Why Author Signing Events Are a Waste of Time

 

 

 

Yeah, I know I’m going to piss off a lot of people with this. But hey, I’m nothing if not honest. I’m not the type of person who can sit idly by and watch newbie authors be taken for a loop with people who are always after money. So here are my top reasons why authors should skip the large-scale author signing events and spend their money elsewhere*.

*side note – if you really want to do book signings, work with local libraries and book stores. They are usually very eager to get local talent in their doors. And if you think you can’t pull in a large enough crowd on your own, see how many authors they can host and make it as large-scale of an event as possible. I’ve put together two events at my local library and both had a decent turn out. And if you write in some genre besides nonfiction and romance and really want to get more bang for your book-signing buck, head to the comicons. These tend to draw really large crowds even in smaller towns.

 

10. You are not a special snowflake. Unless you are a big-name author, chances are slim to none that you will actually sell enough  books at these things to even pay for a tank of gas, much less the table rental fees.

 

9.  These events aren’t geared toward getting exposure for the authors who attend or about bringing in readers. They are geared toward making money for the organizer of the event. They tend to be put together by other authors who want to organize an event, invite all their author friends, try to snag a few big-name authors to make it sound like it’s going to be a big to-do, and if they have room left over, they may let others join them. And again, unless you are a big name author, the few readers who do show up aren’t there for you.

Then there are the expenses involved – hotel fees, travel fees, buying your books, the endless free swag you need to entice the readers to your table – it gets pricey really quick, and that’s not even counting the table rental fees. And speaking of those fees, be prepared to pay your non-refundable deposit a good year in advance of the event, if not more. The rest of your table fees are generally due three months or more before the actual date of the signing as well.

Wonder why? It’s because it’s being organized by people who do not have the capital to pull off the event in the first place. They are depending upon the deposits and rental fees being paid up front by the attending authors to cover all the venue rental fees and other costs of putting the event together. And if something happens and you have to cancel your appearance, you are not going to get any of that money back as a general rule, even if the event has a huge waiting list of authors who are more than willing to take over your table. If you do have to cancel, the only way you are going to get your money back is to sell your table to another author. But you better double-check with the organizer first; some of the events have a non-transfer clause which forbids you from selling and thus transferring your table to another author.

 

8.  The ratio of tickets sold to authors attending are more around the likes of 1:3, maybe 1:5 if you are damn lucky. Most are only around a 1:1 ratio. What does that mean? For everyone author that shows up, there will only be one to five tickets sold. To do the math, that means if there are 100 authors signed up, you can count on approximately 100 tickets sold. 300 or more tickets sold is generally considered an above average show.

 

7.  Readers who come to these things are there to visit with very specific authors. These aren’t like the comic cons and other conventions. You don’t have thousands of people casually walking through checking out all the tables. It’s a few hundred people at best who came with a specific game plan in mind – they know which authors they want to visit, which books they want to buy, and they do not tend to be out there looking for new authors to start reading. Remember, they had to pay to get into these things. If they want to “browse” they can do that, for free, at any ebook retailer or their local library.

But they’ll come along and pick up some swag and that will help, right?

Sure, you’ll have people who will walk around and grab a bookmark or a flyer – which will get dumped into a bag filled with all the shit from all the other tables and then added to a scrapbook (if you’re lucky) or a memorabilia box where it is promptly forgotten as it gets mixed in with everything else. These things are looked at more like trophies, no matter how ‘sensible’ the item might be, like a pen or a lip balm.

But at least you got some swag into the hands of readers, right? Yeah – no. You would have come out better sending those bookmarks to libraries in your local area (or hell, ship them to libraries out of state if they will take them) where there are, you know, actual serial readers.

I know what you are thinking – that you are bound to get some exposure, right? Even if your not a big-name author, you think you are sure to get some of the run-off from the other authors attending, right? Or maybe see a spike in sales after the event because of all the ebook buyers? Yeah, about that.

 

6. You’re going to be in a room full of other no-name authors who may have one or two readers who showed up to buy a ticket and visit with them. And we’re back to the number crunching again – see reason number 8. And reason number 7.

But it’s good to help get your name out there, right? I mean, the whole reason to go to these things is to meet with readers and hopefully get a few new fans. That’s worth all those hundreds of dollars spent. It’s all about networking.

 

5. Look, let’s get down to the nut-cutting, shall we? Do you want to know the real reason why authors go to these things? So we can post it on social media and pretend we are relevant in this industry. So it looks like we have an actual career. They can claim it’s all about networking all they want, but that’s the real reason if they are honest with themselves. Just look back at numbers 10-6. These things don’t bring in large crowds, and the few who do show up are generally not going to take a chance on someone they’ve never heard of. The ROI for going to these things are miniscule, even for well known authors.

But surely there has got to be some benefits? I mean, if you’re in a room full of other authors and there are readers and they are walking around taking things off your table, your’re bound to get a tiny bit of exposure, right? Well…

 

4. You’re better off spending those hundreds of dollars on real advertising. Let’s say for argument’s sake BookBub was going to charge you $200 to only send out your book information to, let’s be generous here, 300 readers. Would you think that was a good deal? And let’s say that out of those 300 readers, 90% of them had never heard of you and weren’t known for taking chances on a new-to-them author. Would you be so quick to hand over that $200 for such a small ROI? Probably not, so why would you want to plunk down $200 on a table rental plus book costs, swag costs, travel costs, food costs, hotel costs, etc. just to potentially gain a half-dozen readers? There are a lot more efficient ways to advertise than traveling long distances to sit in a room full of other no-name authors in the hopes one or two readers from the one bestselling author sitting across the room from you might decide to buy an ebook six months down the road.

Now, I’m sure there are going to be those who think, ‘Well, if I get a primo spot in this event then everyone will have to walk right by my table and I’ll be there waving them right over to my table and carrying on actual conversations with them so they’ll be more likely to remember me after the event.’ Okay, reality check time.

 

3. Unless you are BFFs with the event organizer(s), you are going to be placed in the nosebleed section of the event. Hey, someone has to end up in the shitty section, right? Not all the spots are going to be primo spots, so unless you  intend on getting seriously buddy-buddy with the organizers then you are going to be shit outta luck when it comes to table placement. I’ve been to more than a half-dozen of these things in my own backyard where I was a local known author and guess what? I not only ended up shoved into the back corner as an afterthought, but I also had pretty much no fans to show up. Oh, and yeah, I didn’t get much traffic over at my table, even with me waving them over and begging them to just talk to me about their favorite genre. Unless you plan on tossing dollar bills at them, and that could get weird pretty quick, then they are pretty much going to avoid you no matter how much you smile (and that could get weird too).

 

2. Be prepared to be schooled. Well, be prepared to go back to high school. And you thought your days of cliques and back stabbing were over? You wish. Welcome to the wide, wonderful world of indie publishing, where bullying runs rampant, and if you aren’t friends with the cool kids then you may not even be invited to these events. Yep, a lot of these things are by invitation only. Don’t like it? Then don’t become the squeaky wheel begging to be let in because believe-you-me, you get on one of these people’s shit lists and you’re doomed to stay on it for the duration of your career. And don’t think for a second your fellow authors are going to back you up if someone decides you are just being jealous because you didn’t get invited. People are going to side with the organizer or just keep quiet so as not incur the wrath of anyone. And I’ve got the screenshots to prove it.

And finally, the reality check that is surely going to hit you in your ego:

 

1. We are not rock stars. Unless you are seriously one of the top 6 bestselling authors of all time, even if you are making enough money to make EL James jealous, people don’t really care to actually meet you. I’ve seen photos of some of the large scale signings she’s attended and there weren’t hordes of fans lined up to see her. Seriously, porn stars get more people at their table than even the big name authors. People aren’t going to camp out overnight just for the off chance they will get to be one of the first in line to meet you. I’m sorry, it sucks, and as much as we’d like to think our rabid fans would come out to support us, it just ain’t happening. I’ve had ample opportunity to meet Anne Rice, who is my personal authoring mentor, and yet I’ve passed up going to meet her every single time. After all, she’s no Bret Michaels. Oh, and speaking of rock stars, at least they get a cut of the ticket sales. Authors? Nope, we have to pay to be there and the organizer gets to keep all the proceeds from charging people to come see you. Welcome to the freak show.

 

So this pretty much sums up why attending author events that charge any type of table rental or admission fee are a complete waste of time for authors. It is a large amount of money to spend for a very low, nearly non-existent ROI. It’s not very good for networking as the crowds tend to be smaller. Unless you are really big, top-earning bestselling author, you are not going to attract a large crowd of fans. Even the best paid authors aren’t always getting fans lined up to meet them. Most readers who attend are there for a very select few authors and have little interest in finding others they might enjoy reading. And since you are probably going to be in a room full of other unknown authors, you aren’t going to see much foot traffic because the few readers who do attend are only there to support their favorites. Your time, and money, would be better spent on real advertising where you get more bang for your buck. If all else fails and you really can’t help yourself when it comes to buying bookmarks and other swag, then network with some of the event organizers and send in your stuff for their VIP bags. Most of them are super-happy to receive the freebie items for their bags plus it gets you about as much exposure as you would actually being at the signing. Plus, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper. And if by some miracle you see a huge spike in sales after that show, then by all means, try attending it.

 

Bottom line, if you do decide to start doing the signing circuits, then keep this in mind:

  1. Be exclusive. If you really want people to be excited to see you, then only attend one or two signings a year, and make sure it is the same ones. The more accessible you are to readers in the flesh, the less likely they are going to drive out of their way to come meet you. Making yourself exclusive to a very few, specific events means you are more likely to have readers show up to meet you if they know this could be their only chance to meet you.
  2. Go easy on the autographs. The fewer autographs you have in existence the more sought-after they are going to become. Don’t go crazy signing every piece of swag you have on your table. Sign only your own books that you sell at the show or those readers bring in. And if the event is selling some type of anthology, coloring book, keepsake autograph booklet, etc. for the show, then make it clear you will only sign the first XX number of people who show up at your table asking for your autograph. You have to start thinking of yourself as a business commodity and stop begging people to take notice of you.]
  3. Choose your events wisely. You want to go to the ones which offer you the most bang for your buck. If you have the money to travel, this means finding the largest events which has the largest turn out, preferably one which has at least two very well-known authors. I’m not talking about authors who slap USA TODAY bestseller on their books because they managed to list as part of an anthology or someone who is “well-known” in the indie business. I’m talking about a bonafide house-hold name author who is guaranteed to bring in the readers. If traveling isn’t an option, then pick the largest one you can get to.

 

Whatever you decide to do, remember you are representing yourself not only as a business, but as a business professional. Unless you have some serious cash to burn, I would strongly recommend not doing the signing circuit at all. There are much more efficient ways to use your advertising dollars which will have long-term benefits you simply cannot get attending a book signing.

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