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Book Signing Event Challenges: Protecting Your Sales and Profits

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.


I got a couple of questions on a post I wrote a while back titled, Book Signing Event Tips for Self-Published Authors. In that original post, I discussed a number of opportunities and challenges that hosting a book signing event hold for self-published authors.

But it appears that authors have some additional concerns about these events, particularly as they relate to dealing with the event host. So I thought it would be good to address them in case other authors were facing them, too.

In the following discussion, “author” will mean “self-published author.” Traditionally published authors will usually not do these events on their own and at their own expense. The publisher would typically be responsible for that.

Also, since it is unlikely that large chain brick-and-mortar bookstores would want to work with self-published authors, this discussion will primarily refer to smaller, independent bookstores and other venues who might be more amenable to hosting these events (even though that's no guarantee they will).

What Is a Reasonable Cut for the Book Signing Event Host?

The first question I received asked if a certain percentage was a reasonable cut for the book-signing event host. Though the question didn’t identify who the host was, I’m guessing it was a bookstore. So I’ll presume that’s the case.

Before it can be determined if any percentage is reasonable, we have to determine the working relationship between the self-published author and the bookstore. Although bookstores could purchase inventory of an author's book for either the event or to offer on the shelves, a consignment arrangement is more likely.

What is Consignment?

Under a consignment arrangement, the bookstore will agree to inventory a specific quantity of the author’s book. But the author will only be paid when a sale to a customer is made. The author technically still owns the books and, depending on the terms of the agreement, could ask to take back any unsold copies. Similarly, the bookstore could tell the author to take back any unsold books.

While consignment is usually an equitable arrangement for both the bookstore and the author, there is a possibility that returned unsold books could become shopworn, representing a loss for the author since he can’t resell them as new.

A limited time consignment arrangement could be set up specifically for the book-signing event, with the author immediately taking back any unsold copies.

Regardless of the details of the consignment, a written agreement between the bookstore (or event host) and the author is strongly recommended. Consult an attorney to help draft this agreement.

Why Bookstores May Ask for a High Percentage of Sales Dollars

Regardless of the time frame or number of books, the bookstore pays the author a percentage of each sale, not the full retail price of the book. The bookstore's cut covers the cost of running a retail business (which can be very high!) and any extra costs associated with hosting the event or carrying inventory.

The actual percentage can vary widely, depending on the particular bookstore. A bookstore cut of 40 or 50 percent (or more!) would not be unreasonable. If you have any retail operation experience, you realize that a gross profit margin of 50 percent can quickly get eaten up by overhead expenses (rent, staffing, utilities, etc.).

So bookstores are not trying to cheat authors; they are merely trying to retain profitability and prevent losses by asking for a substantial cut of the book sale revenues.

But a significant cut of sales for the host should not unsettle any self-published author who might be working with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) self-publishing platform. Even on Kindle eBooks, KDP can take anywhere from 30 to 65 percent, plus fees.

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And don't ask for a more author-advantageous cut claiming that the event will bring in customers who will make additional purchases! Signing event attendees are likely there just to see you and buy your book.

How Can Authors Get Money Back From the Book Signing Event?

I was a little puzzled by the second question which asked how to get money back from the book-signing event. Hmm...

That question could be answered in a number of ways, depending on what the author meant by “getting money back.”

Getting Money Back: When Authors Get Paid

“Getting money back” could mean actually getting paid for books sold on consignment as discussed above. Typically, a hosting bookstore will want to handle the sales so that they can be assured of getting their cut. They’re assuming more risk and have more expenses than the author. So this requirement is not unacceptable.

But authors could worry that they won’t get paid or they'll get paid improperly. That’s why a written agreement should be executed between the author and host which clearly details who pays for what and when everything gets paid. Also, how claims for breach of contract will be handled need to be part of that agreement. Again, consult an attorney to help prepare this agreement!

Getting Money Back: Profitability

If “getting money back” means the author makes enough money to satisfy their costs or profit goals, then the question becomes one of what is an equitable split between the author and hosting bookstore. This means that both parties need to have a good handle on their financial needs, and all expectations need to be detailed in a written agreement to prevent misunderstandings.

Getting Money Back: Refund

What if either the host or the author is unhappy with how the book signing event turned out? Refund requests could go both ways. Authors might want refunds for any costs or fees paid. Bookstores might ask authors to take back any books purchased and/or cover costs the store incurred. These eventualities also need to be part of the written agreement.

Tips to Help Preserve Sales and Profits from Book Signing Events

  • Always get any book event, consignment or inventory purchase agreement in writing! Consult an attorney to help create an agreement that is equitable for both you and the bookstore or book-signing event host. Without a written agreement, it will be difficult to make claims for payments or damages.
  • Remember that bookstores will not actively market your book... and are doing you a favor by hosting your event. It is unlikely that a bookstore will be very interested in promoting your book or the event you're hosting there. Your event’s demands represent a cost to them and they are in business to make money... not just to help you make money.
  • Know your costs and set realistic profit objectives. If you don’t understand your costs and how you make money from any event or book retail opportunity, then you will never know if you are making a reasonable profit or “getting your money back.” When you sell books, you’re in business. Act like a business!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Book publishing: Is this a good proposal from a publisher to publish my book? 1. They keep the copyright of the book. 2. My royalties are 10%. 3. They provide international sales of print, ebook and Kindle 4. And if I want to terminate the publishing contract it is their decision, not mine.

Answer: Lots of issues to consider here!

1. It is typical for a traditional publisher to hold the copyright to the book. A friend of mine who got a traditional publishing deal cannot even quote from her own book on her blog, etc. If holding on to your copyright is important to you, a book deal like this isn't a good choice.

2. Royalties are 10% of what? The book revenue? A royalty share? You better find out what that 10% means.

3. Big deal! If you self publish with Kindle Direct Publishing for print or Kindle eBook, it's available in the U.S. and several international markets.

4. Have an attorney review the "get out of contract" language and understand what that really means. If the publisher terminates, then what happens to your copyrights? You need legal counsel on this.

Hope that gives you some things to think about.

© 2018 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 14, 2018:

Cool, Lawrence! Post a quick comment in this hub when you have yours done so I know to pop on over and check it out.

Thanks for sharing your experience! Have a great week!

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on May 12, 2018:


I actually took part in an event like this a few weeks ago, and it was awesome, but the way it was arranged was slightly different. You've just persuaded me to write a hub about it over the next few days as it might give people a few ideas on what's possible.

I'll let you know when I've done the hub.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 23, 2018:

Hi Dora! So true that we can presume a lot, especially when we're so excited about our passions and adventures. It does pay to take a step back before plunging into these scenarios. Thanks so much for chiming in and have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 23, 2018:

Hi Linda! Thank you for the kind words. Whether you do a book signing or not, I do hope that you'll consider publishing a book someday. Appreciate your support! Have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 23, 2018:

Brian, I think you touched on an important point about these events which I, being always business-oriented, often forget: That you had a fun event and you enjoyed connected with your fans in person.

Thank you for highlighting that aspect of the situation! Have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 23, 2018:

Liz, you're so right! These same principles are good for many settings where consignment arrangements are common. Thanks for the kind words and glad you found it helpful. Have a great week!

CaribTales on April 22, 2018:

Thanks for the tips. We take too much for granted about situations that are not familiar to us. You have been very helpful.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 21, 2018:

If I ever do become involved in a book signing event, I'll reread and remember your advice. You are creating an excellent resource for writers with your articles, Heidi.

Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on April 21, 2018:

Years ago an ebooks and print on demand publisher published a novel I wrote. Soon after I had a book signing at a local independent book shop where I lived at the time. I owned the paperback copies offered for sale, having bought them from the publisher at 40% discount. The book shop sold copies at cover price and at the end of the event paid me at 20% discount. Essentially we split the author/dealer discount. The agreement was verbal and informal. I still owned the unsold books and took them home. A lot (5? 10? more?) of copies sold because friends and acquaintances came to the event.

To explain the transactions in more detail, it was actually a little more but for simplicity's sake say the cover price was $10. The books I brought to the event had cost me, at 40% discount, $6 each. The book shop got paid by customers $10 per book. Of that, I got $8 and the shop got $2. After subtracting my $6 cost, I also got $2 per book sold.

I think my memory of the event is accurate. It may not be.

It was a fun event and included me reading aloud passages from the novel.

Liz Westwood from UK on April 21, 2018:

This is an interesting article. I've learned a lot and I think some of these principles apply to other marketing schemes, not solely for books.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 21, 2018:

Donna, being the crafting arena, I'm sure you've experienced or observed the consignment situation firsthand. Appreciate you stopping by and chiming in. Have a lovely weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 21, 2018:

So true, Mary! It is a business. I think it's important for writers to figure out if they're ready for what a writing career entails. Thanks for chiming in and have a great weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 21, 2018:

Glad you agree, Bill! Thanks for chiming in with your experience.

Praise the gods of spring! :) Happy Weekend!

Donna Herron from USA on April 21, 2018:

Great hub, Heidi! These issues might come up in any consignment situation and your tips are useful for a lot of sales events. Thanks for sharing and posting!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on April 21, 2018:

There are many more challenges to writers than just writing the books. It is not an easy career to get into. Act like a business is a challenge to many writers who would rather spend their time writing. I feel bad for writers who try to live on their work.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 21, 2018:

The last three tips are gold. Been there, done that, learned from my mistakes. I find most new authors are so excited to have a book signing event that they give away the farm to have it....bad move!

Spring has arrived...seventies next week...thank the gods!

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