Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

The Inside Scoop on First-Time Book Signings

by Joan Marie Arbogast

I was asked to share my experience with fellow writers and illustrators so here goes… For those of you have already experienced the thrill of first-time signings, perhaps this will stir sweet memories. For those who are looking forward to signings, I hope this gives you a glimpse of what's around the bend. Pssst. Here's the scoop. Book signings are awesome!!!

My first children's book, a nonfiction book titled, BUILDINGS IN DISGUISE; Architecture That Looks Like Animals, Food and Other Things has been published by Boyds Mills Press. And I must say that I'm tickled with the results! Though BID won't be in most book stores until late October / early November, I already had a couple of book signings this summer. One was at Lucy the Elephant in Margate, New Jersey; the other was at The Big Duck in Flanders, Long Island, New York.

Why early signings? An executive decision was made because two of "biggies" in the book – Lucy and The Big Duck – are definitely tourist attractions along the east coast. When my editor suggested we schedule both signings for later this year, I suggested waiting until spring because both places thrive on tourists. They also hold restricted hours during the fall, close during the winter then open up in spring. With that in mind, the decision was made that I visit both places before summer's end.

What a surprise! Being a novice, my first concern was the expense. Would Boyds Mills Press, a small publisher be able to pay for my expenses or would I assume all costs? Fortunately they agreed to pay the biggest portion of my expenses! Next question, how should I travel? Should I fly and accept my editor's offer to bunk at her place (which would have been ideal for discussing future projects) or should I drive with my husband so I could hand-deliver signed copies to sites along the way that had supplied photos/information for the book? Hmmm… I chose the latter. And it proved to be beneficial.

Thursday, July 29th

9:30 a.m. First stop. The Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor. Ligonier, PA (The LHHC supplied two photos for my book. The Corridor works to preserve the history of this highway as well as historical sites along the highway. Five of the buildings in my book are along the Lincoln Highway.)

When I arrived at the LHHC Kristin Poerschke, the Office Manager was the only one there. Like many historical societies, the LHHC is on a shoestring budget. It's located in an old brick house in the Mayberry-like town, Ligonier.

Though Kristin knew I'd be stopping by, she didn't realize I'd be bringing an autographed copy of my book for the LHHC. Wide-eyed and giddy, she took me to the back office to show me a pile of my books that they'd ordered for their gift shop. They'd just arrived. Suddenly, I was the one wearing the smile!

In walked Karen Fetter, the Marketing Manager with her daughter. She was disappointed that my "book tour" wasn't the following weekend because they were hosting a grand opening of the refurbished Coffee Pot in Bedford, about an hour's drive from there. Then she asked if I'd sign the books they'd ordered so they could be sold as "Signed by the Author." She shared a marketing tip with me: When people purchase books as gifts, they prefer "signed" ones over those that aren't. (Hmmm… Diane Stresing had shared a similar tip.) So before I left, I signed a dozen or more. Then they gave me a copy of their very own Lincoln Highway Driving Guide, to help me find the Coffee Pot in Bedford.

TIP: When you stop by book stores and gift shops that carry your books offer to sign them. Some stores will showcase your books as "Signed by the Author." At the least, you'll be bringing it to the attention of the salesperson, who in turn, can bring it to the attention of customers searching for a special gift.

10:30 The Coffee Pot. Bedford, PA

The next stop took us to the Bedford County Fairgrounds. Less than a year ago a dilapidated Coffee Pot was moved here and has since been refurbished. I wanted to stop by to snap some photos to add to my collection of mimetic structures. Instead of a dingy white pot edged with red, the Coffee Pot now sports a metallic silver coating, trimmed in red. It looks practically new! After a few photos, we headed to our next stop in York, PA.

TIP: Always carry lots of film! (Filters and sleeves come in handy too when you can't pick the time of day for the shoot.)

TIP: Take lots of pictures. Make sure you have someone take a few of you, the author! (Mistake I made: I didn't have my husband snap any photos of me by the Coffee Pot. I wish I had!)

2:30: The Shoe House. York, PA

When we were about 15 minutes from the Shoe House, I called 80-year-old Ruth Miller, the former owner of the building, to let her know we were nearly there. (We'd planned this ahead of time.) As soon as she received my call, she left to meet me at the Shoe House. When we arrived, she was waiting inside the ice cream parlor found in the heel of the shoe. When I called her name, her eyes lit up, and a smile stretched from ear to ear. She introduced me to her friend then flipped through the book to find the section about the Shoe House. As she read the text, she nodded her agreement. "Yes, that's right," she said. Then she told me that the new owner, Carleene was upstairs conducting a tour of the building.

As soon as Carleene came down, Ruth introduced us. I gave Carleene a book to add to her collection of Shoe House memorabilia that she kept in the showcase by the register.

Another woman happened to overhear us talking about the book and she asked which book we were talking about. Ruth eagerly showed her then told her I was the author. It was almost comical. The woman practically tripped over herself with excitement. She wanted to buy three or four of them for gifts. She wanted to know where she could buy them. I explained that they wouldn't be out until fall, but I gave her my business card and a pub slip with the publisher's number. Then she wanted to take a couple of photos of the three of us – Ruth, Carleene, and me. She was with two other women and she went on about her luck… Imagine stopping at the Shoe House, seeing the Shoe House in a book, and getting a photo of the author who wrote the book and who just happened to be at the Shoe House the same time they were! Talk about stroking your ego! Then the same woman fired a few questions: Where's the media? Why aren't they here? Were they contacted? Why not? They could have covered the "event!" Suddenly I felt amateurish. I didn't have a clue about promotion. On the other hand, Carleene, the new owner did. She jumped right in and said if I'd like to hold a "Book Launch" once the book is released, she'd love to hold it at the Shoe House. And she'd even invite the media to attend. According to her, any news coverage for me would be great for her, too. Hmmm…maybe I'll consider one for next spring…

TIP: Entertain potential customers; let them take your picture. Smile and say, "Happy reading!" instead of "Cheese!"

TIP: Carry business cards, extra books, pub slips, promotional materials. Have them ready to hand out when someone asks about your book or if you'll schedule an event.

3:30 Dutch Wonderland. Lancaster, PA

Lisa Side, the Marketing Director at Dutch Wonderland met me and my husband inside the castle-shaped gift shop. Boyds Mills Press had already sent her f&g's so she was familiar with my book. She said she thought it was something the gift shop could carry, since the park is geared for kids twelve and under. Then she asked if we'd like to see the rest of the park. Of course the answer was "Yes!" She pointed out various structures, I took photos then we met up with the person who actually places book orders. He was on his way to a meeting, but Lisa told him about the book and he agreed to review it. Yippee!

TIP: f&g stands for "folded and gathered." It's the book without the binding. It gives potential promoters a sneak preview of your book. They're excellent promotional tools! Make sure to supply your publisher with a list of possible promoters, sources that can list your book in their newsletters, catalogs, or journals.

4:30 The Dutch Haven. Ronks, PA (A stone-throw from Lancaster.)

Next, we stopped at the windmill-like gift shop and bakery known as the Dutch Haven. Unfortunately the owner/manger wasn't in. Oops. Lesson learned: Never "drop in" unannounced. ALWAYS make arrangements in advance. I left my book, pub slip and business card with a salesman. He in turn, treated us to a whole Shoo-fly. Not a bad deal. Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm!

That wraps up our travels for Day 1. What a day!

TIP: Learn from your mistakes.

Friday, June 30th. Book Signing at Lucy, the Elephant. Margate, NJ.

9:00 a.m. On the road again.

We drove the short distance to Margate, New Jersey, and arrived two hours ahead of schedule. The chalkboard posted outside the gift shop announced "Author Signing 3:00 – 7:00." Wow! That was the first time I ever saw a sign like that for me! We bopped into the gift shop to let Richard Helfant, the Director know that I was actually in Margate. He welcomed me with a big hug, the kind you give a relative or friend that you haven't seen in years. Then he introduced me to the staff, explained where I'd be stationed, other minor details. Since we had plenty of time until the book signing, Dave and I enjoyed lunch on the beach, read the local weekly in which there was an article about Lucy and my book signing, plus we dodged over-zealous seagulls.

In the meantime, Richard had set up a picnic table on the sheltered porch of the gift shop. When we returned, Richard had several books for me to sign. These had been purchased beforehand and were being held for me to sign. I'm guessing there were a dozen. When I went to sign them we noticed immediately that the sea breeze was a bit problematic. Pages flipped every which way until we lowered the windbreaker on the porch. Ahhh, that was much better!

As the magical hour approached, I expected a rush of eager book-buyers. Wrong. No line formed. Richard voiced his disappointment. He apologized and explained that it was one of the best days they'd had in awhile (weather-wise) and people were enjoying the beach. And then he went on to explain that they'd held a champagne reception for an adult novel in which Lucy was one of the haunts for the Jersey Mafia. Hmmm…let me see if I understand this…we're comparing an adult novel plus unlimited champagne with a children's nonfiction book minus the booze… Hmmm…in my mind, it's easy to see which would draw the bigger crowd.

At any rate, though no line formed, and at times it was down right dead, we had tourists stopping by off and on. I'd estimate that when all was said and done I signed 30-40 books. But the best part was when I overheard a little girl explaining to her grandmother, something I'd told her about one of the structures in the book. As she retold the story her eyes were wide with amazement. Then as they sat on the park bench waiting for their tour of Lucy, the little girl read her signed copy of the book with her sister, mother and grandmother. It was great!

As 7:00 neared, Richard asked me to sign the rest of the books (he'd ordered 100 for the book signing and gift shop.) He said he had no doubt that the rest would sell. I could have done a couple of handstands, flips and cartwheels!

At 7:00 Lucy's crew showered me with presents – a sweatshirt, two coffee mugs, three books, including the adult novel about the Mafia, and a resin reproduction of Lucy. In my mind, the day was a huge success!

TIP: Allow plenty of lead time for media to cover your upcoming event. (We had two weeks lead time due to conflicts in schedules. Perhaps more lead time would have been beneficial.)

TIP: If you're holding a book signing outside, draw attention to your table with stacks of books, balloons, anything to draw people over. I carry a Longaberger medium-size market basket with me and place it on the table with the book opened to the page of the basket-shaped building. People are amazed that the architect used the basket as the model for the building.

Saturday, July 31. Book Signing at The Big Duck. Flanders, Long Island, NY

8:30 a.m. Off to Long Island.

What a trip! I was awestruck at the 30 toll booths for the NY/NJ turnpike compared to our whopping four booths back home in northeaster Ohio. A distance that should have taken three hours amounted to four and a half. Fortunately we allowed time for delays.

Finally we spotted the Big Duck nestled among overgrown grass in front of the Sears Bellows County Park. Dave and I looked at each other. We drove four and a half hours for this?! The Big Duck needed a fresh coat of paint, there was but one car in the lot, and no sign of any "event." My heart sank. What a drastic change from yesterday's excitement! But as soon as my editor, Carolyn Yoder arrived, she had Babs, the curator of this famous fowl make a couple signs for inside. Babs apologized. She's as sweet as punch but she admitted that she'd never hosted a book signing before.

Though I was afraid the signing would be a bust, people dropped in all afternoon, including a couple of Carolyn's writing buddies. I saw it as a testimony to this form of architecture. More than seventy years after this duck was constructed, it's still drawing the attention of passersby. I sold several books that afternoon, though I don't know the exact number. It's hard to keep track when you're chatting and signing books.

I have to say Carolyn knows how to work a crowd. When this one woman walked in with her kids in tow, Carolyn exclaimed, "You're in luck! The author is here today signing her new book…" The woman abandoned her kids, ran over, picked up a copy, and cried, "This is exactly what I was looking for! It's the kind of book I was hoping a place like this would have! I can't believe it! And you're here to sign it!" You'd swear she was making a commercial.

In the meantime, my husband dozed for a bit in the car. (The interior of the BIG Duck is more like a walk-in closet.) When Dave woke, he heard a happy customer telling her mom, "A REAL author signed my book!" He said he chuckled and said to himself, "Well, guess what. I LIVE with that REAL author and it's not that big a deal." Reality checked in full.

Before I knew it, the book singing was over, and it was time to close shop and head for home.

TIP: Have your PR person suggest that some sort of sign be posted OUTSIDE the building to announce your book signing.

TIP: Always allow plenty of time to get where you're going; you may run into delays.

TIP: Always thank the person who hosted your book signing and follow up with a personal note. These gracious individuals really do help sell your books.

Sunday, August 1st. Head for Home in Stow, Ohio.

Once I recouped from the whirlwind weekend, I recorded my experience, noting things that worked and didn't work. I shared this with my editor as well as my publicist at BMP. We all learn from each other's experiences. I hope you learned something from mine. And I hope, one day you'll share yours with others, too.

© Joan Marie Arbogast, 2004. All rights reserved.