I was a Nerdfighter in 2011, so I followed the presale and release of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars religiously. Why? Because he promised that every single preordered copy of TFIOS would be signed. There was even a website dedicated to answering FAQ’s about whether your preordered copy would be signed (it would).
As an author, you might look forward to selling signed copies of your own work. But for a self-published author, selling signed copies isn’t as easy as you might think.
In this article, we’ll talk about the most important book signing tips: whether authors should sell signed copies, how to go about selling signed copies, and how to arrange a book signing event at your local bookstore.
Should authors sell signed copies?
If you’re a traditionally published author, selling signed copies is pretty straightforward. Usually, the way it works is this: the publisher sends you boxes of pages to sign. You’ll sign them, send them back, and they’ll print and distribute them accordingly. It might be a ton of work for your wrists, but it’s not a lot of brain-power.
If you’re a self-published author, the process can be a lot more complicated. But does that mean it’s not worth it? Of course not. Selling signed books is totally worth it.
There’s something about a signed copy that gets readers really pumped. They feel personal, and owning one can feel like a badge of honor. While signed copies of John Green's book weren’t exactly difficult to come by, it’s often not so easy to acquire a signed copy of other books, so they feel really special when you get them. Even though signed copies of TFIOS aren’t rare, I still get excited when I see them in the wild because they remind me of that community.
How signed copies can help you
Signed copies do still have their value. Here are a few ways selling signed copies can benefit you as a self-published author:
- Using signed copies as exclusives
You may notice that artists will used signed copies of their work in the early stages of their release. Taylor Swift, for example, might offer an exclusive vinyl edition of her latest album for a limited time. These often sell insanely well, with Swifties hurrying to snag a copy before the latest limited-edition cardigan or vinyl edition has sold out.
If customers get the sense that they can only get something within a certain time frame before that opportunity is lost forever, they’re much more likely to jump to buy it. Signed copies of your book can be a great exclusive item! Maybe they’re only available for the first three weeks of your book’s release, or maybe they’re only available to readers who preorder your book.
Speaking of pre-orders…
- Using signed copies during the preorder period
The run-up to your book launch is hugely important. You may have heard that preorders are helpful for traditional publishers because they tell that publisher how many copies they can expect to print—a huge number of preorders might justify sending the book back to print, for example.
For self-published authors, preorders are still hugely important. All of your preorders contribute to the sales on your release day, and the amount of sales you get in the early days of your book’s launch will have a big impact on its success. Preorders boost your book in Amazon’s algorithm, too.
Offering signed copies to readers who preorder your book is a great way to secure more preorders, and thus ensure the success of your book launch.
- Using signed copies to connect with your audience
Signed copies have a ton of value as novelty items. Not every book is signed, and not every signature is identical, which means that each signed copy of a book is technically unique. Plus, if your reader gets their book signed at a reading, it means this signature also reminds them of the time they got to meet you, which is hugely personal.
Signed copies offer authors a chance to connect on a personal level with their audience, even if they’re not necessarily able to meet their readers in person.
- Using signed copies to increase revenue
You may just want to list signed copies for sale alongside regular copies (we’ll talk more about this later) instead of making them exclusive. You’ll notice that many authors who do this offer signed copies at a higher price.
There might be a few reasons for this. First (and again, we’ll get into this later), a self-published author may need to front the cost of shipping for that signed copy, and the additional charge might cover that. But you might also charge more for a signed copy because it’s a novelty item—the personalization costs a little more. You might even charge extra for a personalized note.
Why you might not want to sell signed copies
Now that we’ve talked about some ways that signed copies can help you out, let’s talk about some ways in which signed copies might not work for you.
You only publish e-books
If you exclusively publish e-books, it might be impractical for you to offer signed copies. You obviously can’t sign an e-book, you might have chosen e-book sales because you didn’t want to mess with physical book distribution in the first place.
This might be the case if you publish e-books on KDP, but it can also apply to authors who publish their work online in other ways. My short stories, for example, are available for purchase as PDF’s. I can edit the PDF to include a note before I send it to a reader, but this isn’t quite as personal as a physical signature. Anyone could technically convert a PDF to a Word Doc and do the same thing. Offering signed copies just isn’t practical.
You don’t want to manage the logistics/cost of shipping physical books
Even if you do publish physical books, it might be tricky to handle signed copies. You usually have to order a set of books to sign, and the way you distribute those will vary depending on how you’re publishing.
The printing service you choose may help you with distribution, but often, you’ll need to sign and ship these books yourself. This can be time-intensive and inconvenient. Adding the charge of shipping fees to the price of the signed copy is a great way to avoid additional costs for you as the author.
How to sell signed copies as a self-published author
So, if you’re self-published, how do you sell signed copies?
Set up a store on your website
Some self-published authors will list signed copies on their website—Hannah Lee Kidder, for example, offers signed copies of both her short story collections on her website’s shop.
Selling signed copies on Amazon can be challenging, so listing these books on your site can be an easy way to work around that complicated process.
Contact bookstores that will sell your signed books online
You can contact brick and mortar stores to ask if they’ll stock your book, and you can also ask them to stock signed copies—make sure you check with your local bookstore to see if this is an option. They might even be able to sell copies online and help you with the distribution.
Selling signed copies through Amazon
You can also sell signed copies through Amazon. You’ll need to create a merchant account and fill out some paperwork, and you’ll need to agree to distribute the book yourself, but it can be done. Selling through Amazon also means you’ll need to be quick about sending out copies as soon as they’re ordered.
Do a book signing event
Self-published authors can also offer signed copies of books at book signing events. This is a little easier to do logistically since customers will pick up those signed copies at the store.
How to get a book signing at a store as a self-published author
But wait, you may be thinking—book signing events are only for big-name authors. There’s no way I could ever do one.
Think again! Self-published authors can absolutely do book signing events, and if they have the chance, they should—they’re great opportunities for building a community and strengthening your bond with your readers.
Here’s how to get a book signing:
Build a platform and local following
First things first, you’ll want to build a platform. Think of it like a concert: if you don’t have anyone listening to your music, you’re probably not going to sell tickets to your concert. The same idea applies here. You want to have readers in town who are ready and willing to go to your events.
Reach out to bookstores several months in advance
Next, you’ll need to reach out to your local bookstore. Contact them several months in advance so that they have plenty of time to factor you into their event calendar—you might want to try a smaller bookstore, especially an independent one, if possible.
- Related: If you're writing a children's book, then a school visit may be better than a bookstore event.
Pitch your event to the bookstore
When you contact the bookstore, pitch your event. What do you want this event to look like? Most authors do a reading followed by a Q+A, and then there’s a signing afterward. You want to let the bookstore know what kind of book you’re reading, what kind of artist you are, and what kind of event you want to put on—this helps them know whether it would be a good fit for their store.
(Insider Tip: A media kit can be really helpful to get them to take your offer seriously.)
You should have a synopsis of your book, a brief description of yourself, and a brief description of the event prepared when you reach out to bookstores.
Make sure to showcase your platform and following to the bookstore
Remember the following you built? You want to make sure you let the bookstore know about it. This doesn’t mean you should start saying “don’t you have any idea who I am” or being, in general, a jerk. When you’re telling them about yourself and your book, also let them know about your platform.
This lets the bookstore know that people are going to show up to your event. They’re a business, too, and they’re going to want some sales revenue. If you’ve got a ton of people ready and willing to come to your event, this will make it much more likely that they’ll agree to a signing.
Now that you know the benefits and workings of a book signing, it's time to build out the rest of your book marketing plan.
Check out this ebook to help you get moving in the right direction.