How to Plan an Utterly Unforgettable Book Signing Event

Abi Wurdeman
April 23, 2024

When many of us fantasize about a flourishing literary career, we almost inevitably imagine our future book signing events.

The line reaches out the door. Gushing readers tell us our book changed their lives. And I don’t know about you, but in this fantasy, I’m at ease in a crowd of strangers, never worry about money, and know how to style my hair.

The reality rarely lives up to our daydreams.

For one thing, if you’re a self-published author, a book signing event doesn’t just land in your lap. Even traditionally published authors arrange many of their own in-person events these days.

Then there are the psychological and social challenges.

What if no one shows? What if engaging with a room full of strangers isn’t exactly your thing? What if an old high school classmate shows up and you can’t remember their name so you just sit there awkwardly blinking at them?

I can’t fix that last thing for you, but I can help with all the others. You’re about to learn a ton about planning, executing, and thriving through your first-ever book signing event. We’ll talk about finding a venue, attracting an audience, bringing your best self, and learning from the experience.

This article may not be able to make the prospect of a book signing less intimidating. But I’m hoping it will help you move forward with clear eyes and maybe even a little sliver of excitement.

So get your Sharpie ready. This is happening.


An open planner with several colorful tabs sits on a wooden table beside pens.

At first glance, preparing for a book signing might seem simple. Choose a location, bring a table and some pens, toss out a few social media announcements, and that’s that.

But remember, our goal isn’t just to make a book signing happen. We want it to be a successful event that connects you with readers and builds awareness around your book and author brand.

So let’s look at some steps you can take to create an event that accomplishes all that.

Choosing a Location and Setting the Date

The front window of a bookstore.

Your first thought might be to hold your event at a local bookstore or library, and those are both great options. Don’t end your list of options there, though.

Is there anywhere else where your specific book might be appreciated? Maybe a toy store if you’re promoting a children’s book? Or a local garden if your novel is about a botanist?

Take atmosphere into account, too. An artsy coffee shop could be the perfect place to share your work of literary fiction.

You also want to factor in the size and accessibility of any location you’re considering. Will the space accommodate the number of attendees you’re anticipating? Is there plenty of parking? Is the space accessible to wheelchairs and walkers?

Make a short list of your preferred venues, then contact each location, starting with your first choice. Explain why you believe your book signing event will attract new business and contribute positively to their brand.

Offer to cover the cost of advertising and donate a book to the venue. Or, in the case of a bookstore, promise to sign any additional books they have in stock after the event is over.

Start preparing a few months out from your preferred event date. If you’re planning this event as part of your book launch strategy, set it up as close to your release day as possible. You might even schedule it for the day of and call it a release party.

Otherwise, pick a day that doesn’t conflict with major holidays, major televised events, or popular local events. Unsurprisingly, weekends are usually best.

Promoting Your Book Signing

A person in a shirt and tie holds a bullhorn in front of their face and points off to the side.

Once you have the details nailed down, it’s time to promote your event.

Announce your upcoming book signing on social media—both your author accounts and, if you’re comfortable with it, your personal accounts. Send occasional reminders to your email list as the day approaches. Ask local businesses if you can post fliers on their bulletin boards.

You might be able to snag some media attention with a press release, especially if you reach out to local publications centering on the arts, in-town events, your book’s topic, or your target audience. 

See if you can turn your book signing event into a cross-promotion opportunity with a local business. Maybe your neighborhood game shop will slip a bookmark promoting your event into their customers’ shopping bags if you hand out their coupon with every book you sign.

Practicing for the Big Day

A person smiles at themselves in a shabby chic mirro.

If you’re feeling anxious about interacting with (hopefully) a bunch of strangers on the day of your signing, a little practice can do a lot to calm your nerves. Even if you’re typically at ease in front of a crowd, it’s a good idea to prepare for small talk, reading, and fielding questions.

If you’re going to share an excerpt from your book, select the passage and practice reading it aloud. When you feel comfortable enough, invite a trusted friend to watch and give you feedback.

Think through any questions your readers might ask, either during a Q&A or as you sign their book. If small talk doesn’t come naturally to you, brainstorm questions you can ask them. Even asking them what they’re reading now or how their day is going communicates that they matter to you.

You might even take some time to practice your signature. It is part of your brand, after all. Do you like the look of it? Or do you want to give your signature a quick, mini-makeover? 

Attracting the Right Crowd

We’ve already talked a bit about what you can do to promote your book signing event. Now let’s take it a step further and discuss how you can attract VIPs, find folks to help you on the day, and make your event irresistible to your audience.

Booking Special Guests

Two smiling people have a conversation into microphones.

Turning your book signing into a multi-author event can be a great way to expand your reach. It’s also an opportunity to start building a cross-promotional relationship with other writers.

If there’s an author (or authors) in the same genre who you think might benefit from a shared event, reach out to them. Explain why you think it makes sense to promote your books together and how this experience could be advantageous for both of you. 

Be clear on whether you’re pitching the book signing as a joint effort where you split the preparation duties or if you’re volunteering to organize it so they only need to show up. If you stand to benefit more than they do from cross-promotion (that is, if the other author has a larger audience), plan to take on the burden of preparation yourself. 

Even a non-literary guest could add interest. Maybe you’d like to invite an animal shelter to bring a few adoptable pups to meet the crowd at the signing for your dog-themed romance novel. (Assuming your venue approves, of course.)

Finally, brainstorm local clubs who might appreciate a direct invitation to your book signing. You might even offer incentives, like an exclusive pre-signing discussion with local book clubs.

Luring an Audience With Incentives

A stack of orange, pink, purple, and green macarons.

Speaking of incentives, here are a few more slick tricks for attracting your target readers:

  • A giveaway for a gift card, free book, or anything else you might dream up
  • An event-only discount on your book
  • Discount codes for other books or merchandise
  • Refreshments

As always, clear your plans with your venue. You don’t want to promise everybody wine and then find out the location isn’t permitted for it or offer a discount when all sales go through the bookstore and not you. 

Bringing Backup

Finally, find a person to help you on the day of your book signing. Once the event begins, your focus needs to be on connecting with your guests. And you definitely don’t want to leave it up to the venue to wrangle a crowd and direct traffic, especially if your signing takes place at a business during operating hours.

Find a friendly and organized pal who’s willing to keep things organized and flowing for you. Bonus if they can snap a few pictures for your social media.

The Day of the Event

Here it is—the day you’ve been dreaming of from the very beginning. You’ve done everything you can to create a wildly successful book signing event. Now what will it take to see your vision through?

Let’s discuss.

Bringing Your Best Self

A stylish person sits outside a cafe wearing round sunglasses and holding a bouquet of yellow tulips.

First things first: we want to make sure you’re prepared to make a stellar impression on your existing fans and potential readers.

Get plenty of sleep, eat healthy, and hydrate well in the days leading up to your book signing. If you’re an introvert, protect your social battery. If you need a little alone time the day before the event in order to be chipper and chatty with your guests, take it.

As far as what to wear, refer to your author brand and the tone of your book. A classic, tailored look might be best for one writer while something bold and creative might be more appropriate for another.

What to Bring

Two people carry big boxes that block their faces.

When you arrive for your book signing, make sure you’re equipped with:

  • Plenty of books (unless the venue is handling that part)
  • Multiple pens or Sharpies for signing
  • One-sheets that introduce you and your book to attendees
  • An email sign-up sheet
  • Decor and displays
  • Book signing table, chairs, and AV equipment as needed (you’ll likely rent these things unless they’re available at your location)
  • Any special goodies or giveaway items for guests
  • A water bottle for yourself

Of course, this checklist will change depending on the needs of your specific event, but this should get you started.

Setting Up

You’ll want to arrive at least an hour early to set up. 

Arrange any displays you’ve brought along, set up your signing table, put out the chairs for your audience, and make sure the flow of the event makes sense. Is there enough room for folks to gather around the refreshments? Did you leave enough space for people to line up at the signing table?

Details That Make Book Signings Even Better

A person sitting at a table at an event speaks into a microphone.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, here are some things you can do to create a truly next-level event:

Open with a reading and Author Q&A - Readers love to hear the story in the author’s own voice. And an author Q&A allows your audience to get to know more about you and your work.

Welcome photos - Let your fans know they’re welcome to take pictures with you. It may even be worth bringing an assistant or friend along who can offer to take a photo for anyone attending alone.

Create an Insta-worthy display - It could just be a six-foot book cover display, a backdrop inspired by your setting, or a photo-booth-style setup with fun, themed props. Any situation that inspires your guests to snap pictures is going to mean free publicity for you.

Create an event hashtag - Display it, announce it, and encourage your attendees to use it when they post pictures from your book signing.

Capture some emails - I already mentioned bringing an email sign-up sheet, but see if you can come up with an incentive for new readers to subscribe to your author newsletter. Maybe anyone who signs up at the event will be entered to win a giveaway. Or they’ll receive exclusive bonus material like a sneak peek at your next book, a free short story, etc.

Make a connection - Before you sign a book, ask the reader’s name, confirm the spelling of it, and ask them a question about themselves. You can ask what they’re reading now, what their favorite trope is, how their day was… whatever.

Then sign their book with a personalized message. Nothing long. It can be as simple as “To Bart, a fellow Le Guin fan.”

Now, not everyone’s mind spins out brief, personalized messages on command and under pressure, so if this isn’t a skill you have right away (or ever), don’t worry about it. But if you’re able to pull it off, you’ll definitely be remembered and appreciated.

After the Event

As with all things in the author business, the steps we take to learn and grow from an experience are as important as the event itself. 

So give yourself a couple days to decompress, then set aside some time to review and evaluate your book signing event.

The Follow-Up

Corner of a yellow sheet of paper with the words "thank you" and a red heart drawn on it.

Your first order of business is to thank anyone who helped make your book signing the successful event it was. That includes the venue, any other authors or presenters, and anyone who helped the event run smoothly.

Send sincere thank you cards and be sure to give these folks a shoutout on social media.

Speaking of which, share your experience of the book signing with followers who couldn’t be there. Post photos and videos on social media. Talk about the event in your newsletter and on your blog.

Invite your attendees to share their feedback. Did the reading capture their interest? Did the event flow nicely? Did they feel appreciated?

As you process this feedback, also take stock of how your book signing benefitted you as an author. Did it allow you to build relationships as you’d hoped? How many people attended? How many books did you sell? How many readers signed up for your newsletter?

Examine this information alongside your attendees’ feedback and make note of what worked and what you’d like to do differently next time. This will help you create even more impactful book events in the future.

In the Event of a Major Letdown

A person in a red shirt looks stressed and touches a hand to their forehead.

In December 2022, author Chelsea Banning lamented on Twitter that only two people attended her author event. She received replies from authors who all assured her they’d been there, including Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, and Min Jin Lee.

I don’t tell you this to depress you. I tell you because you deserve to know that it happens to just about everyone. If it happens to you, it’s not a reflection on the quality of your writing. 

If it turns out to be a disappointingly quiet event, go ahead and be bummed. But keep reminding yourself that you’re in good company. Book signings are simply another one of those author experiences that come with no guarantees.

It’s an act of courage. You’ve made the bold choice to put yourself out there, to be vulnerable to rejection because you knew that what you stood to gain was worth the risk.

In fact, even if you didn’t have a fantastic showing, you still learned a lot about organizing a book event and made new relationships through the planning process alone. 

And as long as we’re highlighting the positives…

The Benefits of Book Signing Events

A person rests their chin on an open book and gives a thumbs-up.

What’s the point of creating a book signing event? I mean, sure, if you’re Colleen Hoover or Brandon Sanderson, you’ll probably draw a sizable crowd and get to feel really good about yourself (or so we assume from the outside).

But what about the rest of us—the authors who can’t be entirely sure that their name will draw anyone who’s not related to them? Wouldn’t it be easier to skip all the hard work and potential humiliation?

Easier, sure. But we’d miss out on an awful lot. 

How Authors Benefit

The biggest benefit of creating a book signing event is that you get to connect personally with readers. Engaging with fans through social media is one thing. But shaking hands, hearing each other’s voices, sharing eye contact… that’s quite another.

When readers get to see you as a whole, flesh-and-blood person, they feel more connected to your work, more eager to support you, and quicker to recommend your books to friends. And you get to see the human beings you’ve delighted with your work. 

Ideally, a book signing also helps you sell books and build your author brand, especially if you tailor your event and decor to fit your unique vibe.

At the very least, you’re building relationships with local businesses and the literary community. When you plan a book signing, you’ll likely reach out to bookstores, coffee shops, book clubs, writing groups… a whole bunch of mini-societies you can turn to for support with future endeavors. 

How Readers Benefit

Just as it’s special for you to meet the people who have warmly received the story you carved from the marble of your soul, they’re eager to meet the living, breathing source behind the tale that spoke to their soul.

These events also give readers an opportunity to engage with the literary world on a deeper level, inviting them to connect not just with authors but other bookworms as well.

And of course, a book signing provides a great opportunity to discover a new author, especially if there’s a reading involved. 

We write alone. They read alone. And through these solitary acts, we somehow manage to connect, despite the part where we’re total strangers, often with very different lives.

Events like this provide rare opportunities to celebrate the unexpectedly communal nature of literature. And yeah, I know I’m romanticizing a bit here, but I stand by it because it’s really friggin’ magical.

Tap Into Your Community

A screenshot from the Story Craft Café home page with an image that says, "I beleaf in you."

It’s tough, building an author career. Every next step challenges the ego and forces us out of our comfort zones.

That’s why it’s so important to build a community of fellow writers who get what you’re going through.

If you’re still picking your way through this journey on your own, I recommend joining the Story Craft Café, Dabble’s writer community. Membership is absolutely free and you don’t have to use Dabble to hang out with us.

In the Story Craft Café, you’ll find discussions on genre, story development, the business of writing, and more. You can join group word sprints, start conversations, and share your work. Click here to check it out.

You’ve got a long and exciting road ahead of you…

…and a world full of fellow writers eager to travel alongside you.

Abi Wurdeman

Abi Wurdeman is the author of Cross-Section of a Human Heart: A Memoir of Early Adulthood, as well as the novella, Holiday Gifts for Insufferable People. She also writes for film and television with her brother and writing partner, Phil Wurdeman. On occasion, Abi pretends to be a poet. One of her poems is (legally) stamped into a sidewalk in Santa Clarita, California. When she’s not writing, Abi is most likely hiking, reading, or texting her mother pictures of her houseplants to ask why they look like that.