Setting up a book signing is not an easy task by any means. Many larger bookstores won't waste their time on an author they've never heard of, and many of the smaller, independent bookstores are unwilling to risk buying books if they cannot guarantee sales from them. Some of these indy stores have even instituted a method to soften the blow of non-selling authors at book signings - and that's by charging authors to have a signing along with displaying their books.
There are ways to get yourself into these stores - even the big chains like Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million - without paying an arm and a leg for it. It will require an awful lot of legwork on your part though, and a good deal of networking.
1. Visit Local Bookstores as Often as Possible -
You want to visit as many bookstores in your area as possible. A good distance is any store you can drive to within an hour. This includes the small and large bookstores alike. Don't just go in and demand a book signing, however. An author needs to be much more subtle when dealing with things like these.
2. Get to Know the Manager -
You want to be seen in the store, let some of the staff get to know you. Introduce yourself to the manager, and give him your business card. Tell him or her that you have a book coming out soon, and say a little something about it. Again, do not ask for a book signing straight away. It will likely only serve to anger the manager and make it impossible to get yourself into his or her store.
3. Patience is a Virtue -
Instead, wait a couple of visits, remind the manager each time about your book. Build a relationship, although a weak one, with the manager. On your third or fourth visit, then make a mention of a book signing - but again, ask, do not demand. And bring it up as a matter of conversation instead of just blurting it out. If you're in Barnes and Noble, just ask the manager, "What might an author need to do in order to have a book signing here?"
4. Money is Key -
Once you've gotten it across that you'd like to have a signing, and the manager isn't totally turned off by the idea, you're halfway there. Remember though, all bookstores are open for one purpose and one purpose only: to make money. You need to assure the manager that by hosting your book signing, the store isn't going to lose money on it on the books it is going to buy. The biggest issue here is: what is the store going to do with the books you don't sell? Most managers would prefer not to have twenty copies of your book sitting on their shelves for two years, useless and doing nothing. So, explain that your publisher will buy back all books that haven't sold after three months (or whatever your publisher's policy is). If you are self-published or your publisher has no such policy, then offer to buy back the books yourself if they don't sell.
5. Keep in Contact -
Even though I have gotten some stores to agree to let me do a book signings, they will never happen if I simply disappear until my book comes out. The key is keeping the relationship alive. Visit the store every week, or every other week. Say hello to the manager, at this point, you shouldn't need to mention the book, he or she should remember who you are. Keep doing this up until you're ready for your book signing.
With it all mapped out, it can seem rather easy, and though it is, this is a time consuming task, but one that can reap many rewards. Do not underestimate the power of a face to face meeting, and remember that social networking is even more effective when done in person.