Write Wow!

Writing tips and techniques from the publisher of Swimming Kangaroo Books. Send your 3-page writing sample to be critiqued to dindy@swimmingkangaroo.com with the word "critique" in the subject heading. Your submission will be critiqued on the blog, but your name will not be used unless you give permission.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Book signings

At some point you, as a writer, will participate in that most wondrous of events-- the book signing. If you've ever been to a book signing, you probably have this picture in your mind of a line of hundreds of people standing, waiting for you to sign your book, with solicitous bookstore people standing by ready to cater to your every whim.

If you are a big name, your signing might actually go like that, but until you've hit the New York Times Best Seller List, in all probability, your signings are going to look more like this-- you, sitting alone at a table with a stack of books watching the passers by and hoping someone will come and relieve the monotony by purchasing one of your books. And, quite frankly, if you are sitting, you are making a big mistake.

Rather than being a venue for you to meet your adoring public, a book signing is more of a chance for you to sell books-- and to sell books you have to get off your chair and work the crowd. Greet people as they walk into the store. Have a warm up question for them, "Have you met an author today?" for example. Be prepared to listen to them and look for an opening to pitch your book.

My last few posts have focused on what to do at Book Signings so with this post I'd like to share a few things NOT to do. At some point in your career you will have the opportunity to participate in a signing with several other authors. You might be sharing tables at a convention or a bookstore, or sharing space at a book festival. This can be fun, if all of the writers work together, however it can cause hard feelings if the writers don't play well in the same sandbox. So here are some guidelines for sharing book signings with other authors:

  1. If you have an assigned time to be at the signing station, don't hang around the booth at other times. If writers sign up for time slots and one writer (or more) hangs around the booth at other times, that writer is cutting into some other author's time slot. There usually isn't a lot of space at these things and if you have writers hanging around talking to each other, then the customers can't get through. Or, worse, the writers who are hanging around might be more well known than the writer "on duty." If that is the case, the public being what it is, they will flock toward the more well known author while the writer "on duty" will be busy thinking of ways to commit the perfect murder on the spot.
  2. Leave family members behind. If you have your spouse, kids, and adorable grandchildren at the booth, once again they are blocking access. And, if they are cute (and what baby isn't?) they are attracting attention away from the other writers.
  3. Watch the boundaries. If the writer next to you is talking to a potential customer, it is VERY bad form for you to interrupt and talk to the same customer. I have been at shows where other writers have actually stuck a book under the nose of a potential customer to whom I was talking and broken into our conversation. Wait. Please. Wait.
  4. Introduce the authors around you or pass the customer on. The corollary to Rule #3 is to make sure you tell the customers about the other writers. when you are finished with the customer (or the customer is finished with you) graciously say, "And this is my friend, JK Rowling, who has written a terrific book about a magical sport called Quidditch.
  5. Do NOT monopolize the conversation. Keep in mind that there are other writers there as well. It's great to talk to the customers, but it's not great to hog the show. I was at one signing recently with 4 other authors. A woman came in who wanted to buy a book from each of us but she got trapped by one of the authors there (a more well known author, which made it even more annoying.) The woman stressed that she only had a few minutes. We all got very excited because she was ready to BUY. She stopped first at the well known author's table. The well known author started talking, spinning jokes and stories. The woman tried to break away a couple of times, but the well known author heedlessly launched into story after story. Finally the woman looked at her watch and gasped. She had to leave-- she had to be somewhere in 5 minutes. She looked at the rest of us apologetically as she left, clutching only the books by the well known author who turned to the next customer, completely oblivious of what she had just done.
  6. If a fellow author buys a copy of your book it is a courtesy to buy a copy of theirs. It's even more of a courtesy to exchange copies of each other's books. You don't HAVE to buy the other author's book, and you don't HAVE to exchange copies of your books, but it is really bad form if the other authors buy your book not to buy theirs-- or if they want to exchange books to not participate. I once bought a copy of a fellow author's book, and he said he already had a copy of mine. Well there was no way he could have since the book hadn't been released yet; I had advance copies. You can bet I'll never buy one of his books again. (I wouldn't anyway as his book was really lousy, but that's another story.)

Book signings are fun, but they are also hard work. Writers don't need to make them even harder by boorish behavior. So remember, if you share a signing with another writer, you are stronger together than you are separately.



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