day of a signing. Have a good breakfast. Bring your favorite beverage, a bottle of water, some mints and a snack. (Make sure any liquids are in a sealed cup/bottle so you don’t spill on your table.) Even though the event is usually only a couple of hours long, I guarantee your stomach will start growling if you don’t eat beforehand. That’s just how it works. Bring a notebook and a good pen, too. You’ll have plenty of down time. Make notes of what you could do better next time to make your life easier.
It’s always good to have friends stop by during the signing, not just for moral support, but to give the impression of people being interested in you. (Plus they can get you nice things like a cup of coffee, a tissue, etc.) Make sure they hold a copy of your book while they’re standing there. Many times strangers are reluctant to stop if they don’t know what’s going on – unless they see someone else taking the risk first.
I’m not a hard-seller. I can’t stand it. So sometimes I would get a signing “partner” – another author who is very good at getting in people’s faces and pulling them over to the tables. That still doesn’t mean you’ll sell any books, however, it does take some of the pressure off you if you’re shy. You also can get twice the press coverage if your signing partner is from a slightly different geographical area – press releases would go to their papers/outlets as well as yours, in their calendar sections as well as yours. Just make sure they share the workload and you’re not stuck doing everything.
So, all-in-all, there’s really no need to be nervous. Have fun with it.