Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How to survive a book signing

Did you ever get terribly anxious about an upcoming event (such as your wedding day, a job interview, a date), I mean so nervous that you wanted to hurl your morning coffee and Pop-Tarts and beg out on account of sickness? And you wouldn't have minded if your living room ceiling had suddenly collapsed under the weight of this past winter's snowfall and given you the perfect excuse to stay home? But then you went anyway, because you couldn't bear to fib and people were expecting you . . . and you discovered it wasn't so bad after all? Maybe, it was even a teensy weensy bit fun?

That was me last week before attending my first local author day, presented by the Enon Historical Society. (This is a picture of me signing a book and yes, it's little, because I'm pretty sure my eyes are closed.) There were ten authors total and a small, although steady stream of book browsers who showed up. The two hour event whizzed by.

A couple of friends asked me to blog about attending my first book signing and while I am still a complete newb at it, I do have a few ideas to share for the writers out there:

  1. Try to learn beforehand how big the event will be and take the appropriate number of books. Yes, I know that's wide open. How much is too much? Well, you don't want to run out after ten minutes and you don't want to go home toting the same 50 books you brought with you. I knew this was the first year for this event and it was in a small town. I took a box of 20 books and sold 7. If I were going to the local Celtic festival with my Robert the Bruce books and staying there all 3 days, I'd definitely take more, since thousands of people attend that event.
  2. Find out what you need to bring with you. I just took myself, my books, bookmarks and a couple of trusty pens. When I got there they asked me if I brought my own table. "Uhhh, no." I offered to call my in-laws, who were just around the block and could've brought me a card table, but they found a small folding table in the storeroom for me. Phew. It didn't dawn on me that since there were going to be several authors there that their supply would be limited. Next time I'll be better prepared.
  3. Take change and a calculator, if needed. I sold my books for $10, so I didn't need a calculator, but I did have to make change.
  4. Take something to display your books. Well, I didn't do this, but a few of the other (more experienced) authors had little book stands to prop their books up, so you could see the front cover. Nothing beckons from across the room more than an interesting cover.
  5. Take a tablecloth and candy. Again, this was someone smarter than me, but I do think it's worthwhile to make your little spot look festive and inviting. I lucked out and got a replica of the log cabin behind me.
  6. Bring business cards and/or bookmarks with your name and website on them. I handed out bookmarks even to people who didn't buy my books, although business cards will serve much of the same purpose. They're probably more likely to hang onto and use the bookmark, however (since they're buying books). I designed my bookmarks with my desktop publishing program, printed them on cardstock, cut them out and rounded off the corners (you can find corner-rounders at the craft store), then punched a hole at the top and tied a leather tassel to it. For $18 I bought enough bookmark material to last me for the next ten years. You need to give people a no-pressure way to remember you. Someone might leave without your book and go look it up and purchase it later.
  7. Don't chase people down and shove your book under their noses. IOW, don't be a pushy used car salesman. Readers should be afforded enough time to read the back cover blurbs, the first few pages, and weigh their decisions without getting pressured into a purchase. If they feel pounced upon, they aren't going to come back to those events. Likewise, if they come up to your table and pick up your book, don't trap them in a conversation in hopes that they'll drop you a tenner, just so you'll let them go.
  8. Don't hide behind your table with a scowl on your face and only answer questions with a grunt or nod. You want to appear pleasant and approachable (and hopefully you are). Somewhere there's a happy medium between being an aggressive sales person and a non-salesman. Since this was a multi-author event, I didn't assume that everyone who floated by my table was interested in historical fiction. It's easy to tell from my covers that's what they are. A few people stopped to ask what each story was about, which leads me to the next point ---
  9. Have your elevator pitch prepared. People will often buy based on what the story is about. Boil it down to a 30-60 second pitch. If they want to know more, they'll ask. For instance, I would tell them "The Crown in the Heather is primarily about Robert the Bruce - you know, the Scottish king in Braveheart?" And for Isabeau, I described it as "a tawdry love affair between Isabella and Mortimer, who plot to overthrow her husband, the King of England".
  10. Dress like a professional. Sure, most of us writers show up to work in our coffee-stained jammies and fuzzy bunny slippers, with our bed-hair pulled back into a ponytail so our bangs don't obscure our view of the keyboard, but I'd advise against that - although it would definitely get people looking at you (and probably wondering if you're a bit loopy). Depending on the venue, nice jeans and a button-up blouse are fine. You certainly don't have to come in a business suit. But do make an impression. Me, I wore my knee-high leather boots. I only break those out for special occasions.
Now that I've survived the first book signing, I can definitely say I'd do it again. Without hesitation.

Happy reading,


Sarah Johnson said...

Congratulations on a successful book signing. Selling seven copies is excellent!

Those are some great tips you've provided. Having bookmarks or other material to take away is very helpful, because some people may want to share them with friends, take them home to buy a Kindle edition, etc. I don't think you were unreasonable in expecting a place would have table space, though, assuming they were expecting you. I've organized a few signings, and tables and chairs for authors are always provided.

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Excellent point about people buying the Kindle version later, Sarah. I've done the same myself.

Lisa J Yarde said...

Gemi, wonderful post and great photo. You don't look like your eyes were closed; you look like a professional making sure you spelled your name correctly and all that stuff. This will be but the first of many signings.