Friday Friends: Book Signings as an Indie Author: The Case of The Thing in the Woods

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Today I’m starting a new feature on the blog in an effort to help promote more authors in the indie community. Friday Friends! Our first post is by Matthew W. Quinn, who tells of his experience with book signings as an indie author. Is it worth your time to pursue for your books? Find out and be sure to check out his book, The Thing In The Woods, linked below! 

One disheartening aspect of 21st Century publishing is the decline of book tours. Publishers are providing fewer and fewer of them, and when they do, to fewer places. Odds are increasing that if you’ve got print books and want signings, you’ll need to organize them yourself. Furthermore, many small presses are print on demand due to the high costs (tens of thousands of dollars) of stocking books in warehouses, making books returnable, etc.  Consequently, most bookstores won’t stock these books. And if your work is published by a small press that uses Amazon’s print-on-demand CreateSpace for print books or if you use CreateSpace for your own work, most bookstores won’t stock those either.

Though these two realities make book signings as an indie or small-press author a tighter proposition, that doesn’t mean you should eschew print distribution or abandon your dreams of having book signings. Many independent bookstores (I got a list of Georgia stores from Lenox Avenue Publishing as part of a publicity package) will host signings for print-on-demand books on consignment. You bring the books and they’ll ring up the copies bought for a percentage. When I held book signings for my Lovecraftian horror novel The Thing in the Woods  at Tall Tales Books near Emory University in August 2017 and at Posman Books in Ponce City Market in October 2017, both bookstores took a 40% cut. This means that you have the initial expense of purchasing the book (although CreateSpace provides a hefty author discount), but after the processing fee, you keep all the profit.

And my experience has proven profitable. Although purchasing 30 Thing copies for Tall Tales signing cost $135.91, and my 60% of the day’s 18 sales only came out to $129.42, I made a profit later that afternoon by selling two copies to a friend at a party for $20 cash. The 35 Thing copies I ordered for the Posman Books signing cost $158.06, and the 24 copies I sold that day netted me $181.47. The remaining copies from both events I sold to friends, family members, and co-workers for $102 in additional revenue in August and $58 in additional revenue in October. Including hand sales, profit for August was $115.51 and total profit for October (parking at Ponce City Market ate into my margin a bit) was $70.41.

(An aside, if you want to hand-sell, get a Square reader and the app for your phone or tablet. Many people, particularly members of my own millennial generation, don’t carry lots of cash. The chip-reader costs $30, but you’ll pay it off quickly.)

Since there aren’t many independent bookstores, if you want to profit with print, you’ll need to branch out. Brian Keene, horror author and host of a fascinating horror podcast, recommended selling at arts and crafts fairs to give the husbands of the predominately-female clientele something to do. I tested that by getting a table at the Mistletoe Market in Griffin, GA in December 2017. The table cost me $50, 35 Thing copies cost $158.06, and the gas getting to Griffin and back was $6. Most sales were cash, although the Square reader came in handy for a few. I sold 18 copies at the signing and four more to friends later for around $250. Library donations and contest entries ate up a few, with six more hand sales for $73. Total profit from the December batch was around $105.

So three CreateSpace orders of print books netted me a profit of $305.18. Not bad for a few hours’ work on three Saturdays in the fall with only one book to sell. If I’d set the price point a dollar higher I’d probably have profited on the first book signing immediately and padded my margin a bit on the second and third. Going forward, I’ve been talking with the organizer about getting a table at a gun show in Marietta later this coming April — Thing is strongly pro-gun and has been well-received by family members and co-workers who have served in the military — and I’m on the lookout for festivals, flea markets, etc. throughout the Atlanta area in the meantime.

So if you’ve got print on demand books, don’t despair — you too can have book signings just like authors from the Big Six publishers. It’ll require a bit more work, including setting a price point that will cover your costs and not drive away potential customers, and you won’t make lots of money at first, but a sale is a sale and each step forward is a step forward. Good luck!

-Matthew W. Quinn is a science fiction, fantasy, and horror writer based in Atlanta, GA. His first short-story publication was in 2007 and his first novel premiered in 2017. If you’re interested in The Thing in the Woods or his other fiction, check out his Amazon page here. You can get exclusive content on his newsletter here and follow him on Twitter here.

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