Thursday, July 6, 2017

What You May Not Know About Book Signings

It has come to my attention lately - via messages and emails - that many readers are in the dark about certain things in regard to book signings. What determines the price of the entrance tickets? Where does the money go? I've been getting these questions a lot.

If you're about to attend your first book signing or you're a seasoned signing attendee, you might want to read on. I'll tell you some things you may not know when you buy that ticket to see your favorite author.

First of all, just let me say that I'm not an expert in organizing a book signing. I have never organized one, taking part in planning one, nor experienced the frustrations that come along with running one. But as an author, I have attended many.

The first year I published Promise Me Darkness I was traveling all over the United States every single month. In fact, I never unpacked when I was at home. I just lived out of a suitcase. I challenged myself to pack my kids faster and faster each time. By the end of six months, I could pack everyone to travel cross-country in less than thirty minutes. (I'm still proud of that.) I wrote Promise Me Light on planes, in cars, and huddled in hotel rooms. I became an expert traveler, including two months in the United Kingdom for signings. I attended ones with a thousand people camped out the night before to get in. I've attended signings that went for days and weekends. I've sat in huge conference rooms with close to two hundred authors signing and discussing characters falling in love. I've been on panels, taken part in after-signing parties, roamed cities with authors after hours and listened as they discussed the good and bad about signings. I've been to wonderful ones and terrible ones. I'm not an expert but I've been to my share. I can tell you what I know.

First, many readers do not know that authors are not paid to attend signings. I repeat - we are not paid to attend signings. Now, that is not to say that some aren't paid. I'm sure they are a few that are reimbursed by either a publisher or the book signing organizer to attend but I'm not familiar with them nor have I heard any rumors in that regard (it's probably very hush-hush) so let's just ignore that little anomaly. The normal author is not paid to attend. In fact, we pay to attend. You heard me right - we pay. It's called a table fee. It normally includes the cost of a table, a tablecloth, two chairs, and help (if we need it) in the form of a volunteer assistant (who is not paid). A few more exclusive signings I have been to also included a lunch with the table fee and an author-only party. The table fee for an author can range anywhere from $150 to $200. Overseas signings can run more in my experience.

Second, we - as authors - do not get paid a percentage from tickets sales. The only money we make at signings is when readers buy the paperbacks we have at our tables or other items we might be selling such as t-shirts. So if an author paid $150 to sign at a book signing and she only sold $50 worth of books that day to readers, she is at a loss of $100 plus the cost of books, travel, hotel, food, gas, freebies to readers, etc. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say (don't send me nasty messages, authors) that the average author doesn't break even when it comes to book signings when you add in all those other costs. We attend because we love books, we love our readers, we're overjoyed to be invited, we want to meet new readers, new authors, new people and so on. We enjoy everything about the community so we go.

So where does the money you pay go? Again, I'm not an expert but I'll tell you what I've heard and have gathered from being an author at signings. The table fees authors pay, the ticket sales you pay - they go toward renting the venue. The venue is the hotel, conference center, rental spot, you name it. It is where the signing will be held. Expenses include chairs, sitting up the tables, tablecloths, sound systems, speakers, microphones, wifi access, special parking, the list goes on and on. After that, the fees you and I pay provide marketing to get the word out about the signing, gifts for you such as bags or other little items you can carry around and have the authors sign, might include parties that your ticket gets you into later that evening or part of the money might go toward a charity. It just depends on the individual signing. But I do know that the venue does cost quite a bit.

Does anyone pocket the money personally? The answer is yes. Some signing organizers pay themselves. Some don't. Some use their own money to pay for things but this usually only occurs with smaller signings. Is it wrong for organizers to pay themselves? There are mixed opinions on this. On one hand, putting together a good, awesome signing is very, very hard work and takes lots of hours and can be stressful so what's wrong with reimbursing oneself? On the other hand, I've never been to a signing where there is an accounting of where the money goes or just how much someone is paid so an organizer could pay themselves an ungodly amount of money and no one would know the difference. In my experience, organizers who are fair, honest, trustworthy, and are putting on signings because they really and truly love books and authors and not because they are trying to rack in the cash (even if they pay themselves), put on the best signings. It just seems to show. The ones that are only in it to make a buck, cheat the system, pocket a huge chunk of change, etc. put on - shall we say - not so great signings and these manifest themselves into terrible, disorganized events. They usually are not held again. Word gets around fast in the book/writing world and we don't forget.

Signings are exciting events for the bookworms in all of us. There's nothing quite like hugging a new book to you, freshly signed by an author. This might be more information than you wanted to know about the financial side of them (from an author's point of view), but I like to be informed about where my money goes and I know some of you do too. Again, if you're an author or a book signing organizer, you might have a different experience or opinion but this is from my point of view. If you've never attended a book signing, find one near you and go!! I've had many readers tell me they were nervous about attending and meeting me but believe me, authors are just as nervous about meeting you! We're there because we love books. What better reason to get together?

Until next time,