by Robin Agnew

Yay! The bookseller has agreed to a book signing. What should happen next? As long-time bookstore owners—26 years!—we know there are steps you can take to make sure your special event is successful, fun, and memorable. And to make sure you get invited back!

Agree on a date

Try to be accommodating. We’re fitting you into a fairly busy schedule and I have to say I find it irritating when the negotiations over a date take a long time. It almost makes me rethink the event.

Kiss of death for future events? You don’t want a bookseller to label you “high maintenance.”

I once had an event with two authors. One of them canceled at the last moment, giving me no reason. The other, whose mother had died the week before, turned up and was completely charming.

We don’t require you to smile through tragedy, of course. But guess which author we invited back and which one we never thought of inviting again?

Have a double date

If you are a newbie it’s always a great idea to sign with another author or two. Even touring in a gang is a great idea.

Back in the late 90’s William Kent Krueger used to tour with several authors, calling themselves the “Minnesota Crime Wave.” Kent Krueger doesn’t do this anymore, of course, but it was a great way for me as a bookseller to be introduced to other authors, and it gave our readers exposure to a variety of other authors that Kent brought with him. But we scheduled the event, it came with a name we could promote, and it was always a fun evening.

Agree to a bookstore-arranged partner

See above. If a bookseller asks you to sign with another author, say YES! I have had authors refuse, as they felt their books didn’t fit, but we’ve had great events pairing authors as different as Denise Swanson and Loren Estleman.

A rising tide lifts all boats.

Pitch in

Reach out ahead of time to see if the bookseller wants anything from you. Posters? Bookmarks? Are you bringing cookies or wine? Be part of the plan—and take responsibility.

Tell everyone

HELP PUBLICIZE THE EVENT. Again: HELP PUBLICIZE THE EVENT. Believe me when I say we pull out all the stops. We have a newsletter, a 500+ person email address list, and we utilize social media and free listings wherever possible. But this is a team effort. If you have friends in the area, tell them! Ask them to show up!

(We had an author once who I liked very much personally but when it came to her event she apparently had told none of her friends or neighbors, hadn’t suggested they buy the book from us, and as a result had a terrible turnout for her signing.)

Be sociable

If the bookseller suggests something like a meal with book club members or customers beforehand, say yes. If you eat a meal with someone it’s very hard for them not to buy your book. We’ve had some wonderful dinners through the years with authors ranging from those that write obscure historical mysteries to future bestsellers. It’s a great way to connect with readers and booksellers.


That’s in caps on purpose. Plan. Arrange transportation. Be early if necessary. If you’re late, it’s disrespectful to your attendees. (And your hosts won’t be happy either. See “high maintenance” above.)

Prevent glitches: Make sure the bookstore has your contact info and cell phone number, and that you have theirs! And if you are flying around the country on book tour—check the time zones.

Watch the time

A book event talk ideally lasts no longer than 45 minutes including questions. Be sensitive—if you can feel people moving around in their seats or (horrors) getting up and leaving, it’s time to wrap it up. The booksigning afterward can take as long as you want. Chat, take photos, schmooze.

And sell books! We are here to help with this aspect of your event, but it’s all about teamwork.

Be a good sport

Sometimes no one shows up. We know that. It happens. It’s just a fact.

Booksignings are incredibly unpredictable.

But you have really never wasted your efforts, especially if you are just starting out, as you will have made a connection with a bookseller. And the bookseller, in turn, will make an effort to hand-sell some copies of your book.

I can’t count the number of times people show up the next day or the next week saying they meant to come but…anyway they often buy a book, which is the goal.

Mind your manners

A thank you after the event is never a mistake. I always appreciate it and it makes me remember you.

As a long-time bookseller, I am happy to call some of the authors I’ve met through the years friends—they’ve enriched my life. So this is never a one-way street. We all benefit from a good relationship.

Any questions about bookstore appearances? Let’s talk about it on Career Authors Facebook page.

(And then—get writing! You can’t have a bookstore appearance without a book.)

Robin Agnew and her husband Jamie founded Aunt Agatha’s mystery bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 26 years ago and will complete their bookselling journey in August. Robin spent 14 years as a board member and president of the Kerrytown BookFest, an Ann Arbor book festival that now draws up to 4,000 readers every September.

She is planning a blog featuring women mystery writers after closing the store, and works part time in a church office, where she finds not being in charge and being around people with no connection to the book business strangely calming.

She is also a reviewer for Mystery Scene Magazine and a proud member of Sisters in Crime.