It’s getting tougher and tougher nowadays for a first-time, or even somewhat-known author to secure a book signing at a local bookstore. And, even harder if that bookstore is a major one, like a Barnes and Noble or Borders. In general, the bookstores don’t see a big return on their investment of time and effort to have you sit in their store and bother their customers. Book signings used to be much more glamorous and exciting than they are now–unless you’re a bestselling author, in which case, you can pretty much do whatever you want!

With that said, however, there is still a place for book signings–it just might not be where you expect. And, wherever you end up setting up shop, there are things you can do as an author to make the most of your book-signing experience–things that will translate into more books sold and possibly invitations by the store manager to come back for future signings. I cannot guarantee that doing the following will help you sell a ton of books, but I can safely say that to not do them will certainly hinder your sales.

1. Location, location, location! As I mentioned, the larger chain stores have really turned up their collective noses at book signings held by no-name or little-named authors. It just hasn’t paid off for them. So a better route to go is to seek out your local mom-and-pop, privately held bookstores. They may not be big, but in a tight-knit community, word spreads. If the bookstore is a popular one, you should have a good-sized crowd come out to see you if you have a book they’re interested in.

Then, go beyond the bookstores. Think about your target market and where they gather, then go there. If you’ve written a children’s book, try to get into schools and libraries, or maybe even toy stores that are willing to sell your book. Or, look for parenting organizations in your city and find out where they meet. If you’re a fiction writer, go where literary clubs in your area meet, or hold a signing at your local college. If you can’t find a place where your target market gathers, you can always check into renting a room (often you can get them for free; if not, the cost is usually minimal, like around $50) at a library, community center, a YMCA, etc. If you do enough PR (which I’ll talk about next), the town will know how to find you.

2. Get the word out. Even if you are able to get into a Borders, you need to be prepared to do most of the PR work yourself. I held a book signing at a Borders store a couple of years back, and the extent of the help I received from them were posters hung on their doors! If you weren’t coming to the store anyway, you’d never know I was there!

The extent and mix of PR work to do for a book signing will depend on how much time, money, and effort you want to put into it. My experiences have been that the more I’ve invested, the bigger the pay-off has been. Of course, this may not always be the case. At the very least, I would suggest printing flyers and/or posters (most of this you can do yourself) that include a picture of yourself and your book’s cover, a blurb about the book, a review or endorsement of your book, and the time and location for the book signing.

Put a stack in your car and take one into every restaurant, store, coffee shop, dry cleaners, and so forth that you enter. Ask the owner/manager if you could hang one on their bulletin board or door or window. You’ll get more “yes’es” than “no’s.” You’ll want to do this about 2 weeks ahead of your signing so there’s ample time for people to see the signs, but not so much time that they become immune to the signs because the event is so far off.

Another great PR resource is the postcard. These are simply miniature versions of your flyers, which should include the same information. For those business owners who said no to your flyers, ask if you could leave some postcards on their counter instead. For that matter, even if they said yes to your flyers, you can still try to leave postcards so people can take them when they leave the store. I’ve had great success at getting postcards made through Vistaprint. The prices are good, and I’ve been happy with the quality.

Postcards are also great to hand out to anyone and everyone you run into. You can’t be shy in this business! If you want people to show up to your signing and buy your book, you’ll need to be proactive. Even if the person you talk to doesn’t seem interested, encourage her to take a card to share with someone else. Maybe that person doesn’t have kids and therefore doesn’t care about your children’s book, but perhaps she knows the head of the MOPS group at her church. You just never know until you ask!

3. Take advantage of social media. Announcing events like book signings are an excellent way to use social media. Definitely announce your signing on your website, through your email, put it on Facebook, Twitter, and any other virtual channels you use. Also include it on your blog and other blogsites you frequent, especially if your target readership hangs out on those sites.

Facebook has a nice feature for events where you can invite people from your email or Facebook contacts to your event. Take advantage of that, and ask your social media connections to help spread the word for you. If each person you’re connected to via Twitter or FB tells one other person, and those people do the same, you’ll soon reach a lot of people with your event info.

That’s enough for today. Please stop back next week because I have much more to share on how to get people to your book signing and then, most importantly, how to get them to actually buy your book!