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The Zen of Book Signings

First, a disclaimer. My tongue is firmly in cheek on that title. Book signings can make you feel like a million bucks or they can be two-three hours of ego-flagellating hell. But this morning I’m not writing about the ego-flagellating hell kind. Instead, I’m going to talk about some recent signings that have gone well.

But you should probably know, my definition of a “signing gone well” and any media-fueled fantasies you might have about arrival in a shiny limo, lines of fans snaking out the door, and Entertainment Weekly reporters covering the event have nothing in common. Here’s my real-world criteria for success:

1. My smiles are genuine, not the increasingly-desperate kind that make me want to Vaseline my teeth and (alternatively) stick my head in a gas oven.
2. The booksellers offer active support, and someone on duty has prepared for (and knows about!) your arrival. There are signs announcing the event, (if the press cooperates) newspaper or in-store flyers doing the same, staff members directing store traffic and chatting up your deathless prose, and a pleasant, genuine exchange of “Thanks so much for coming. Please let us know when your next release is out” and “Thanks so much for having me. I really enjoyed my time here.” Telling the bookseller (especially independents) about what you love about the store is a nice addition if you mean it.
3. There’s excellent store traffic. Ask about good times when scheduling the signing. If there’s a howling blizzard or monsoon happening, this isn’t going to happen and it’s no one’s fault. Use the time to chat with the nice bookseller about (what else) books. She’ll then remember you as an interesting, nice person instead of a whiny-baby diva who’s angry about poor turn-out. If she really likes you, she’s likely to hand-sell you book. If you’re a demanding jackass, she’ll start stripping covers before you hit the parking lot.
4. Okay, here’s the hard part. Some people that you should know show up and offer moral support or (if they’re feeling generous) sales. It takes an effort to get to know this people. It takes authentic, positive interest in them rather than exploitative greed for sales. It takes personally asking them to attend so you don’t end up feeling like the sample lady at the grocery store standing there repelling people with pound-puppy eyes and the stench of desperation.
5. Partnering can be great. I’ve found signing with one other author to be ideal if it’s someone you enjoy and neither one of you sits around counting the number of books sold (bad idea) and measuring yourself (worse) against the other person. This is where the Zen of Book Signings comes in, for all you overly-competitive types. Your journey is your journey, totally unconnected with any other author’s success or failure. And no, this business isn’t fair. Either learn to deal with that, or find another business.

If you sign with one other author, you can keep each other entertained during lulls and draw potential customers to each other. One author’s customer will often try a second author’s book (at least to be polite if you’ve been friendly.) If you sign with more than one or two others, this often backfires. Customers can’t afford to buy everyone’s books, so they may feel bad and avoid talking to any of you, or they’ll have to pick and choose the kind of book they most enjoy. Let this be okay with you (the Zen thing again) and go have fun and network. Otherwise, skip the group signings.

These are just a few opinions I’ve formed over the close-to-ten years (already?) I’ve been doing autographing events. It took me a few years to settle on the “Zen” thing. I spent the first few trying (against my nature) to sell, sell, sell books in the recommended, in-your-face manner espoused at the time. That wasn’t for me, and it never will be. Because I’ve begun to believe that the very best thing I can do to ensure a successful signing is to write books worthy of repeat customers to fuel my future sales.

And isn’t that the reason we do signings in the first place?

I’d love to hear signing tips and/or horror stories from others. Meanwhile, thanks to the booksellers from my recent spate of signings: Katy Budget Books, The Woodlands Barnes and Noble, and Houston's fabulous Murder by the Book. Thanks, too, to signing buddy Christie Craig (on the left in our photo from the wonderfully-supportive Katy Budget Books) and the many friends and fellow RWA members who came out to support us.


Christie Craig said…

It's so true. We had a Zen of a time at each autographing. We chatted with each other, sold each other's books, and just enjoyed talking with the attendees, some of which we knew, and some who just stopped by to see what was going on.

It has been extra special having someone to sit beside during these autographing. Thanks for teaming up with me.

Christie Craig
Jolie Mathis said…
I had such a great time at your joint booksigning yesterday!! Murder By The Book has such a GREAT pro-author atmosphere, and I really enjoyed the q & a time with the two of you! My only regret was that I couldn't stay longer!
Anonymous said…
Sounds like you and Christie had a great time. I did a signing with Kathleen Bacchus (she of Calamity Jane fame!) in Des Moines last May. It was my most successful signing to date. I'd just spoken for the Iowa Romance Novelists and they turned out in droves for me (of course, it may have been because I'd totaled my car three months earlier trying to get up there to speak to them in the dead of winter.) The wonderful folks at Waldenbooks actually held my case of MAIDENSONG and ERINSONG for three months, waiting till I could make the trip safely. Still blowing them kisses!

It was lovely to get to know Kathleen a little better. Writers are such interesting people.
Happy Signing!
Thanks for stopping by the signing, Jolie/Kim. It was great seeing you there.

Christie, your energy's infectious. I've gotten recharged on signings are doing these ones with you.

What a way to draw a crowd (referring to the car wreck)! Kathy Bacchus (not sure of the spelling) is terrific. I like her and her Calamity capers. :) I'm glad you two had fun.
TJ Bennett said…
Thanks for showing me how "book signings are done," ladies. Now, of course, I'm hopelessly intimidated. :-) Yours was a blast, and I'd follow you anywhere. In a sort of non-stalkerish way, of course.

Jenny Gardiner said…
Learning from the pros! Thanks for the tips--will bear these in mind as book signings are on the horizon ;-)
Thanks for stopping by, Jenny, and glad you could come along, TJ. It was lots of fun.

And now that I know the attention's "non-stalkerish," I'll cancel that restraining order. (VBG)
Anonymous said…
What a wonderful attitude toward signings, Colleen. That's my type of Zen.:}
Anonymous said…
Everything you said is so true and I've particularly found that having someone to keep me company is a God-send. Stacy at Katy Budget Books sat with me this past Saturday when I was signing there, and she not only made me feel welcome and comfortable, she made it easier for me to strike up conversations with customers. It was such a pleasant experience I found myself wanting it to go on and on.

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