Writing is a funny old thing. Like any creative field, you are working with something that’s initially intangible. You’re out there, flailing your arms in space, the flywheels of your brain spinning to the point of breaking. Then, when you’ve gone all God and Muse and Ego on your blank canvas/page/block of marble, you have to pack that star-gazing idiot away, and bring out someone else. The scowling pessimist who knows Just How Crap This Is, and spends probably just as much time slapping the crap out of the Art until it resembles something that can be unleashed upon the public.
So, once you’ve engaged in this pseudo-schizophrenia and come up with the Art, you have to get it to those who might enjoy it. As an author, this means I sometimes have to emerge from the garret and do some booksignings.
Would you buy a book from this man?
Since the release of my first novel Quiver, getting in on the publicity side of writing has been a baptism of fire. During my career as a short story writer, I’ve done some group booksignings, panels and appearances, accepted some awards and all sorts of cool stuff. But all of those times, I got to hide behind a group of other authors. Now, I’m standing on my own.
Like many of my peers, writing started off as my outlet. I was very shy, very anxious, and the thought of talking in front of people or (god forbid) selling them my book in a bookshop would test my intestinal fortitude and find me wanting. It seems the opposite of being locked in the garret, but today it is oh so necessary. If you can’t do these public outings, you’re just going to have to gird up and fake your way through it, bucko. Chances are, you’ll actually enjoy yourself!
What I’ve learned at book signings:
- Don’t sit behind your table. It’s a great place to stash your books, pens, business cards and a bottle of water (hide this behind/under the desk). But the artificial barrier of the table will drive people away. Stand by the table, wander around in its vicinity. Only use the seat when you want a quick break.
- Pack a sharpie – especially if you’re left-handed. Won’t smear on the page.
- Go up to people, but don’t be a dickhead about it. If you’re in a bookstore, people are already there looking for a book. Give them an opportunity to buy yours. But if they aren’t interested, that’s cool. Some will want to be left alone, so smile and leave them to it. Others will still be happy to stop and have a natter. Bonus points if you direct them to someone else’s book, or even just have a chinwag about something else. You’ll meet some great folks who also like to read, which to me is an instant conversation starter. Some of the best interactions I’ve had at a book signing never involve a sale!
- Keep it interesting. My genius publisher Baden Kirgan came up with bookmarks for Quiver, complete with luscious artwork, nice stock, and all the relevant information on the reverse. Posters too, which the kids seem to love. Hand out bookmarks to anyone who comes close (if you’re in a bookshop, 90% chance they’ll take one). Those who stop to chat, tell them about your book.
- Have a few pitches worked out. Figure out who you’re talking to, and tailor your pitch accordingly. Going by Duncan Lay’s advice, I have separate pitches worked out for a teenage reader, for an adult female, adult male, and parent/family groups. Depending on what they tell you, refine the angle that you’re going for. Once you’ve got this bit worked out, you’ll move plenty of copies.
- ABC = Always be Closing. Without being too much of a used-car salesman, bring the person around to the topic of buying your book as soon as you reasonably can. If you give them too long to think about it, their chances of walking increase. Offer to sign it, and if they’re on the fence that will often get them interested in a Shiny New Author
- Having said that, don’t be a desperado. If they’re not going to buy it, just let it go. Change the topic, and wish them a good day if they’re sick of talking to you.
- Speaking of signing, always check the spelling of the person’s name!
- Give the person your undivided attention. They are your potential readers, and are the most important people in your universe. Plus, it’s just polite. Don’t be arrogant. Put your phone away, preferably on silent. Check it only when things are quiet.
- Have a few different phrases to write above your signature, preferably related to the book. If the reader becomes a fan, and has 18 instances of “best wishes!” on their shelf, you’ve kinda let them down.
- Don’t use your credit card signature!!! Duh.
- Be super nice to the staff at the bookstore. They are the secret lifeblood of publishing success! Plus, they often go to great lengths to put these signings on, so be as accommodating as humanly possible. Go the extra mile. Quite often they like review copies, which helps when they’re handselling books. Give them a reason to recommend you to readers!
That’s all I can think of for now. These signings are great fun, and I hope to do many more! Brave new world and all that