Welcome to week four, and some advice on signings, booksellers, and ego-bruising.
My first signing was a group event, at some convention or another. I had, I think, two stories out at the time, in anthologies.
The signing was arranged alphabetically. Look at the genre shelf, and see if you can guess who I, the total newbie, was seated next to.
Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Right. Neil Gaiman.
It was a painful – if funny – and useful lesson. Not just “remember thou art mortal, especially when sitting next to Neil,” but also that signings (and really, any public appearance) are about more than moving books, or getting egoboo because people not-related-to-you showed up.
They’re about establishing yourself as a professional both in the eyes of readers, and the people running the event.
Of course you want a packed house. You want to sell a hundred books, and have the bookstore owner delirious with joy and begging you to come back.
The truth is, until you’re either a cult favorite or a bestseller (and not even then) you run the risk of crickets chirping any time you do any kind of public appearance, be it a convention panel or a highly-hyped bookstore reading. There are too many variables that you can’t control – extreme weather, event competition, the President coming to town and everyone running around getting their errands done before the Secret Service shut down the roads*. Some ego-bruising is inevitable – but no matter what happens, don’t let yourself consider it a failure!
Because, in the end, it’s less about the books you might sell on that particular day than the relationship you build with that store (and any stores they might talk to). If you sell a hundred books, fabulous! If you sell one, and manage to make the staff think you’re just an utter delight, then they will be more likely to hand-sell your book – and your next book, and the book after that.
Mind you, no signing’s perfect. Sometimes that two hour period can seem like seven years in Hell. Sometimes you could do everything right, and the staff doesn’t want to give you the time of day. Sometimes all you can think about is the time and money you spent, getting this set up, only to have a disappointing turnout.
That is also why I don’t always recommend that writers go out and set up as many signings as possible when a new book hits the shelves, especially if it’s your first/only book. Pick your shots. Learn what works for you, and what you enjoy.
I can’t emphasize that enough. If you hate signings, if you think sitting at a table for two hours when the only person who walks up to you wants to know where the bathroom is** or if you have accepted Jesus as your personal savior*** then don’t push yourself. Your career, for the most part, will do fine without it. Certainly it will do better than if your unhappiness manifests itself during the signing, and the booksellers walk away with a negative impression.
If you do enjoy it? Think of ways to add more bang for the store’s buck. Look for other writers who have new books out as well, and band together with them. If you’re shy, find someone who has no fear of talking to strangers. If you write fantasy, find someone who writes romance, and cross-pitch each others’ books , as there’s crossover among the readers. I belong to a group called the Magnificent Genre Seven, who can make any signing into a full store Event.
The trick is, make it fun, but keep it professional. Arrive early, stay as long as you’re scheduled for. If you set something up, take it down (don’t leave it for the store to deal with). If you bring treats to lure people to your table, offer some to the staff as well. Above all, interact with the staff the way you would anyone who is doing you a much-appreciated favor. That way, even if you sell only one book, the staff will remember you – and your books – with fondness, not annoyance.
And that signing sitting next to Neil Gaiman? I got people asking for my signature simply because they felt sorry for me, sitting there…and I managed to sell a few copies, too.
So, seasoned pros, what’s your best bad-signing story? New folk, what terrifies you the most? We can help you prepare/deal/learn from it…
*all of these have happened to me at least once.
**this happens all the time.
***twice. Both times in Arizona. I’m just sayin’….
Next week: Know Why You Write
Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, most recently the urban fantasy PACK OF LIES, and WEIGHT OF STONE, Book 2 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy. Her first collection, DRAGON VIRUS, will be published by Fairwood Press in Spring 2011. For more info check her website , her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman) And yes, her nickname really is meerkat