Rethinking Book Signings : One Writerly Dude’s Approach

I’ve always wanted to build a better book signing, and with the launch of my book tour this past weekend I think I may have done it (cue Dr. Frankenstein’s laughter of the demented). There are valid reasons why I wanted to change things up this time around.

When I published a very small book years ago, I went on a mini-tour that included about 7 signings, most at mom and pop bookstores, and a few large chain stores. I had mixed results. The majority involved me sitting behind a table, hoping someone would look my way and take a peek at the book. I’ve noticed that a lot of people are wary of approaching authors. Trust me, we’re happy to talk to you, and almost all of us don’t bite! I was usually able to sell a handful of books at the mom and pops.

I had two nightmare signings, both at major outlets. One was on the 4th of July. Naturally, no one was in the store! To make things worse, they put me under a sky light so the 95 degree sun could melt me to the chair. The only thing I succeeded in doing was convincing the lone customer not to buy Hilary Clinton’s book that was on display behind me.

The next one was even worse. I’m not a public speaker. Well, when I got there, they had set up a podium and about forty chairs and expected me to read from my book. Lucky for stammering me, the only people in those chairs were my wife, her friend and a support group for people with hepatitis-C, who were busy holding their own meeting and  not paying attention to me. I sold 1 whole book that night, which was an improvement over the zero sold on Independence Day.

I’ve attended my fair share of author signings and have come to the conclusion that I hate author readings. Unless they are classically trained in the art of acting and public speaking, their voice interferes with the voice I then bring to the book when I read it. Very few enhance the experience.

So as I geared up to promote Forest of Shadows, I feverishly tried to come up with a unique way of making a book signing a bigger, better experience for those who come to see me. Heck, they’re going out of their way to attend, I better give them a show to justify their precious time.

To erase my bad experiences of the past, I made sure I got a signing at a Barnes & Noble. Big time, big pressure. 🙂

What I did next  was examine my genre, the topic of my book, and other things I have done to promote it all along and combined them into what I felt was a fun, informative evening. Here’s the game plan:

  • My book is a fictional story about a ghost hunter. So, I decided to focus on ghosts in general, not just the ones in my book.
  • I do a video podcast called The Monster Men where my buddy and I talk about all things horror and scary. We went back to look at episodes where we talked about ghosts and created a 10 minute video. It centered on my ghost trips to The Queen Mary, The Manhattan Bistro and my own experience in a haunted hotel room in Spain.
  • I created a slide show that showed all kinds of ghost pictures, as well as intermittent slides showing my website and logo. I added some sinister music to it as well. As people filtered in, I had the slideshow and music going to get and hold their attention.
  • I started by asking what people believed in (Bigfoot, UFOs, Ghosts) and handed out candy prizes for those brave enough to raise their hands. This got them involved and gave them sugar rushes! I also kept a bowl of cookies on the table.
  • I talked a little about the book and wove humor with the horror throughout. I showed the video, stopping every now and then to add a funny anecdote or two.I also made sure I was on my feet and walking around, making eye contact with everyone. As an added benefit, it helped me burn off nervous energy.
  • After the video, I talked a little more about the book, just for a couple of minutes, and asked people to share their own paranormal stories.
  • Then it was time to sign! I also created a posterboard of the cover of  my book at Staples for $10 and asked them to sign it for me as I signed their book. Now I have a great keepsake and they had a blast signing it. How many authors ask their readers for their autograph?
  • Lastly, I created postcards that promote my next book, website and Monster Men podcast and put them in each book.


The key to everything was to have fun and make it a great night. I keep thinking I’ll bring a smoke machine to the next one, but my kids roll their eyes on that suggestion.

Best of all, I started with a table loaded with books and came a hair from a total sellout. There were only a couple left by the end of the night, which I signed so they can display them prominently in the store.

Now, I’m not saying this is the definitive way to do your own signing. You have to do what you’re comfortable with. Be creative. Make ‘em laugh. Be interactive. If you can do all three, you’re in for a hell of a night.

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About Hunter Shea

Hunter Shea is the product of a misspent childhood watching scary movies, reading forbidden books and wishing Bigfoot would walk past his house. He doesn’t just write about the paranormal – he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself. Hunter’s novels can even be found on display at the International Cryptozoology Museum. His video podcast, Monster Men, is one of the most watched horror podcasts in the world. You’ll also find him every week on the Final Guys podcast, available everywhere. He’s a bestselling author of over 30 books, all of them written with the express desire to quicken heartbeats and make spines tingle. Living with his wonderful family and two cats, he’s happy to be close enough to New York City to gobble down Gray’s Papaya hotdogs when the craving hits.

26 responses to “Rethinking Book Signings : One Writerly Dude’s Approach”

  1. Joseph Pinto, horror author says :

    Great idea on the posterboard, Hunter!

  2. Renae Rude-The Paranormalist says :

    You do know you’ve provided me with yet another blueprint, right?

    I can’t remember ever seeing an author come up with such a great plan. Congratulations and well done 🙂

  3. jackiekingon says :

    Sorry I couldn’t stay to sign but that poster was a great idea.

  4. Paul D. Dail says :

    Acting has always been another love of mine, so I’d probably love doing a reading (and am actually signed up to do one at the WHC this weekend), but I think your inhibitions have caused you to discover something brilliant here… a multimedia author signing.

    As a teacher, that’s one thing we hear all the time… engage your students. And younger people these days (wow, do I sound old?) are engaged by media, not just some old guy standing up there lecturing. Another thing they say is to get your students involved in the discussion, something you also did by getting them to talk about their own paranormal experiences.

    You might’ve just set a new standard, my friend. Well done.

    Paul D. Dail A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

    • Hunter Shea says :

      First of all, best of luck with your reading, you actor you. 🙂 Thank you. I was definitely trying to cater to the ‘new world order’. As writers, we need to add as much value to any appearance we can, while engaging folks via methods that people are more attuned to today.

  5. Louise says :

    This is so fantastic!!!!!!!

  6. Michael Gray says :

    Hi – good ideas here, and the horror-story of the major book store on 4th of July was funny because so believable. My own experience – speaking as a writer myself – is that bookstore readings in general are a very bad idea, which American publishers are too lazy to think of any alternative to. Even if you DO sell books, you’re only going to end up with the writer’s miserly percentage, while the bookstore takes 35-40% of the retail price. So for a good while now I’ve been promoting my books by arranging my own tours – not of bookstores but of arts centres, literary festivals and so on – where I give a talk (with audio tracks & rare footage) and I sell my books at the end. Not only do I get a fee from the venue, and the people who come have paid to hear me, and therefore think I’m worth something (unlike bookstores where it’s a free event so half the people there think I can’t be of any value) but when I sell books at the end, I’M the one getting that decent retailer’s percentage. Organising tours of talks without an agent is loads of work, but it’s a better route than bookstores imo.

    Any thoughts?

    (To see my event lined up for this year, so far, you could have a look at )

    • Hunter Shea says :

      You know, I’ve been thinking about diong something similar with events outside bookstores. I was even considering booking an all horror author event with live music around Halloween. You’re on the money with your take on things. I think going to bookstores is an essential element, as it can help get them to stock your future books. But creativity in promoting our work is key!

  7. Leigh Ann says :

    I do a lot of “public speaking” for my day job, but this is EXACTLY how I do it. Interactive, personable, accessible. God, I’d be terrified of boring people out of their seats if all I did was a reading and pretentious signing. Sounds like you hit the nail on the head – attending or hosting a book signing just like this would not only be right up my alley, it would be second nature. Well done. 🙂

  8. Jonathan Janz says :

    What a fabulous post, Hunter. I already knew you were incredibly creative as a writer. It’s a little irritating and jealousy-inducing that you’re equally creative in this realm too. 🙂

    Awesome job, my friend.

  9. Alan Ryker says :

    Great ideas!

    I like reading, and I think I’m pretty entertaining as long as I attain just the right level of drunkenness. But I like to keep it short to not bore people, and some of your interactive ideas could help flesh things out.

    • Hunter Shea says :

      I should clarify, I’ve ben to some wonderful readings (Chet Williamson & Tom Monteleone come to mind), but for me, I’ve noticed how most interfere with my enjoyment of the book. I know I’m weird. 🙂 Good idea to keep it short. I hope some of the things I’ve done can add a little extra zing to yours!

      • Alan Ryker says :

        I think your experience is totally valid, and one I’d never thought of before. My thought was always of what value I could add to the material that isn’t already there on the page, but focused more on performance. Adding materials outside the actual text is another cool way to do that.

  10. Maria D. says :

    That was a great idea Hunter! I’m so glad it turned out well too – I’ve been to a few author signings and this one sounds like a lot more fun than the ones I’ve been to.

  11. Linda B. says :

    I like the way you did that book signing. And I love the idea you had with everyone signing your book cover. If you don’t mind, I think I”ll pass that one along to some of the other authors that I know and love. I’m definitely going go have to try some of your books now. You came up with a way of getting everyone’s attention. Great job!

  12. flchen1 says :

    Those are some terrific ideas, Hunter–it sounds like your signing was fun for you AND your readers! Glad you had such a successful time and I’m sure B&N will be calling YOU next time!

  13. Stevie Carroll says :

    That all sounds fabulous. I may have to try some of your ideas.

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