The Future of Book Signings

Yesterday I did a book signing at a local Barnes & Noble with seven other authors. They table I was sitting at was set across from the section where people could look at and examine Nooks. It was interesting to watch how busy the Nook stations were for the three hours we were there—especially the Kid’s Nook station. Parents and their kids would walk in and instead of heading to the kid’s section in the back, they’d run straight to the (kid) Nooks. I saw many Nooks get sold, half of which by my estimation were bought for the kids.

My first book came out before eReaders were popular. The biggest difference I’ve noticed between book signings then and now is that at least half the people who stop by the table ask if the books are available in eBook format. (Earlier this hummer I had a lady pull her Kindle out of her purse and download one of my books instead of buying a paper copy.) It got me thinking if the popularity of eBooks will have an adverse effect on author signings.

Here’s what I predict: In the next two or three years the number of author book signings will plummet. Mostly this will be because more bookstores will close and those that do remain will have less foot traffic than they do now. The other part for this decline will be that authors without a large readership or those just starting out will find book signings to be less and less productive way to spend their time and will find other ways (mostly online) to grow their readership and fans.

That’s not to say book signings will completely go away –just transform. Instead of walking into your local bookstore and seeing an author sitting behind a table with copies of his or her books, book signings will become more like social events. They’ll become a great way for readers to meet their favorite author in person. (You’re starting to see more ticketed events when a big name author releases a book. Usually a hardback version of their book is included in the price of the ticket.) They’re could be music, food, and all the trappings of a party. And if you add a limited number of tickets to an event for the bigger name authors, you build up hype and it quickly becomes a must attend event. This change will be great for well-known authors with a large fan base but a problem for new and midlist authors or those with small number of readers. That means the authors who know how to market themselves and their work will be the ones who reap the biggest benefit from this shift.

This change will be good for both authors and bookstores. Those who are good at selling themselves and their books will see more signings and bookstores will be able to stay afloat in part from the profits of these events. Those who aren’t as adept at this won’t find themselves behind tables at bookstores anymore. That means instead of sitting behind a table they can spend their time working on their latest book or find other (read: more productive) ways to build their audience.

People Do Judge Books by Their Covers

Bound on Earth by Angela HallstromFool me Twice by Stephanie BlackThe Hero of Ages (Mistborn, Book Three) by Brandon SandersonTraitor by Sandra GreySun and Moon, Ice and Snowby Jessica Day GeorgeSpare Change by Aubrey Mace

As I’m working on my Dating a Widower guide, I’ve been amazed how hard it is to find a good book cover designer. I posted an ad on Craigslist and so far have received about 50 emails—49 of which were deleted after seeing their online portfolio. Just because you know how to use Photoshop and/or Illustrator doesn’t make you a good designer. (I’ve made similar complaints about writers.)

To be fair, I’m probably hold designers to a higher standard than most people. Both my parents are artists. In addition, I’ve worked side-by-side with designers in corporate marketing environments for over a decade. During that time I’ve learned that finding someone who has a good eye for design—especially design that can help sell a product—is extremely difficult.

A book cover is a vital piece of marketing—especially for new or unknown authors. (Established, well-known authors can get away with an okay book cover because their name takes up half the cover space.) A good book cover should entice someone to pick it up and, at the very least, read the back jacket copy. Even with the growing popularity of e-books, an attractive cover can help make people take your book seriously.

Yet many authors and publishers put their heart and souls into making the inside of a book a well crafted while giving little or no thought to the cover. The result? The produce a product that people don’t want to be seen reading or assume is a self-published piece of garbage.

The books we read say a lot about who we are or who we think we are. If you’re embarrassed to be seen reading a book because of the cover, it doesn’t matter how good the content on the inside is, you won’t read it.

One example: Back in college I took a class where no one wanted to read one of the books on the syllabus because of the cover. Though the book was science fiction, the cover looked more like a Harlequin romance novel. And in a class that was 80 percent male, most didn’t want to be seen reading the book.

When it came time to discuss the book, the majority of the discussion revolved not around the book or the content but the different ways we had hid the cover while reading it. Some people made their own covers. Others would hide the book in another book so people would think they were reading that one. (I decided that hiding the cover was just too difficult. Instead I read it in my room late at night when no one would bother me.)

To some extent art is a matter of taste. You’re never going to produce a cover (or a novel) that everyone is going to like. But it is possible to create book covers that 95 percent of the general public will find repulsive.

So the search for a graphic designer continues. When I do find one, I hope most of you like what he or she will produce.