November 12 – 18: “Are book signings profitable to a writer’s career?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week ITW Members DiAnn Mills, Judy Penz Sheluk, Vicky Delany, Bruce Robert Coffin, Lynn Cahoon, Karen Harper, Arthur Kerns and Roger Angle will discuss author book signings: Are book signings profitable to a writer’s career? Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along!


Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers and a national bestseller in the U.S. She has written more than twenty-five books: clever cozies to Gothic thrillers to gritty police procedurals, to historical fiction and novellas for adult literacy. She is the author of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop cozy mystery series from Crooked Lane books featuring Gemma Doyle, an Englishwoman with a mind much like that of the Great Detective, who owns a Holmes-themed bookshop on Cape Cod. She also writes the Year Round Christmas series for Penguin Random House and, under the pen name of Eva Gates, the Lighthouse Library series for Crooked Lane Books. Vicki lives and writes in bucolic Prince Edward County, Ontario. She is the past president of the Crime Writers of Canada. Her work has been nominated for the Derringer, the Bony Blithe, the Ontario Library Association Golden Oak, and the Arthur Ellis Awards.


Karen Harper is the New York Times bestselling author of suspense and historical novels. Her current South Shores Series is set in South Florida and the Caribbean. Published since 1982, she is the winner of the Mary Higgins Clark Award for her suspense novel Dark Angel. A former high school and university English instructor, Harper lives in Ohio and has lived 30 winters in South Florida. She and her husband love to travel.


In March 2013 Diversion Books Inc. released the acclaimed espionage thriller The Riviera Contract, followed by the sequel, The African Contract. The Yemen Contract was released in June 2016. Arthur Kerns joined the FBI with a career in counterintelligence and counterterrorism. On retirement, he became a consultant with a number of U.S. agencies, including the Department of State. His lengthy assignments took him to over 65 countries.


Bruce Robert Coffin is the bestselling author of the Detective Byron mystery series and former detective sergeant with more than twenty-seven years in law enforcement. At the time of his retirement from the Portland, Maine police department, he supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations for Maine’s largest city. Following the terror attacks of September 11th, Bruce spent four years working counter-terrorism with the FBI, earning the Director’s Award, the highest honor a non-agent can receive. His short fiction appears in several anthologies, including The Best American Mystery Stories 2016.


Lynn Cahoon is the author of the NYT and USA Today best-selling Tourist Trap cozy mystery series. Guidebook to Murder, book 1 of the series, won the Reader’s Crown for Mystery Fiction. She also pens the Cat Latimer series available in mass market paperback with Slay in Character coming in late 2018. In addition to releasing Who Moved my Goat Cheese in March as part of the new Farm to Fork series, Killer Green Tomatoes released July 3rd, 2018


Roger Angle writes novels and short fiction but started out life as a poet. He has published more than 20 poems and short prose pieces in literary journals, in addition to thousands of newspaper stories and dozens of magazine articles. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize as a reporter in 1967 and won the Random House short fiction contest in 1999 with “Casualty of War” about a narcissist in a relationship. Recent publications include a comic thriller “The Hit-Man” in Murder at the Beach, published by Down & Out Books in 2014. The Disappearance of Maggie Collins is his first published novel. Angle lives in Southern California.


DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She creates action-packed, suspense-filled novels to thrill readers. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. She is co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writer’s Conference and Mountainside Marketing Conference


Judy Penz Sheluk is the Amazon international bestselling author of the Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries. Her short stories appear in several collections. Judy is also a member of Sisters in Crime International, Sisters in Crime – Guppies, Sisters in Crime – Toronto, International Thriller Writers, Inc., the South Simcoe Arts Council, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves on the Board of Directors, representing Toronto/Southwestern Ontario.


  1. Book signings can be profitable to the writer in two ways. One is the actual sale of books which pleases the publisher in that they see sales numbers; the bookstore owners who see customers coming through the door; and you the writer when you sign that book imagining a future boost in royalties. The second benefit from book signings is exposure, in other words, advertising, getting your name and book out there in the public’s eye.
    The writer must realize that some signings are successful—readers show up—and others not so. I’ve been fortunate to have books signings at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona to a packed house, then traveled overnight to a very nice bookstore in a small town and three people showed up. One for the chocolate chip cookies, another one puzzled because she thought I was a romance writer, and the other plopped down in front of me because his feet hurt. I still gave them my half-hour talk on how to become a published writer later in one’s life. No books were sold.
    Overall, a book signing is worth the effort. It’s not easy for most writers to go before an audience and speak. It’s our nature to sit alone with our thoughts and write but these events get us out, meet our readers, pick up ideas, and announce to the public that we are writers. Oh, a caveat. If you must read a selection from your book and I wish you wouldn’t, make it short, like a description you’re particularly fond of or a sex scene, if your audience is beginning to doze off.

  2. I have been published steadily since 1982 and actually–despite the great impact of social media–I haven’t changed my mind on book signings. I think they are helpful and profitable for writers in many ways. It’s so great to meet readers and not just on facebook. I think the venues may make a difference for signings. There are large ones which maximize impact, but I still love the little ones to meet booksellers and readers.

    I write both contemporary suspense and historical novels, so those audiences may be a bit different for signings. It looks like we have a variety of authors weighing in on this topic, and I hope to hear from lots of readers, especially during Love Your Bookstore week. Check out, Nov. 10 = 16.

    1. Dear Ms. Harper,

      We’re pleased to discover that Love Your Bookstore even coinciding with this topic at the Roundtable.

      Most people won’t believe it wasn´t planned, though.

      Thank you for your contributions to to topic and for bringing the even to our attention.

      How wonderful!

  3. Are book signings profitable to a writer’s career?

    I can say that I’ve done a LOT of these. Profitable? One never knows
    As I see it, there are two types of book signings:

    1) Sit at a table in the middle of a bookstore and hope to snag passersby into chatting to you and hopefully buy a book

    2) Organized events where the author chats to a bookstore representative and/or other authors in front of an audience. Followed by a signing.

    The second is always worth doing, I think. Even if only a few people show up, they’ve come because they’re interested in you or your book. That means they are keen readers and as we all know the best form of promotion is by word of mouth. Plus, it’s always a bonus to get to know the booksellers, which you will do if you chat with them. It’s possible they read your book in preparation and if they like it, they’ll hand sell it.

    As for the first, I’d say probably not unless you are a big name and the store has gone to some effort to promote your event. It can be disheartening being in a bookstore surrounded by hundreds or thousands of books (some of which are advertised as 80% off!) and trying desperately to get someone to talk to you. At the beginning of my career I did a lot of these, but I don’t any more. I had a good day if I sold 20 – 30 books and maybe those sales helped me get better known. But now, I’d say not worth the loss of a day’s writing time.

    In conclusion, my advice would be – you have absolutely nothing to lose (well, maybe some time and the cost of getting there) so if you like doing singings, then do it.

  4. I think every writer has been there. We agree to a signing, make sure we’ve completed a list of how-to-make-your-book signing-event a success. The night before the event, we’re awake and wondering if we’ve done all the marketing and promotion to make the signing a success. We bring chocolate and swag. And the signing falls flat. Potential buyers deliberately avoid us for fear we might invite them to our table. We smile and tell ourselves, “Never again.”

    So back to the question: Are book signings profitable to a writer’s career?

    I say nothing is ever wasted when it comes to potentially meeting a new reader, and here’s why:

    1. Although some of the people at the event may avoid you, that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in your book. The next time (or even that day) they may pick up your book and take a peek.

    2. Establishing a relationship with bookstore owners, managers, and employees means when customers ask for recommendations, your name is at the top of the list.

    3. When others see you’re willing to smile at them, even when they aren’t interested, you develop a reputation as being approachable.

    Now some of you may disagree with #3, and I get it. None of us want to be viewed as the little beggar standing behind a table full of books that aren’t selling.

    Will I continue to do a book signing event when asked? Yes. Will I actively seek those opportunities? Yes. Will I always consider a speaking event in which I can do a signing afterward. Yes.

  5. Profitable? That depends on what profitable means to you. If you’re hoping to sell a ton of books, probably not. I’ve done a number of bookstore signing events, and have sold anywhere from zero to (best day) 11 books. As Vicki pointed out, it’s also a day away from writing, and I personally find them exhausting. There’s a lot of trying to hand out bookmarks to people trying to avoid eye contact and talking to strangers (some who are very strange…there was a guy once who spent a long time telling me about submarines, even after I explained my book had nothing to do with submarines). One thing that I think is worthwhile are multi-author events. This takes some coordination, as you need to find 3 or 4 other authors to go in with you, but what it does is A) help the day pass faster if the store is dead B) help you network with other authors C) draws more attention to the event and D) makes customers less timid about approaching since it won’t seem as personal if they don’t buy your book.
    While bookstore and signing events can be humbling, they can also help the shy author get used to public exposure. And honestly, you never know where something will lead. The day I sold zero books (and drove an hour each way to get there), I spent some time talking to a woman who worked at the local library. That library system turned out to have 17 branches. And they later purchased one of my books for each branch.
    A funny story: At one bookstore, I spotted a woman holding the latest Louise Penny novel. “Oh,” I said to her, “You might enjoy my book. It’s set in a small town in Canada.” And she said, “I don’t read Canadian mysteries.” Enough said!
    Bottom line: I’ll do more of these events, but I’ll also be more selective on location (no driving for hours). And I’ve adjusted my thinking of what “profitable” means. As long as you look at it as “you never know where this will lead” I think it’s worthwhile.

  6. Diann is right to mention a signing–even if not ‘wildly’ successful–can build a great bridge to the bookstore for future events or buys of the next title. I have also found that once an author does a signing in a store, tipping them off to the next title and release date by sending them a handout (bookmarks, for example) can sell books down the road.

    One thing I’ve found works well for signings is to not necessarily have it in a bookstore. When I wrote a suspense novel set in the 10,000 Islands area (near Naples and Marco Island, Florida) the Smallwoods Store (historic trading post) did a signing, which pulled THEIR audience in. Also, I’ve done one in a woman’s clothing store at the mall. They advertised and had the book in the window for a couple of weeks. Thinking outside the box (aka bookstore) can be “profitable.”

    1. Karen, you are spot on about location for a signing. This past summer, I had a booth at a quilt show to promote my latest book set in that town and tied to the quilt show. It was my best book-signing ever and I met a ton of new people who have gone out and told others about my work. Thinking outside the box can be profitable more than monetarily.

  7. I wish I’d posted before Judy because I do believe profitable is probably the wrong word. Book signing are marketing and getting out in front of people who may not know you or your books. Or they are vehicles for your rabid fans to actually met you and get a signature. But profit? I don’t think they do much for the bottom line.

    One of my mystery author friends says that you can hand sell about 2000 copies max. And that’s if your really working it. Do I think they help? Yes, or I wouldn’t be doing them.

    However, after spending a weekend flying, signing, and then flying home, I wonder about my ROI for the event. Was it good enough for me to not write for three days? A lot of times, book signings are my reward for writing. I get to travel. I get to stay in a nice hotel. And I can eat whatever I want to eat and where.

    You have to make your own goals and measuring tape, but for me, book signings are where I get to meet book lovers and chat. And sometimes, that’s enough.

    1. Lynn, this is exactly how I view conferences, when people ask if they are worthwhile. In terms of sales, no, but in terms of exposure, networking, and a bit of travel to places I might never otherwise see, fabulous! Profitable is definitely the wrong word.

  8. I think signing events are always profitable to an author’s career., but not necessarily the way you might think. Not everything is measured monetarily. I believe getting out in front of the readers is an extremely important and necessary part of audience building. It’s imperative that we meet our readers and that they meet us. I can still remember meeting Stephen King for the first time. I recall how gracious he was and how he made time for everyone in that line. It left a positive impression on me and shapes how I view my own readers.

  9. I am really fortunate to be able to be part of two huge, multi-author booksignings a year here in the state of Ohio. The first Saturday in November each year is the Buckeye Book Fair in Wooster, Ohio. Almost 100 authors in multi-genres (many children’s authors) and hundreds of readers. There is a small charge to get in; books are discounted and a share of the profits support school libraries which can’t afford new books. What fun to see some of the same readers every year and talk books–and to see author friends I don’t live near.

    The other event is the April Ohioana Library Book Festival in Columbus. Great and large event. Are any of you other authors able to do big signings with lots of company? I know Cincinnati’s Books On the Banks is great too, but haven’t made it there yet.

  10. I think one way to pull more people into a signing (and charm a bookseller!) is to get friend or foe author to sign with you. Right, that doesn’t make you the center of attention, but it pulls in more readers and is more fun to have company. Also, if you are better known than the other author you’ve invited to share the table, it’s a great time to encourage and boost your fellow- (sister-??) author. I have learned a lot about other writers and promotions from such shared situations. It’s always been a win-win for me at signings or promotional events.

  11. I agree with Karen that a joint signing is often the way to go. Sometimes I sign with friends, and it’s fun to catch up, and sometimes I sign with authors I don’t know. That can be a crap shoot – table hog, anyone? – but it usually works out well and I learn about books and authors I didn’t know before. And, meet new readers. I am not a big fan of big signings though, I’d rather stay at home.

  12. Sometimes. It all depends.

    I had a friend who was a huge bestselling mystery writer. I’d go with her to her signings, and when we’d show up, there’d be a line of fifty or more people, books in hand.

    However, I had another friend who self-published his first few thrillers. I went to a book signing where he and two other writers sat at a small table in a mystery bookstore, and no one seemed to care. These three writers sat there for several hours, talking to each other. People who were shopping for books just wandered on by, mostly ignoring them. I don’t think they sold a book that afternoon.

    So it all depends. I’d say book signings are part of an overall marketing plan. If the rest of your plan is working, book signings are probably a good idea.

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