As an agent and former editor can you explain the value of book signings as a promotional tool? In the past three months three different writers I know have done book signing tours--one mostly at the expense of her publisher, the other two out of their own pockets. Overall not one of these tours was a success--even with lots of advertising the turn-out was low and sales even lower. I know there's some value in getting out and meeting booksellers but is there any other reason to do book signings? I'd rather do readings and talk about writing at various libraries--they do buy my books.
Miss Snark has been many things in her wild life, but never an editor. That's "the other agent" who blogs. Miss Snark worked in the distaff side of publishing, and of course those years as a taxi dancer in a grimy waterfront gin joint...but never mind about that now.
Book signings can be fabulous. They can be horrifying. Sometimes both at once. Neil Gaiman had people lined up for three hours last time I hung out with him in a store. John Gray had four people at a signing years ago. Miss Snark was number five.
Book signings do a couple things you can’t measure. They raise your profile with book sellers. PW lists books that have planned author tours, and promotion info mentions it as well. This tells booksellers to pay attention, that the publisher is putting effort behind the book.
Library talks are great, but libraries are not in the business of selling books. Bookstores will do off site events, but it’s better to have events in stores so people can buy more rather than less.
Book signings let people connect with the author.
Before the untimely and heartbreaking death of Iris Chang, author of the Rape of Nanking, she went on a book tour for the hardcover edition. People came to her readings and wept. Her book was, for many people, the first time someone had ever spoken aloud about what they'd suffered. For others it was the first time they’d seen what their country had done during war. I will never forget those people and their pain as long as I live. There is no substitute for seeing an author, pressing her hand in yours and offering a thank you.
The most effective author on tour I've ever seen is sci fi author Dan Simmons. He's funny, he's good on his feet, he talks in a way that makes the audience feel they know him. He sells books to people who don't even know what sci fi is. Harlen Coben is in that league too.
People came to readings for all sorts of reasons. Does it sell books? Yes. You can see the blips in the sales numbers as people tour. Is it a pain in the ass? Yup.
Author tours, like all publicity is like acorns and oak trees. You drop a thousand acorns, but only one grows into a tree. You don't know which one so you tend them all the best you can and hope you do enough.
The only thing you know for sure is NOT tending them means you won’t get any results.