Your book signing event tool kit

Authors often ask me for book signing event advice.

I typically start the conversation by encouraging them to first think beyond bookstores so they plan events where their target audience is already gathered. It’s so much easier to attract a crowd when they’re already in a location for another reason.

Then I remind them to make sure their book marketing plan includes much more than book signings.

My goal is to make sure these authors reach as many of the right people as possible, whether it’s through book signings, guest blogging, or a virtual book tour.

Only then do I shift to providing advice on how to make sure they’re prepared for that book signing that they’re so excited about.

If there’s a book signing event in your future, too, you want to make the most of it, regardless of the venue. With that in mind, here’s what you need in your book signing event tool kit.

Plan ahead book signing event tool kit ideas

There are a couple of things you should think about ahead of time so you make the most of this opportunity to connect with readers.

You’ll need:

  • Prepared remarks. You didn’t think you were going to just sit at a table and sign books, did you? Engage your audience with a short presentation that is content-rich and visually appealing. (Why visually appealing? Because you want TV cameras to show up – next point.)
  • Your best TV self. If at all possible, come up with a book signing event idea that’s newsworthy. Work with your host to generate media attention for it – both before and after the event. For example, when Sharon Thompson did a signing for Built for Speed: The Extraordinary and Enigmatic Cheetah, she was joined by a cheetah from a nearby wildlife center (and sold 45 books). A cheetah in a bookstore – or a cheetah anywhere but a in cage – is newsworthy.

On-site book signing event tool kit must-haves

Here are the tools you’ll want to pack up in a Caboodle for your big event. (I learned about the value of packing odds and ends in Caboodles when I worked with the world’s most organized event planner years ago!)

  • Two of your favorite pens. Don’t rely on your host to provide a pen that might flow too fast or too slow for your style. My current favorite is an ultra fine point Sharpie but I’m also partial to the Bic Pilot G-2 07. You might like the BIC Cristal Stic. Know what you like to use and make sure you have at least two of them.
  • Treats in a bowl. Thank your guests with an inexpensive edible treat that’s relevant to your book (if at all possible). A romance author might have a bowl of conversation hearts or Hershey’s Kisses; the author of a business book could offer wrapped chocolate coins. Don’t worry if you can’t come up with something that makes sense for your book, though. Just bring wrapped chocolates — a universal favorite.
  • A catchphrase that’s relevant to your book. Writing a short phrase before your signature helps personalize the experience for the book buyer. For my two publicity books, I write, “I’ll see you in the news!” Make yours short and relevant.
  • A friend, a cash box, and receipts when you’re not at a retail location. If you’re doing a signing after speaking at a group’s meeting, it’s likely that you’re handling the sales yourself. When that’s the case, bring a cash box with change, a pad of receipts, and a friend to take the money. Working with a “sales associate” frees you up to focus on signing and smiling.
  • Post-its. Name spellings aren’t as predictable as they used to be. (Just ask any Caitlin/Katelyn or Brittany/Britney.) Ask people to print the name for the book on a Post-it so you don’t make disheartening mistakes. (Your friend can handle this and attach the Post-it to the book.)
  • Backup books. Even when your event is at a bookstore, bring an extra box of books from your own supply in case you sell everything from the supply ordered for the event. (I’m an optimist.)
  • Business cards. Your presentation will be so impressive that some attending will invite you to speak about your book’s topic to their group. Make it easy for them to contact you by handing them your business card. Write down their contact information on the back of one of your own cards that you keep, too, so that you can follow up if you don’t hear from them.

With a little advance thought and planning, your book signing event tool kit will have everything you need.

And if you need a little inspiration, be sure to read “How to sell out at a book signing without being a celebrity” on this site.

What’s your favorite book signing tool kit item? Comment here!

(Editor’s note: This article was first published in September 2013. It has been updated and expanded.)

Tip of the Month

author productivityI like to share a “Tip of the Month,” a free resource or tool for authors, on the last Wednesday of the month.

Meet “Todoist.”

It’s productivity, organization, and to-do list software that’s designed to help you make sure you never lose track of an important task. According to the app’s description, “Todoist helps get all of your tasks and thoughts out of your head and onto your to-do list anytime, anywhere.” You can sync your account across all of your devices.

This program, and others like it, will help you keep track of and stay on schedule with all of the tasks involved with writing, publishing, and marketing your book. I’ve just started testing it with a specific project because I’ve found that when I have a lot going on, some things slip through the cracks. I’m trying to minimize that.

Get Todoist for your computer online and in your phone’s app store.

Subscribe to the free Build Book Buzz newsletter and get the free special report, “Top 5 Free Book Promotion Resources,” immediately!

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  1. A PayPal account is easy to get and comes with a free card reader that attaches to your smart phone. This allows you to take debit/credit cards, and scan checks for immediate credit to your account. It’ll handle those cash receipts as well.

  2. Well, you know how I feel about testing and finding just the right pens for book signings. The ultra fine point Sharpie tested pretty well on multiple types of paper, but the Sharpie Pen with “No Bleed” tested even better.

    I highly recommend trying a Sharpie Pen on your specific book. Then, of course, keep several of your favorites handy. You never know when you might need to sign a book during a coffee shop encounter. 🙂

  3. Bring paper, chipboard, fat felt pens, tape, and, if you have them, posters. Don’t count on the venue to display signage; you might have to create your own on the spot.
    Also, find out what else is going on at the venue. An author client was scheduled for a Saturday afternoon talk/signing at a three-story B&N store. They placed her near the top of an Up escalator. At the bottom, at the same time, was a jazz combo from the nearby university.

  4. Good list. I always have bookmarks that list not only the new book but all my others as well as all my links to media. My “New Book Launch” is my most lucrative event. It really works, especially in smaller cities where local businesses will put your poster for the event up.

  5. Thank you for all the ideas, Sandy. I wish I’d thought of making my events visually appealing and connecting with local media ahead of time before my first book tour. I didn’t have a cheetah (brilliant move!), but I could have brought in an ant farm, or at least a colorful pet rock.

    Love the “bowl of treats” idea, too. Why on earth didn’t I think of that? I love treats.

    Another thing I regret is that I didn’t get any training as a speaker before speaking about my book. I was comfortable on stage and knew my book’s content well, so I thought I had it covered.

    Two years after the book tour, I enrolled in the Colorado Speakers Academy (offered annually by the Colorado Chapter of the National Speakers Association) and learned all the things I could have done differently.

    I’m now speaking successfully about the topic of my next book — getting a jump on things this time.

    Thanks again for the useful checklist.

    1. Tina, you bring up such an interesting point about speaker training. Since you were comfortable on stage and knew your content well, what was missing for you? What do you do differently now that you didn’t do the first time around?

      Also, coincidentally, in two weeks I’m running a guest post by an author with a new book about how authors can become better speakers. I’ll also review the book later, too.


      1. Cool about the guest post. I look forward to reading it.

        Here’s some of what I learned in a nutshell…

        The first thing I do now is focus on one or, at most, two takeaways I want to provide. I used to try to cram way too much information into my presentations.

        Secondly, I use stories to illustrate points now instead of simply explaining things. Stories are both more efficient and more enjoyable for the audience.

        And last, I look for ways to add humor whenever possible. Again, humor is both memorable and enjoyable.

        It takes more thought for me to put together talks these days, but I believe the difference it makes is worth it.

  6. Sandy, I’ve learned a few things from my book signings that I’d add to your very helpful list. 1) At my first couple of events, I got trapped by a talker and was too nice to break myself away, which meant I missed multiple opportunities to engage with other potential readers. Now, when a friend or family member attends an event with me, we have a “rescue” plan. Or if I’m attending the event alone, I plan ahead how to get myself out of those situations without being rude. 2) When I stand rather than sit behind a table, it’s easier to engage potential readers. I used a notebook about the size of my book to practice signing while standing (tuck the book into my side to sign). 3) I try to ask the reader a question, so they are talking while I am signing to avoid an awkward silence. 4) I printed a graphic of my Amazon rating, stars, and number of reviews, and display it on the table so potential readers can easily see what others think of my book. I worried that this might be off-putting, but potential readers notice and I feel confident the graphic has helped sales. — Thanks for all the great content you put out there for us, Sandy!

    1. Oh how I love it when people like you comment, Karen! Thank you! These are all such excellent tips! That Amazon graphic is golden!

      I hope people continue to comment because I’m thinking I can write a second post on this topic and give all of you credit for your wonderful contributions.

      Thank you!


  7. The very best advice I’ve ever gotten was from a community relations person at a Barnes & Noble. BE PREPARED TO HAND SELL. There are a number of articles as well as a concise book on this topic, but what it boils down to is: don’t sit or stand in one place. Walk the store, grounds area, with a copy of your book in one hand and bookmarks or cards in the other. Strike up a conversation with anyone in the area as you walk.

    I began with “Hi, I’m today’s author” because I was. Who could dispute it. Mentioned I’d written a book and 5 words about it. If they didn’t want to talk, fine. Sometimes I’d say, “I had so much fun writing this book,” which is true plus it wasn’t bragging about my book. I might ask what kind of books they like and try to relate it to my work. Give them a marketing flyer and direct them to the sales location.

    In about an hour I hand-sold 13 books, a record for me. I definitely will rely on this technique in the future.

    1. Thanks for such excellent advice, Bonnie! Was that hard for you to do, or did it come pretty naturally to you?

      You obviously mastered the technique. Congratulations!


    1. Pat, the comments are better than the post, so I hope you can find time to read them before your event. I love how people are so helpful!


  8. If you are doing your signing anywhere other than a retail outlet, look at options for processing credit and debit cards. Very few people will bring cash to these events and you need to be open to anyone who decides on impulse to buy your book.

    1. Great tip, Gordon. Thank you! If you’re retailing at a non-retail location, you have to be prepared to be a retailer. Do you have a favorite credit card reader? I hear good things about Square.


  9. Good tips. I would add that if you are coming from out of town for the book signing, you have automatic “star” status. I always tried to have 3-4 media appearances within a few days before the signing – TV, radio, local paper, appropriate blogs, other appearances (maybe a library). Make it worth your time.

    I completely support the “bring extras” mantra. Multiple times I ran out of the books the store had ordered and my “stash” saved the day for the store and customers.

    The funniest was the night in Spokane that the stores books all had my two award stickers on them (I came early and added them), but my car stash didn’t! People were upset! Fortunately, I did have stickers in the car too and happily added them for those who wanted them. Always be prepared!

    1. Thanks so much, Carol! That’s such a good point about out-of-towners having star status! That also makes it easier to get those interviews, too. I’m so glad you stopped by to share!


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