Okay…I’m jumping ahead here, but seeing as I just had my fourth book signing event on Saturday and have my next coming up this Saturday, I wanted to share the freaky experience of author book signing.
Think you’re ready people? I can guarantee you’re not!
Well, like many of us, my only ‘experience’ of book signing was watching it portrayed on TV and in film, i.e. a pretty exciting, thrilling glamorous thing, right? LOL!!!!!! Oh dear… If you are a celebrity, you’ll have people thronging around you, lining up to get a glimpse of you and a signed copy of your latest tome. If you are a new writer…you’re a nobody. No lining people, unless it’s to the tills, no throngs.
Well, again, like every aspect of a writer’s journey, it will be unique to you. Some writer friends I know, don’t do it all, whether it’s because of time constraints or simply because they feel they can’t and don’t want to do the whole ‘selling’ thing and in fairness, it is an expensive venture, travelling, petrol, parking…it all adds up!
Other friends, like my lovely and nutty mate Will Macmillan Jones who LOVES book signings, has a natural confidence in talking to people and an ease when doing these events. Please check out his hilarious books: www.thebannedunderground.com
Then there’s me…the nervous jelly in the corner. Cold sweats, lack of sleep, bitten nails, dodgy tummy, dry throat and well, a host of other nervous complaints. It IS hard and difficult but what nobody prepares you for, is that it is also one of the most totally bizarre experiences a human being is ever likely to find themselves in!
Exactly like walking down the street naked. That is how it feels…and no, I haven’t gone romping down the local lanes and roads starkers! But you feel utterly exposed and naked in a room of crowded strangers…yeap…prepare yourselves guys!
Firstly, you will have to decide on what approach suits you best. By now we all know the changed policy from Waterstone’s head office regarding signings, so NO pushy hard sell! It doesn’t work and it’s at least one of the reasons Waterstones cites for changing their policy, because they were getting complaints from customers who had literally been frog marched to the tills!
Remember you are selling your literary masterpiece, not a tin of beans. Nobody likes being hassled, especially if they’re in a bookshop quietly browsing…so back off. Always go with a relaxed soft sell approach.
That aside, you still need to decide how to do this. Do you stand and wander round the shop? Stay permanently seated at your table? Or a mixture of both? Sometimes the bookshop will tell you what they would like you to do, so you can just follow those guidelines.
My friends all do it slightly differently, which works for them. You’ll need to find out what works for YOU. For me…I just don’t have the confidence to wander, so I tend to stay permanently glued to my table and let people come up to me, or not.
Even though all the Waterstones staff I have met have been absolutely lovely, very friendly, welcoming, helpful and ply you with as much tea/coffee as you want, you will most likely be given a small round black table only a little bigger than a napkin, to display your books. So be prepared!
You may be placed in the fantasy section, teen section, children’s section or by the doors, it totally depends on the store. If they are planning to place you right at the back, you can very sweetly ask if you could be moved. Remember they want you to be every bit as successful as you want to be. You sell a lot of books, it’s great for the store, great for you and most likely you’ll be asked back.
As far as symbiotic relationships go, it’s pretty good – they are the oak tree and you are the nourishing fungus at its roots! Ummm…now doesn’t that sound sexy?!
The next thing you need to be prepared for is…people. Lots of them, none of them, crowds jostling past you, ignoring you, bumping into you. People glancing at you and your book then thinking better of it, shy people wanting to approach but nervously edging past, brash people, “So, what’s it about?” You start your well rehearsed but genuine spiel, “Nah…not for me,” as they drop it on the pile with a clunk. You notice the smear of finger prints on the cover and quickly pop it to the bottom of the pile.
Also, depending on where you are stationed, be prepared for arses (asses for my lovely American friends) and lots of them as you see them leave the shop having NOT bought your book, or worse still, as they queue at the tills and the queue goes back to you. Suddenly you’re sitting in a forest of people’s legs, backs and arses, totally obscured!
You’ll find yourself with a gentle fixed smile, trying not to look desperate as you shift your weight, stare aimlessly into middle distance or try to make eye contact and lightly engage passersby with a, “good morning,” you check your watch. Damn it! It’s 12:30pm. So you change tact to, “good afternoon”.
Or you start to play ‘spot the fantasy fan’ – a fun game which entails eyeing everyone coming into the shop and trying to place which section they’ll head for. Even though I’ve only done 4 signings so far (my amazing book launch at Octavia’s Bookshop and three lovely Waterstones branches to date, with more going right up to Christmas) I’m getting pretty good at this detective game.
But the frustration comes, if you see someone heading and then lingering in the fantasy section and before you can get a chance to talk to them, they’ve left the shop carrying a Robert Jordan, G.R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb, David Brett and walked straight past you without noticing…despite the 7ft banner next to you! You could try a net or lasso, but I wouldn’t recommend it!
Then, may get the ones who have no intention of buying your book but haven’t had a decent conversation with anyone in a while and as you’re just sitting there doing nothing, how about a chat? You know what? Always be gracious and grateful…at the very least you are talking to someone and look busy – this is good! Unless of course they stop you from engaging with those who really are interested in buying your book. Tricky.
Then, you get the good stuff, the reason you are there, putting yourself through this…the interested person…what a thrill! The person or people who ask questions, are really engaged when you tell them about the story, who ask about when and why you started writing it, your inspirations and in my case, those who get totally enthralled with my illustrations.
Btw, it really really helps to have visual aids! I’m lucky, I have my own illustrations so I enlarge them, colour some of them, even laminate them and put them in this flick through book for people to…er…flick through! If you don’t have any visual aids – GET THEM!
Now don’t get me wrong, even though the experience can be akin to having root canal, which I have had, there is a genuinely awesome payoff - you get to be on the frontline, talking to people about your book, the characters, the plot, how you created it, what your influences are, and most amazingly, you get to sign a book and watch someone walk to the tills and buy it!!!!!!!!!!!
There really isn’t anything like it!
If I hadn’t been sitting in public, I would have welled up and cried, it’s that emotional. A really unforgettable and moving moment.
That’s why you do it, why you put yourself through the nervous emotional exhaustion of it, not to mention the difficulty of travelling there, finding somewhere to park, finding the store etc - because the payoff is SO sweet. Isn’t that what we all want? To feel that sensation – pride, accomplishment and sheer joy? It doesn’t happen often in life so try to embrace it when it does.
So the next time you’re in a bookshop, do spare a thought for the lonely author sitting or standing there, being brave or possibly nutty, and go and talk to them. Even if they’re selling a manual on how to clean the inner tubing from a bicycle wheel and you couldn’t be less interested in what they are selling and certainly don’t want to buy it…spare a thought for them and go a have a natter and a smile, you’ll really make their day! xx
P.S. Make sure you have a bottle of water, you’ll need it. In your nervousness, if you knock it over you’re not going to spoil your precious books. Oh…and make sure you have at least three pens, at least one is likely to fail on you!
P.P.S. I must say a special mention to my pal Lucy for stopping by and saying hello yesterday while I was book signing in Waterstones Cribbs Causeway, thank you honey! AND a special mention to Bryony, the lovely lady I meet yesterday who was so interested in my book and who I had a fascinating chat with. I hope you keep going with your writing sweetie, and DO check out The Alliance of Worldbuilders on www.authonomy.com and on it’s own website http://theallianceofworldbuilders.weebly.com we’d love to see you on there with the rest of us nutters!.
Right, so that’s it, at least for now…everything you needed to know about author signing events, but were afraid to ask! HUGE good luck guys and I hope to meet you on the circuit! ;D xx