Several days ago I was contacted by a newly-minted author. That is to say, a young lady whose very first book was seeing publication, and who was taking her first steps out onto that pothole-filled, ice-slicked, ultra-jam-packed highway that is self-promotion.
In particular, scheduling book signings.
Book signing events are an author’s way of getting a chance to scribble in books without getting in trouble for it. We all carry a box of crayons because secretly that is what we wish we could use to sign books. You know, just a doodle of BLIZZARD BLUE with a couple of underlines of BRICK RED and BURNT ORANGE. All circled by UNMELLOW YELLOW. After all, we want our artistic side to shine.
Okay… so not really. Well… not always, we’ll put it that way.
The gist of my story here is that she wanted advice from someone who had not only been around the block a couple of times, but had the scrapes and scars to prove it. And, when she couldn’t get hold of him, she contacted me.
As with any shiny, fresh-faced new author who has no clue what is happening and is nervous as all hell, she had questions. Having been there, I was more than happy to answer those questions, but as usually happens in my case, simple answers turned into a small novel. Well… short story, at least.
When E K saw what I had written she suggested I share it with folks here on my blog because I had put quite a bit of effort into it. As we all know, an E K suggestion is tantamount to a direct order, and also as we all know, I do what E K says out of self-preservation.
So, here is my reply to that young lady, with a little added text here and there that came to me later. Not really new advice in that sense, but explanation of the advice originally given. You will notice that it reads similar to my advice for authors and aspiring writers “filk” of Wear Sunscreen (see: Use Flash Drives) – However, upon trying to actually make it fit the cadence of that piece and such, I was forced to leave too much of the advice out of it. I didn’t want to do that.
E K didn’t want me to do that either.
Still, I must preface this with a simple disclaimer: This is merely MY take on book signing events as drawn from my decade plus of experiences with them. Make of it what you will…
My Advice On Book Signing Events
Sign the title or half-title page. Your choice, but be consistent.
Keep a blank pad near you to test pens when they suddenly die without reason, AND for when you need to practice a name, as someone will invariably ask for their inscription to be made out to some name with no vowels other than y plus 37 consonants in no particular order (and only they will be able to pronounce it – likely improperly – but hey, it’s their name they just made up so roll with it and laugh later.)
Or they will want it made out to something like “Lord Bastard Fuckwad of the Asshole Dynasty, Utah Chapter.” While that might sound like I just made it up, I didn’t. I will never forget signing that particular book or the inscription, trust me.
Make eye contact.
Ask the person’s name and use it when you talk to them, even if you forget it the minute they step away from the table. When you sign their book, ask them how to spell it. You’d be amazed at how many different ways there are to spell Mary.
Take a friend with you. Have them run interference if you get a crazy. I once had a woman explaining to me how she was a REAL Vampire Slayer (unlike the fake vampire slayers I suppose) and that she was there to slay all of my fans because they must be vampires since I write about vampires. I don’t, of course, but you couldn’t convince her of that. If crazy gets a target lock on you, a wingman(woman) will be invaluable. Set up a signal so that you don’t look like you are giving the crazy the brush off. Something innocuous your wingperson will notice and understand means “Scotty, beam this flake out of here.”
Expect stupid questions. Expect smart questions. Answer both of them with the same earnest and sincerity. Failing that, use humor. It will save you if you get in a pinch, 99% of the time. This may sound easy, but trust me – after answering the exact same question for 137 different people, separately, at the same book signing, after having already answered it up in front of all of them during the Q&A, you’ll know just how much work it really is. People do not listen as well as you imagine.
Accept that it is possible you will run into a crazy who will not go away, no matter what, and even humor won’t save you. Be ecstatic when you don’t run into same.
Practice your signature for 20 minutes every day, blindfolded, until you can sign it in the dark, behind your back, while carrying on a conversation. If you manage to do this, you are way better than me.
Don’t make promises to readers you don’t intend to keep, and don’t put up with readers who demand that you do.
Don’t waste money on expensive business cards. Some people will take them, some people won’t… The book is what’s important, and in the end the business card will just get thrown in the trash.
Put some candy on your table. Give it away for free. Maybe some bookmarks. If nobody is stopping by the table, get up and walk around. Hand out the bookmarks. Introduce yourself. Don’t be shy about why you are there, but don’t be a hard sell either.
Don’t be afraid to suggest someone else’s book to a reader. They, and the store, will appreciate your honesty, and your help.
Never put down another author or their books in public. Even if you would like to run over them repeatedly with your car. It only makes you look like an ass.
Take plenty of extra ink pens, and a roll of breath mints.
USE the breath mints.
Do NOT dine at a “Garlic Hut”, “Tandoori Monkey”, or any other pungent food vendor just prior to your signing.
Don’t be afraid of your readers. Remember, they are there to see you. But whatever you do, be genuine. All you have done is written a book. This does not make you the center of the universe.
Accept praise graciously, but don’t let it go to your head. If you do, you will alienate your friends, store owners, readers, and potential readers.
Do not start believing your own press, because once you start down that road, it is already too late.
Pay attention to everything. You never know when you might need a funny or interesting story that starts, “A funny thing happened to me at a book signing…”
But trust me on the having fun thing…
More to come…