Thursday, November 15, 2007

Book Signings...blaaaa

Good morning, y'all!
This somewhat blurry image to the left was taken at a book signing. (From the right: Anne Knoll, Robin Bayne, Mary Jo Putney, and yours truly.) I plugged it into today's Blog Post because lately, one question keeps coming up at the conclusion my workshops:
What about book signings? Is there any point to them? Do they help 'move' books?
(Okay, so that's three questions, not one, but the theme is the same.)
Book sales are most definitely the result of author signings, but that isn't the main reason we put subject ourselves to such torture. And make no mistake: Book signings can be humiliating, painful, boring, lonely functions where, if we're lucky, we'll sell a dozen books. Unless of course, we're NY Times best sellers like Mary Jo. And since most of us are mid-list unknowns....
We agree to participate in these so-called selling campaigns because it's a great way to meet book lovers, face to face. You can lure a few browsers to your table with Hershey Kisses and M&Ms, and when they grab a handful...all's fair in love and sales.
While they're happily munching free sweets, common decency compels them to make eye contact, participate in a moment of idle chit-chat, prompted, of course, by you. Your charm and wit and friendly personal will inspire even die-hard (insert your genre) haters to pick up one of your books, and pretend to read the back jacket blurb. And half of those will purchase an autographed copy.
Admittedly, the eat-and-buy customers are few and far between. Unless you're a big name like John Grisham or Dr. Phil, they didn't come to the bookstore to meet you. But even if the purpose of their spree that day was to snap up Bill or Hillary's latest tell-all tales, there's the ghost of a chance your book might end up in their take-home stack.
So how do you ensure that at least a few copies of your books will end up on readers' shelves?
You do your homework. And then you just plain work.
Set up signings on dates that makes sense. If your genre is romance, the Friday-through-Sunday prior to Valentine's Day is a smart choice. Horror, on the other hand, will sell better around Halloween. Books with beachy settings sell well to anyone planning seaside vacations. Try to get your author friends to sign with you. Worst case scenario, it's a great opportunity to catch up with what's been going on in one another's personal and writing lives.
Whether you're arranging a group event or a sole-signing, let the bookstore manager know you're willing to help market the event, that you'll set up and clean up and ham it up to help move as many copies of your books as possible.
Then, scope out the space, to determine the best spot for your table. Dress the thing up with a tablecloth, freebies like book marks, magnets, pens and pencils, a vase of flowers or a plant, and of course, the ever-important bait-and-hook baskets of goodies. Photocopy articles written about you, and provide samples of your author's newsletter or blog posts, a stack of business cards.
Make a couple of signs, announcing two-for-one sales, where you can provide one free copy of an old title with the purchase of your latest release. And by all means, display your books in fancy-schmantzy ways, to catch the attention of passers-by.
And unless you broke a leg or sprained an ankle, or were just released from the hospital following major surgery, DO NOT SIT DOWN. Stand at the end of your table, or better still, in front of it. Smile at people as they attempt to walk past you. Say a friendly "Hello!" and if their footsteps hesitate, even the slightest bit, shake their hand and invite them to have a piece of candy, grab a cookie.
Most of the time, I set up a smaller table, equipped with napkins and cups and stirring utensils, an urn of hot water, hot chocolate, instant coffee, tea bags, powdered milk, and sweeteners or, if the weather outside is hot and humid, chilled bottles of water. And while they're preparing their beverage, I explain that, since liquids and books do not good partners make, they need to stand with me while sipping.
And while they drink, and munch, we chat. Never about my books! I make a point to comment on what they're wearing, that cute baby in the stroller, the book(s) they've already decided to buy. Conversations that start with "My but it's hot/cold/wet/dry" will inevitably lead to questions about you, the author, and comments like "I've always wanted to be a writer...."
From that point on? Be your happy self and enjoy their company. When others see you, gabbing and laughing with a bookstore patron, they'll be more likely to step up, find out what all the hub-bub is about. And before you know it, you'll have a small cluster of folks, standing around your table.
If they all buy book, well, that's great. But if only one does? You've still made a sale, because they'll remember the friendly gal or fella who chatted with the day they went shopping for their nephew's birthday gift.
Book signings? Scary?
You bet!
But like Psycho and The Birds, excitement is good for your heart, so by all means, set one up.
Happy writing and successful signing to you all!
P.S. If you aren't published yet, rest assured, you will be.
P.P. S. If you're a reader with no intention of ever writing for publication? Attend your favorite authors' book signings. Even if you don't buy a book, they'll thank you for your support.