Book signings can be wonderfully successful, or brutally bad. We've all experienced both extremes. Here are a few tips to help turn your next signing into a winner!
When you set up the book signing, use the three-call rule: call to book the signing, call one week before to verify it, and call the day of the signing to make sure that they have your books and are expecting you.
Send invitations! And send them to anyone and everyone that you've ever met in the bookstore's area. And to anyone and everyone that your sister's cousin's best friend has ever met in the bookstore's area. If you can find 100 people to invite to your book signing, you will see results - I promise you. I do this all the time, and it works!
Assume that you won't have anything but a bare table, and be ready to set your own stage. I always bring a backpack with a tablecloth and a couple of stand-up signs, and on some occasions, depending on the book, I've brought a few props. Sometimes the bookstore has everything set up wonderfully for me, but other times I'll show up and they'll say, "Oh, was your signing today?" Roll with the punches, but be ready to do your own set-up.
Stand, don't sit. Don't wait for the people to come to you... be there in the aisle to talk to them. Say hello as people walk by. Of course, the other half of this is to not be too pushy. I was doing a signing at one store and the manager told me a horror story about a guy who moved his signing table to the front door and ambushed everyone coming in, insisting that he sign a book for them. The manager told me that for weeks afterward, she found signed copies of his book stashed all over the store like Easter eggs - no one wanted it, yet he was forcing it on them! When you're at the signing, put yourself in the customer's shoes. If you walked into the store and some author grabbed you, insisting that you look at his book, what would you do? Most of us would probably run away. On the other hand, if you passed an author's table and she was sitting meekly behind her stack of books, you probably wouldn't give her a second glance. It's an art form, but walk that fine line between being invisible and annoying.
Have a case of extra books in your trunk. We'll talk about this more on the next point.
Understand the parameters before the signing starts. If you run out of books, will they accept more from you? You have to know this. I did a signing where we ran out in the first hour, but the store manager wouldn't take any of mine - she had to order directly from the distributor. With that in mind, I stood up, thanked her, and since the signing was over by default, I walked gracefully out of the store. Ethical or not, on the way out, though, I told everyone in line to meet me in the parking lot. I proceeded to sell about thirty books from my trunk - thirty books that I would have been thrilled to sell through the store, but the manager wouldn't hear of it. Of course, I did it discretely - I want to sign at that store again. I didn't feel bad about this, because I did give the manager the chance to use them first. I was embarrassed about telling that story for the longest time, until I shared it to a group at a writer's conference and found that the same thing had happened to a dozen people in the room!
Check with the store manager before bringing food. There are many stores invoking new policies that require that any food brought into the store be prepared by professional kitchens - it's a lawsuit protection thing. Just check it out before baking a plate of brownies to serve your guests.
Above all, have fun. I've done signings where I sold one book, and others where I've sold over a hundred. The store manager's job is to make sure that everyone is having fun, and therefore wants to come back to the shop. Your goal should be to interact with customers, talk to the manager, and leave the store after the signing in the exact same manner whether you sold one copy or a hundred. After all, you want to come back there and sign again.
When it's all over and you're driving home, do a post-mortem. If the signing wasn't a success, stop and think about what went wrong. Wasn't there anyone in the store during your time period? Did people pass your table by, but weren't interested? Ask yourself questions that relate to your signing, and use any bad experience as an information base to turn your next signing into a success!