Tuesday, February 1, 2011


By:  Mary Alice Monroe

You’ve finished your first novel, sent it to New York, and your pub date is set. Congratulations! Now you wonder what can you do to help your book succeed?

If you had asked me this question just a few years ago, I would have my answer ready. I’d tell you to visit bookstores in your region, set up book signings where possible, offer book marks if they accept them, and establish a relationship with the booksellers.

A problem many new authors face, however, is getting a bookseller to agree to a signing. If you are self published, it is even more difficult. If, however, you are successful at securing a book signing date, bring a smile, a cheerful attitude-- and leave all expectations at the door of the bookstore.

To paraphrase Forrest Gump, every book signing is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. Don’t be disappointed if no one is waiting to see you. Remember, as great as it is to walk up to the store and see a line waiting for you, it’s also great to get your book title highlighted in the window, to become acquainted with the book store staff and help them better understand your novel for future hand-selling, and to meet new readers.

What happens at a signing? If you sit at a table with a group of seasoned authors over drinks you’ll hear hilarious stories about book tours and signings. It’s bonding. Rather like a group of mothers sharing labor experiences, or soldiers recounting war stories. Most authors share the common experience of sitting in the front of the store with a stack of their books only to have a person walk up to the table and ask, “Can you tell me where the bathroom is?” or “I’m looking for a book by….” My advice at such a moment is to stay cheerful, introduce yourself and hand her a free bookmark. And if you know where the bathroom is, do tell! Whether the person buys your book at that moment or not, this reader now knows who you are. Consider this progress.

And that’s my point. Stay positive. Don’t measure the success of a book signing solely on number of books sold. Especially today as e-books have radically changed the buying patterns of readers. Other book signing tips include:

• Engage! Don’t sit at the table and tune out. (No reading other books or magazines, looking bored, etc.) Remember that you are a guest of the bookseller. Do as your mother taught you: It is your responsibility as a guest to be cheerful and engaging.

• No intimidation. I’ve watched open-mouthed as an author practically tackles someone and shoves her or his book in the reader’s face. If you do this and the reader walks away with your book, don’t feel smug. The bookseller is likely to find it lying on a shelf further back in the store. Be gentle and sometimes the shy reader will return after you’ve gone to check out your book.

• Practice your pitch. Can you describe your story in two exciting sentences?

• Thank your bookseller for the opportunity to sign. It’s work for them to bring you in, to advertise, and to offer you that cup of coffee. Perhaps buy something in their store.

As for publicity and promotion for your new book, any tip I might offer today may be out of date tomorrow. The business of bookselling is changing so fast we’re all scrambling. With the announcement that e-books will be counted toward New York Times placement, we are left to wonder how to appeal to this new market. Are book tours worth the time and expense? What new methods should we explore?

I honestly don’t know. We’re all searching for answers. I do know this, however. As a seasoned veteran in this business, I’ve witnessed many changes over the years. I’ve learned the only thing you really have control over is your book. Write the best book you can. Word of mouth is hotter than ever. Impulse buying can result in more books sold overall. For example, if a reader raves about a book she just read, another reader can download it instantly.

• Be positive. Negative thoughts can destroy your career. Watch what you say about other authors, too. The publishing world is like a small town.

• Take the long view. Success doesn’t usually happen overnight.

• Enjoy the experience! We are all so fortunate to be published and read. With each book you write, you’re living the dream.

On Sale May 3, 2011

Mary Alice Monroe is an award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of thirteen novels.  Her newest book, THE BUTTERFLY'S DAUGHTER, hits stores May 3. 
For more information visit http://www.maryalicemonroe.com/


Elliot Grace said...

...thanks so much for your advice, Mary. My first novel is due out this spring, with book signings and blurbs from fellow writers constantly on my mind these days. I'm soaking up any and all information currently available, and this post helped to keep my spirits up, my sights on the goal:)
Thanks again,

Anna Michaels said...

Mary Alice, I am so glad to see this post that emphasizes the bottom line: in the end, the story matters most.

Your May book looks intriguing. I'm looking forward to reading it. And thanks, again, for your lovely quote for my debut novel!

Montag said...

Thank you for your good advice. If I ever get things ready, I will heed your writing.

Barbara McDowell Whitt said...

Mary Ellen, you have certainly given some wonderful pointers on the art of book store behavior and promotion of a book. It is easy to see why you are such a successful author.

Glenn Evans said...

You should start blogging too! Blogging is currently the most effective way to promote your books in the internet! Since there are so many users who browse blogs across the internet, there's bound to be someone who'll be interested in your book. One must also realize that you should find out who your target audience is when advertising in the net since there are a lot of users, all coming from different parts of the globe, with different cultures, beliefs, traditions and preferences. Like for example, if you are planning on promoting your book for internet users who lives in Indianapolis, you should post topics that are related to Indianapolis. SEO or search engine optimizers also suggests that you go to other related blogs, let's say for example, other author's blogs (since we are promoting books after all), and post links to your book's blog to build up traffic. Traffic equals more people and more people means more promotion! Good luck!

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