These thoughts originally appeared on MJ Rose's Buzz, Balls & Hype blog in August 2005. Click here to see some very interesting responses to the original posts.

Having just returned from the Redemption Games tour, I've been following the thread on drop-in signings with a lot of interest. Joe Konrath put up a great post on the subject and I recommend it to anyone who might have missed it.

As with any investment, analyzing the value of drop-ins means weighing the costs and benefits. Drop-ins can be pretty labor intensive -- you have to map out the itinerary, drive to each store, spend time in each store... I know because I've been doing exactly that throughout Northern California for the last few days. Generally speaking, including planning, you have to figure at least an hour a store (eventually, with luck, you might be able to hire someone to do the planning, which would reduce the per-store average to maybe 45 minutes. But then your dollar outlay would be higher). Okay, we have an idea about the cost, what's the value?

Bookstores will tell you that signed copies sell much better than unsigned. Although I have no proof, I have a feeling this is partly true. I say "partly" because if your book is spine out in the general fiction section, no one will see that it's signed anyway, so the autograph is unlikely to help move the book. But if you're fortunate enough to have a publisher that's paying the bookstores for special placement (front tables, endcaps, dump boxes), then customers will definitely see the "autographed copy" sticker and there's likely to be value in that.

A lot of this applies to formal signings, too. And formal signings have the additional benefit of more direct customer contact (this value of course depends on the size of the crowd), and more opportunity to meet the store personnel and get them pumped up with your talk (but of course you should be meeting the store personnel when you do drop-ins, too. That's part of the potential value).

But there's another reason, less obvious but much more important, to do drop-ins: they're a great way to recruit your publisher. And I would argue that until you're a huge best-selling author, probably only ten percent the benefit of any promotional activity lies in its "intended" value. The rest of its value lies in recruiting your publisher. Whatever you can do for yourself pales in comparison to what your publisher can do if they want to. So it's worth demonstrating to them that they'll get a return on additional promotional investments.

How to do that, of course, is a whole separate story. And because I think it's fundamental -- foundational, really -- to all the author's other efforts, I'll have a bit more to say about it shortly.

Read the next Marketing article...