Author Event Signings – A Time to Stop and Evaluate Before Making a Deposit

casey~ By Casey Clipper

Author events and signings. I can’t tell you how many author Facebook friends I have that scramble to get into certain signings, or any signing for that matter. How many of you stalk the page Author Events Around the US? I do (or at least did, until this weekend). And I understand why. You’re thinking exposure, getting your name out there, and you’ll possibly sell twenty or more paperback novels. Talk to readers and bloggers. Yay! A success. Right?

What if I tell you to consider it very, very deeply before hitting send on a PayPal non-refundable deposit for one of these independent author events?

Note: I’m basing this off my experience and from carefully watching readers, bloggers, and authors. I’m a people watcher (like all authors, we’re creepy like that, right?). So at the event I recently attended, I carefully watched the attendees and authors to take in what actually happens. What I noticed came as a big surprise.

Hard core truth in numbers (trust me, it burns):

I shelled out a lot of money for this recent event. Two days off work, drove over 4 hours one way, stayed at a hotel for 4 nights, the table fee, the cost for donating to raffles and for my own raffles to draw people to my table, the cost for paperbacks, not to mention feeding myself for four days. The overall total? Okay, I can’t admit it to you. But I’m not talking just hundreds of dollars. Try higher. How much in books did I sell? $46.00. Yep, read that again. To say that I lost a huge amount of money on this event would be an understatement. Money that I can’t afford to lose in my business. Heck, I don’t know any author who could afford to burn that kind of dough.

How did this happen? A couple of reasons, I believe. Here’s what I walked away with and lessons learned: 

1. Readers do not attend these “indie” signing events to find “new to them” authors. They do not shop like it’s a Barnes & Noble, browsing the romance section to find a new novel to read. Nope, they do that on Amazon and will easily plunk down FREE-$.99-$3.99 before they ever spend $8-15 on a paperback novel from an unknown-to-them author. Their real objective? They stalk their favorite authors and models. They pre-order from their favorite authors and pick up their packets at said author’s table or they hop in line and hope to snag one of the author’s limited supply of paperback novels. They tend to not read these novels, instead keeping them as trophies for their bookshelves. They’ve already read the Kindle versions and will reread until their ereaders die. Most attendees have a budget and will not go over, so you won’t be able to sway them into purchasing your novel. Unfortunately, it’s true. Trust me. They do hit all the authors for signatures on their bags, boards, T-shirts, or whatever else they can get you to sign. So yes, you will be signing your name a lot, just maybe not on your novels. You can take the opportunity to engage attendees and some will happily talk to you, but most want your Hancock and will skitter away because their time is limited. Of course, this doesn’t apply to you if you get your fan base to show up. Just ignore the crazy penguin lady if that’s the case.

2. Location. I didn’t do enough research or even question my loyal readers to find out if they’d be attending or where they reside in conjunction to this event. I didn’t ask myself the most important question. Would this event be beneficial to my business? An enormous mistake on my part and one I am telling you right now to do (if you’re signed up for an event). Sit down with overall numbers. Can you afford to lose the total cost if you sell only $46 in paperbacks? Now, before you say, well, maybe she doesn’t have a base. Yes, I have a fan base. It’s small compared to other authors, but I do have loyal readers. My error was thinking they would follow me anywhere. Apparently, none of my diehard readers reside in WV and weren’t willing to travel there to buy a signed paperback. Again, my bad. But I did get this line a few times—”You’re going to be at the Pittsburgh event in March, right? We’re going to catch you there.”

An epiphany moment for me. They knew I was from Pittsburgh (which is fantastic in my opinion, meaning they’re paying attention to what I post or talk about or where I’m from or anything that has to do with, well, me) and they knew where I was going to be next (again, excellent, except…). Apparently, my local readers look forward to seeing and purchasing from me…locally. Who knew? One specifically said, we’re trying to spread out our money. So another realization, readers will put off purchasing novels from you if they’re going to attend another event you’re also scheduled to attend. Keep that tidbit in the back of your mind. It’s sort of shooting yourself in the foot. You didn’t make their budget for the current event and they say that they’re going to hit you up for the next event. You hope in the five months between that they hold firm to that. In other words, if you’re scheduling yourself to do event after event, you’re not making yourself elusive, therefore, they have no reason to purchase your novel at the current event and will just wait. (As a result of that information and my losses, I’ve already backed out of 2 events for 2016, only now committing to two. I had originally planned to do 3-4 a year max. That’s now nixed. If my readers want a signed paperback from me at an event, they’ll either have to attend Pittsburgh or Philly.)

3. Some of the readers are willing to listen to your spiel about your novels as they’re picking up swag. They do want to interact with authors and there is a great possibility you could persuade them to purchase one of your babies. I had one attendee return on day two and let me know she pre-ordered my ebook for my Nov 17th release. Yay! I managed to reach someone. But she was in the very small minority.

4. Bloggers do attend these events. This was the best part of the event for me. I got to put faces to names that I only get to interact with on Facebook or through email. I had a great time talking to these women, who were all extremely grateful for the blogger packets I put together specifically for them. I know there were far more bloggers in attendance that didn’t stop by my table and that was disappointing (I had goodies for them, but again, some hung around their favorite authors. I only know this because one specific blog that I’ve worked with in the past didn’t leave the side of the author seated behind me).

5. Set up. Here’s the thing about the RWA National conference (again, why I’m spoiled). They place the big named authors at the two opposite sides of the room so lines don’t block every other author attending. That way readers can mingle with everyone and flow is easy and no one gets frustrated. There’s something to be said for that type of set up. I was told by one attendee that she couldn’t get to my table because of the line from the author next to me. True. She had a line the entire day one of the event. The event coordinators should know who their big authors are and they should be placed strategically so this doesn’t happen to the other authors in attendance. If this happens frequently at these indie events, more than one author’s experience can and will be affected, negatively. This happened to more than one author. So keep in mind when signing up for an event, set up is extremely important. I don’t feel it’s inappropriate to ask how they intend to arrange the tables. Or where they’ll be placing the “big” authors of the event. Most of these events are willing to place you next to your author friends upon request, so why would it be unreasonable to ask how the layout will be? After all, you’re paying the same table fee as the author next to you, you want to be accessible.

My final thoughts:

These indie author events are popping up like crazy. Newbie authors or authors who’ve never been to a signing are desperate to get into them. Here’s my advice: Wait. Wait until you have a large enough fan base to justify spending the out of pocket money. Local. Research the area the event is located and whether or not you’ll be able to draw YOUR fans in to purchase tickets. Do not count on the event selling tickets. That means nothing to you. Great, they sell 1k tickets. How many of those tickets sold will be there to specifically purchase your novel? That means knowing and communicating with your fan base. Which means hard research on your part. I lost an insane amount of money on this event. I’m devastated by it. And I have no one to blame but myself because of my lack of acknowledging where my base is located, where they’re willing to travel to, and whether or not the people attending would be purchasing my novels. I had plenty of time to back out and another author take my spot, if I had only done the appropriate work.

I just saw a post for a new author signing event (it’s 1st year) next year and they’re charging $300 for a table. That is nuts. And no one should consider paying that amount for a first time event. But according to one of my author friends, it’s filling up. Um, where is that insane table fee going to? Are you being serve caviar and champagne for lunch? Are you going to be able to recoup $300 worth of selling novels to break even?

Consider this last point and especially with a large table fee as listed above: The money I lost I could have put into a Bookbub ad and/or an RT indie review of my new release. I think that’s what burns me more than anything, the good that could have been done with the money I lost. I could have done so much better for my business than an event where I didn’t draw any readers. So, yes, it’s great to say, “Hey, I’m attending X event.” But when it comes down to it, will you be able to break even financially at that author signing? These events should not be treated as promotional opportunities. The odds that you can reach enough readers to call it a business win is slim, again, I stress, unless you can get your fan base through the doors. These signings should be for you to sell your novels and meet your readers/fans in person. If you have any doubts that you can sell your novels and at least recoup the money you put into the event, then I’m telling you now, it’s not worth it. Put your money elsewhere, I promise, that will be worth it.

Have you had a similar experience? Or have found your signing experience to be entirely different? Please comment with your signing adventure.

Contemporary Romance Author Casey Clipper is from Pittsburgh, PA. She’s a noted sports fanatic, chocolate addict, and has a slight obsession with penguins. (Seriously, they wear tuxes!) Like you, she’s an avid romance reader and loves to lose herself in a good book. She is currently getting ready to release her newest novel Heist (The Men of Law) on November 17th. Casey is an active member of the Three Rivers Romance Writers, the Contemporary Romance Writers, Romance Writers of America, Passionate Ink, ASMSG, and IAN. 


5 thoughts on “Author Event Signings – A Time to Stop and Evaluate Before Making a Deposit”

  1. Great article, Casey. My experiences with reader-specific events are horrible. One event cost me $1000 with travel, hotel, table fee, etc. and I sold ONE book. I’ve had marginally better luck finding readers at non-reader events. For instance, I’ve gotten a table a 3 different comic book conventions to sell my superhero urban fantasy books. Those have been better – $250-300 in sales, but I still had to get a hotel to avoid driving so much that I’d get 4 hours of sleep a night during the weekend 🙂 (total expenses $800-1000 each).

    Many of the readers I’ve met at the comic book conventions have become fans, bought and read and reviewed my books, and have been active participants in my newsletter list. So…the whole thing is a learning experience. If you can learn from other people’s experiences, even better! But there is some marketing/promotional good that *can* come from exposure at the right event. I nearly tripled (about 85 to 230-240) my newsletter subscribers from going to those comic book conventions. And a newsletter subscribers means cash money down the line.

    That’s my experience. 🙂 Hope it’s helpful to someone. Thanks again for writing about it!

  2. Thank you Jen! I doubt there will be a survey. I’m still on the event loop and there has been no indication such feedback is desired.

  3. You wrote a raw and incredibly honest post about your experience and I appreciate that. Thank you for sharing your observations. I hope the event people send you an evaluation for your insight. Some things are out of their control but not all. Finally, as a former event (not author events) coordinator myself, I can attest that exhibitors have every right to know what the set-up of the room will be!

  4. Thanks Jill. I’ll be honest, I wish I had this information before I started signing onto events. There isn’t much out there for authors who are just plunging into the event pool to take into consideration. I’m sure there is far more to consider as well. My viewpoint is a more from a financial aspect. Essentially once our books release, it then turns into a business venture, can it take the hit if it doesn’t pan out?

  5. Fantastic article, Casey!! I just went to our local library’s book fair for local authors on Saturday. I went as a spectator because my book is out in kindle, but the paperback is not out yet. I’m glad it worked out that way because the event was not well organized or publicized and it made me question whether or not I would want to participate next year after all. It didn’t look like it would be beneficial, but then I question myself for those kinds of thoughts. I think that I should be participating in everything I can, even though my gut doesn’t always agree with that. This article came at the perfect time for me and for lots of others, too, I’m sure. Thank you!!

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