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Should You Offer Signed Copies of Your Self-Published Book?

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

Is it worth it to offer signed copies of your self published book?

Is it worth it to offer signed copies of your self published book?

Imagine getting a signed book by an author before she or he became famous. It’s a rare treasure. I think this is why self-published authors are so anxious to offer signed copies of their books. That scenario could happen. But is it likely for most self-published authors? Sadly, no. And by offering signed copies for sale, they can create a logistical mess for themselves.

Why Signed Self-Published Books Don’t Have Much Market Value... At Least Right Now

I’m not trying to crush your dreams or your self-esteem, but you’re not automatically a celebrity if you’re a self-published author. Today, you’re just one of millions. True, one day you may be “the one” that makes it big as a self-published author. But that’s a winning-the-lottery level chance.

Your most loyal fans, friends, and family may be interested in a signed first edition of your book because they’re interested in you. But collectors of signed works? Not so much until you actually do become a recognized celebrity author.

The Biggest Problem With Signed Copies: KDP and Amazon

If you self-publish your print books as print on demand on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), there is no way to offer a signed copy to your reader buyers.

The only way you can offer signed copies for sale on Amazon is by becoming an Amazon Seller through the Fulfillment By Amazon FBA program. That has a host of costs and requirements that might not make it worth doing because of the limited number of signed copies you’d actually sell.

As well, you have to purchase author copies to sign to ship to the FBA program. If you don't sell all those copies, it could be a loss to you.

Note that as of this original post date, the Amazon Advantage fulfillment program, which was designed for publishers, is no longer available for new enrollees. So the only option available is Amazon's FBA program.

How Much Should You Charge for a Signed Copy?

Again, as a new or unknown self-published author, your signed editions don’t have much value as collectibles. So your signed copy premium price can’t be too much more than the retail price of the book for these buyers. Buyers are investing in a very questionable future value. If you do become a self-publishing sensation down the road, then you could up your signed copy prices to match the market demand for them.

However, your loyal friends and fans may be willing to pay a premium for one. But how much of a premium should you charge?

Let’s initially agree that your signed edition doesn’t have much premium market value above the standard retail price. Because you cannot sell as print on demand, and if you don't go with Amazon's FBA program, you'll have to sell these signed copies direct to readers via your website. That means you'll also have costs of fulfilling these direct orders, including e-commerce or payment processing fees, mailing supplies, and shipping costs.

Preparing and shipping a signed copy also takes additional time and effort for which you should get paid. The hard costs of any shipping supplies and other materials are easy to calculate. The value of your time, however, may be difficult to determine. You need to pick an hourly cost for your personal time, then prorate it for the minutes it would take to prep a signed copy order.

All of these costs, plus a profit margin, need to be covered in your signed copy price.

Shipping, Sales Tax, and Income Tax Snafus

A wonderful new author I follow on social media was offering signed copies of her first book for sale on her website. Then—surprise!—an international order comes through which cost her over $90 in shipping costs. That was way over the few bucks she was charging for shipping and handling, not to mention the additional hassle and time this one-off international order cost her. She did right by the buyer and absorbed the additional cost. Then she did right for herself by immediately changing her website to only allow domestic orders. Hard freshman author lesson learned.

Initially, the thought of having international interest in your book is a thrill. Then the reality of handling the international shipping, customs, and sales tax issues comes in. For a single one-off order, it’s just not worth it. When I was running multiple retail e-commerce sites, my CPA and I had a chat about it, and I decided I would never accept orders outside the United States for these reasons. I would be in no-profit or even loss zone if I did.

For either international or domestic orders, you need to also understand what sales and income taxes will apply to you. Many authors don't think that selling their books direct to readers—signed or not—constitutes income. And they don't understand that when they sell direct to reader customers, they become a "retailer." If you sell direct, consult your CPA about all taxation issues.

What About Signed Book Plates?

Signed book plates—which are usually stickers that the author has personally signed that readers can apply to the front pages of the book—can be an economical and efficient way to provide a “signed” copy of your books.

Costs would include any special printing of the book plates, I suppose it’s not necessary to print a special sticker on which you’ll sign your name. But that does give the plate a more authentic appeal. A regular sticker could be signed by anybody! Plus, there would be the costs of postage and shipping supplies to mail them, and your time to process these requests.

Even though economical and efficient, they are not without logistics issues.

One of my author friends announced on social media that she would send a signed book plate to readers if they emailed her a copy of their Amazon receipt for purchase, along with their address. That’s pretty straightforward, though some readers may be hesitant to share their email or physical address with the author, wondering if they'll be added to some mailing list. If you set up a similar system for your signed book plates, be very clear about how you will handle readers’ personal information and protect their privacy. Also consider that now your own private author email or physical address will be known to a lot more random people. If you're concerned about your author privacy, then this may not be something you want to offer.

Another thing my author friend did was set a deadline for signed book plate requests. This is definitely recommended. It helps limit costs and provides a bit of a “limited first edition” status to reward early buyers.

If you are charging for book plates, you may still have to deal with the sales taxation issues since you are selling a physical product, no matter how small this may seem.

Signed Copies as Rewards

An author who did a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to cover the cost of self publishing her book sent signed copies to her upper tier sponsors. Sponsors had already shared their contact information via Kickstarter platform. In this case, the signed copy was part of the sponsorship package, and the author had included the signed copy costs into the sponsorship price.

Even if you’re not doing a crowdfunding campaign, you could send signed copies—at a cost to you—as a thank you gift to friends and family who supported you on your self-publishing journey.

What About Signed eBooks?

Since we are living in a virtual world these days, you might wonder if there’s a way to offer signed Kindle eBook editions. The answer is no. Also, readers who are purchasing your Kindle eBook are likely more interested in the content you’re selling, as opposed to the physical printed product. So they’re probably not that interested in a signed copy anyway.

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.

© 2020 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 01, 2020:

Yes, Bill, as an author, it's a pain! And, yes, if it's an in-person event where I can meet a lot of potential fans and networking connections, I'd do it. Otherwise, I'll skip it.

Thanks for stopping by. Hope you're coping with not traveling during the pandemic. I hear the predictions that the travel industry isn't expected to come back to any level of normal for years. Hang in there!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 01, 2020:

Linda, even when I started self publishing in earnest, I never even thought signed copies were important. But you should see some of the authors on social put so much effort into it. I just don't get it because, as you note, there are a host of problems that need to be addressed for such a unprofitable effort.

Thanks so much for stopping by and have a lovely day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 01, 2020:

Hi, Marie! I would never think of doing a book signing event either. I have been asked at some in-person events in the past to sign a copy or two. But those were rare. I agree it would be quite expensive and exhausting to run around the country for book signings. Just not worth it. Even shipping a book takes time. So I would only sign a copy of a book as a special request from a special someone.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! Have a beautiful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 01, 2020:

Thanks, Umesh, for reading and your kind comments! Have a great day!

Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on October 31, 2020:

I found this article helpful, Heidi, even though I would never think of doing a book-signing (traditionally, you went to a library, bookstore, or a community building as part of a literary club and took along a dozen or so, depending upon expected turnout, of your own book to sell and sign). You might travel across country to do book-signings. I personally found such an endeavor frightful and, maybe, egotistical. Besides, I'd have to write a book first!

You brought up some good points. Economically, it probably just isn't worth offering a signed book, and, as you have said, signing just doesn't work with e-books.

Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on October 31, 2020:

Interesting information.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 30, 2020:

I have thought about self publishing a book, but I've never considered signing copies of it. I can see by reading your article that there would certainly be problems involved in the process!

I hope you have an enjoyable weekend, Heidi.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on October 30, 2020:

Nice discussion, Heidi. I guess a signed copy does add that personal touch, which makes us feel special. From the authors perspective I would think of it as more of a pain in the butt if it required the time and cost of shipping. I guess if I was doing a book signing where I was meeting people then it sounds like a great idea.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 30, 2020:

Flourish, that's one reason why I don't usually shop on the likes of Etsy or eBay. Yes, I'd love to support other creatives, but the cost is prohibitive for both them and me.

My hubby once bought some items on Etsy that were coming from Europe (I think). OMG, it was such a hassle. Paperwork and then there was the hassle of handling the signature for a rare DHL delivery. Ridiculous. Just not worth it.

Yep, I'd only do a signature on request and with special arrangements between myself and the reader, not as a standard offering to the public. But who would want my signature that bad?

Thanks for adding that angle to the discussion! Have a safe and fun Halloween Weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 30, 2020:

Hi, Pamela! I agree that this new author learned a valuable lesson, even though it was painful. Hey, I've done things like that, too. And never forgot it! :)

Thank you so much for chiming in and have a lovely weekend ahead!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 30, 2020:

Bill, if we were still in the face-to-face world of commerce and communication, I'd sign every book I sold or gifted, too. Just not how the world is now. And, yeah, I'm not going to get all nostalgic about it and put up with the hassle and expense of doing so in today's world.

Wow, 60s and sun? Nice. Looks like we might get a bit of a summer throwback later next week. But a chilly Halloween.

Thanks for adding your thoughts, as always! Happy Halloween Weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 30, 2020:

Hello, Miebakagh! True, very few authors think about this issue until after they've made some mistakes with it. So I'm glad to share what I've learned. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 30, 2020:

Liz, I have to agree that signed copies are really inefficient in today's world. I'd only be inclined to offer them for close family and friends, if at all. So much to consider for such a seemingly simple situation. Thanks so much for chiming in and have a lovely weekend ahead!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 30, 2020:

Hi, Chitrangada! True, there are a lot of pros and cons when it comes to the signed book copy situation. I'm glad to share what I've learned with other writers and authors. Thanks so much for your kind words and have a lovely day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 30, 2020:

Peggy, I don't know if I would be as generous as that author was. But I applaud her willingness to do right by her readers. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a great Halloween weekend ahead!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 30, 2020:

Hi, Dora! You're right. There's so much to think about when we publish. I'm happy to share what I've learned with others who are doing the same. Thanks so much for your kind words and have a beautiful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 30, 2020:

Adrienne, I had a very similar experience with a book I found at a used book sale. It's special to me, too.

You're right. These days, the celebrity book signing is really the only events of this type I'm seeing. Plus, with the pandemic, everything is going virtual anyhow. So I think we'll see even less of them going forward.

Thanks so much for adding your story to the conversation! Have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 30, 2020:

Hi, Maria! I've never thought of signing books either until, like you, I had a couple ask me to do so. It felt so weird! I think a signed copy does have some value, even if that may not be realized for a long time if ever. But your folks who got the special price plus your signature got a great deal. :) Thanks for sharing your experience, as always! Have a wonderful day!

Maria Giunta from Sydney, Australia on October 29, 2020:

Hello Heidi, another interesting article. As a self-published author, I had not thought of signing my books until my family and friends asked me to. Also, I signed copies at my launch and sold more than I expected. I'm not expecting someone who doesn't know me to ask for a signed copy, but it was a thrill to sign for my family and friends. You make a good point about what to charge, I had not considered charging extra for a signed book. In fact, at my launch I offered a special launch price, which is probably why I sold more books. Thanks for you tips, they are always useful.

Adrienne Farricelli on October 29, 2020:

I appreciate the honesty, after all, it is difficult in this super competitive world of writing to become popular enough to warrant offering signed copies of books. I rarely see book signing events nowadays, unless the books are written by celebrities.

Last year, I purchased an old used book written by a dog trainer who has published a lot of books in the past decades and this book had a dedication to one of her clients followed by her signature. I keep this book dearly and take good care of it. Not sure if it ever will ever have a value, but her signature there makes it special for me!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 29, 2020:

There's so much new authors don't think about. Thanks for being our guide, Heidi. These articles are very helpful.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 29, 2020:

That was a tough lesson for that person who had to absorb the international shipping postage! This article is another one that will be valuable for authors to read before they decide to sell signed copies of their books.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on October 29, 2020:

Nice and informative article. You have explained some important points about why or why not, the author should offer signed book copies.

Thank you for sharing your experience.

Liz Westwood from UK on October 29, 2020:

You outline the pit falls of self published authors offering signed copies of their books extremely well. It seems to me that in this digital age signing books for anyone other than close family and friends is not a cost effective or worthwhile activity.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 29, 2020:

Great information, as always. I would love to sign every copy purchased by my friends and followers, but it just isn't feasible. I do it on occasion, if requested, but that means having the book shipped here, me signing it, and then shipping it again...pain in the patootie!

Sixty and sunshine today...enjoy it I shall!

Happy Thursday, my friend!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 29, 2020:

As I read about the international costs, I thought of a lesson learned, then, anything worth doing is worth doing well.

You always have such good suggestions that maybe some of those mistakes can be avoided for new authors. Very nice article, Heidi.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on October 29, 2020:

Hi Heidi, this article is very informative and educating. I had not come across such a discourse. It will find you online. I like the way you treat the subject. Much thanks.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on October 29, 2020:

Hi Heidi, this article is very informative and educating. I had not come across such a discourse. It will find you online. I like the way you treat the subject. Much thanks.

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 28, 2020:

Well this is a hornet’s nest! That example of the international sale is a hard lesson learned but unfortunately one she will likely never forget. I often see things for sale on sites featuring home-based entrepreneurial types (eg, Etsy), and some are foreign based or specify whether or not they will ship to foreign addresses. From the buyer’s perspective you just never know what the shipping will be. She probably didn’t think her book would have an international buyer. Shipping internationally can be ungodly and the time to receive it can also be quite extensive. I’d skip the whole signed copy thing unless it was a personal request/book signing. You can request a personal message that way instead of just a signature.