Thursday, November 19, 2009

Book signings (and why we love to hate them)

From the Heart would like to welcome guest blogger and Pencil Box Crew Member Loree Lough today. Loree published this blog this past week and it was one of the best articles that we have read on this subject so Joyce invited Loree to share this vital information with our readers!

Say the word “book” to an author, published or not, and you’ll likely see their faces light up. If we didn’t love books, we wouldn’t write them, right?

Say the word “signing”, and you’ll get a slightly different reaction as they flip through the definitions of ‘sign’ stored in their memory banks: Contract with publishing house? Contract with literary agent? Contract to seal a multi-book deal? Better still, movie deal?

But put the words together and watch the fun start! This simple two-word phrase can strike terror in the hearts of best-sellers and gonna bees alike. Like it or not, book signings are high on the list of awful, annoying, aggravating self-promotional chores such as enrolling at Internet social networking sites, creating a web site, blogging, and other equally agonizing marketing chores.

Over the years, I’ve logged close to 100 book signings, myself, and in my opinion, book signings are right up there with childbirth, root canals, and hearing “Yes, that was me kissin’ Bethanie Miller” on my “Most Painful Life Experiences” list.

‘Saddle blocks’, Novocain, and a kick to the shin helped dull the ache of the other stuff, and learning how to “put on” a good book signing made those less painful, too. In the hope of sparing you some of the discomfort, I’m happy to share some of those learned-the-hard-way lessons here:

First, accept the fact that as a published author, book signings are part of your job, like owning a computer and having a dependable email program. And accept the fact that you’re gonna have to ‘do’ as many signings as possible to ‘hawk’ your latest novel.

If you can, choose a month or season that somehow 'connects' to your book's theme. (Like, if you write romance, Valentine's Day is a perfect date for a signing!)

If you're blessed to live in an 'author populated' area, invite them to join you. Multi-author signings are perfect examples of 'the more the merrier'.

Don't depend on the book store or organization to 'advertise' for you. Send press releases to the local papers, TV and radio stations announcing the date of the signing.

Don't depend on the book store or organization to provide a nice 'spot' for you to sit, either. Stash a card table and chair in the trunk of your car, just in case.

Don't depend on the book store to know where to 'put' you. You want to be as close to the front door as possible. So make a new friend of that store manager (or whichever employee has been forced to don the Author Liaison cap), and volunteer to take over as many of his/her duties as you possibly can.

Dress up your table with a tablecloth, a vase of flowers, a picture frame or placard that highlights your latest title. Display your books in a cool ‘stacked’ design to catch the attention of passers-by.

Put your business cards beside a bowl of candy or plate of cookies, and invite people to have a free snack, with permission of course! (They won't be allowed to wander the store while eating, so it's a perfect opportunity for you to talk with them!)

If the signing coincides with a holiday, decorate your table to commemorate it! A red-white-and-blue theme the 4th of July, hearts and cupids for Valentines’ Day, feminine flowers for Mothers’ Day, turkeys and autumn leaves for Thanksgiving, angels and Santas for Christmas and… you get the idea….

Choose a favorite charity and vow to donate a portion of the day’s proceeds to it. Naturally, a multi-author event requires you to get everybody on board, but experience has taught me that’s easy… if you choose an organization that touches the lives of many, like Autism or Childhood Diabetes, heart disease or cancer. The charitable angle takes the focus from you and your books, and puts it on something so much more important… and the media loves stories about ‘causes’. If you get a little free press while they’re covering this worthy fund-raising event? Well, you’re gonna feel terrific for two reasons, that’s what!

Now… Father Time and Mother Nature might just decide to mess things up, despite all your careful planning. So if a snowstorm or a FOOTBALL game ( we could not list a particular team here since Loree's and the Pittsburgh home team differ :-) stops people from attending your book signing? Use the time to your advantage! Hurricane Bertha caused a major meltdown for me years ago at a tiny book store in a hard-to-reach strip mall. I could count on one hand the number of people who ventured out that day, and have fingers left over… and sold exactly two books. So I perched on the end of the cashier’s counter and chatted with the store owner and his wife. We met for steamed crabs a few weeks later, and have repeated the ‘date’ annually, ever since. And guess which store is one of the first to order my latest book….

But I digress…

Don't sit behind the table like a banker whose sole joy in life is saying NO to a loan. Get out in front of your table and smile! Say howdy as folks walk by. Tell mommies the baby in the stroller is a cutie. Tell daddies you really 'dig' their comfy lookin' plaid shirt. Ask them about their favorite author and book, and find legitimate connections between you and your work, and that favorite writer and his/her work.

Do not buy into the 'You can please some readers some of the time, but you can't please every reader' rule! Are you a romance writer? Then suggest to men who stop by that they can earn big-time brownie points if they buy your novel for their wives, girlfriends, sisters, daughters, or mothers-in-law. Hard-boiled detective stories more your style? Tell the women who pause that your book will make a great gift for their husbands, fathers, brothers.

A word of warning: Unless you're already a rich and famous author, don't expect to sell a lot of books. Moving a dozen copies during a two-hour signing is a pretty good day, so if you accomplish that, give yourself some credit. And even if you are a rich and famous author? Well, let me tell you a little story….

Several years ago, I attended the signing of a very well-known writer, and thinking the line of fans might wrap around the building a couple of times, I got there an hour early. Would you believe that counting me only 21 people asked for his autograph? And those 4-foot towers of books stacked all around his table? Still there when the store closed!

Now then, after your signing is over, ask the manager/organizer if you can autograph any unsold copies of your books. Slap an 'autographed' or 'local author' sticker on each. Bookstores will keep signed novels on the shelves to sell, or to use in gift baskets or store promotions. Commit this to memory: Scribbled-in copies cannot be returned to the publisher. Ever. Did that inspire a grin? It should have!

Finally, clean up your mess and any litter left behind by people who visited your table, and return the area to its former neat and tidy state. Then thank the manager/organizer on site, and stop on the drive home to treat yourself to some forbidden snack. You earned it.

When you get home, take a minute to pop a couple of good old-fashioned 'thank you' notes in the mail… to the store manager and anyone else who helped your hours at the signing table pass a little more quickly and efficiently. Trust me: These little courtesies will go a long, long way in helping them remember you the next time you call to set up a book signing!

I’ll leave you with one last thought:

It’s human nature to investigate laughter and good times. If you're having fun with would-be book buyers, who knows what wonderful things might result. Annual steamed crab dinners, maybe?

So enjoy your next book signing!

And a HUGE thanks Loree for guesting here today and all of the great advise!

From our Hearts to yours,

Hartline Literary Agency, Joyce, Tamela, Terry and Diana


Jeanette Levellie said...

Wow. I love it that you cannot send signed books back to the publisher, ever.

Thanks for sharing this wonderful list, Loree. You're a doll. I will print and file for my future books signings.

I helped an author friend, Patti Lacy, by talking to a couple of bookstore managers, asking them to host a book signing when her newest book came out. Then she followed up with a phone call to the manager in a week. It helped that a customer requested the signing--the managers didn't need to know that we were friends. At one of the signings, I stood by her table and helped promote the book. It was a joyous time for me to be a part of her success.

Kim Vogel Sawyer said...

Great article! A lot of good, solid advice--especially the standing instead of sitting. It makes you more approachable. I always have better success in making contacts (which is what signings are about even more than signing books) if I stand and greet people rather than sit and wait for them to come to me. And of course I always bring chocolate! lol (One note: Although some publishers won't accept signed books in return, some depends on the publisher. It's kind of like a "second"--they won't resell a signed book at top dollar--but some do take them back.)

Patti Lacy said...

Great article! I go a step farther--get to the store early and scope it out so I can help customers find other books if they don't want mine. Then I kinda roam the place and ask God to bring along book connections!!!


Loree Lough said...

LOVE these comments, ladies!

And since I've never worked with a publisher who'd take back 'scribbled-in' books, it's a VERY good idea to find out what your publisher's policy is... before you autograph unsold copies.

Hope to hear lots more from lots more of you. Meanwhile, here's hoping your Thursday writing will be thrilling!

Gay L. Balliet said...

These are all really good suggestions for book signings, all of which, amazingly, I've done: dragging along the little table and a chair, which I didn't use; yacking with the store owners, managers, and shoppers.

Let me add my own two cents, however. Bag the signing and offer the bookstore manager a book discussion in which you actually speak and entertain the troops. I always did discussions because, frankly, I during the few regular signings I did, I always felt like a kind of beggar. People passing by my table, despite my bubbly personality and my cooing over their pets, regarded me suspiciously, as though I wanted something from them. And I did. I wanted them to buy my book and ask me to sign it. So, though you'd never want to turn down a book signing, I feel it's always better to put a little more work into it and do a book discussion or lecture, sort of. Be sure that the local paper and the bookstore tells patrons what time it will begin and get yourself some kind of prop appropriate to your subject matter. For instance, whenever I could, I invited a pot-bellied pig along to my discussions. I brought posters with the ancestral development of the pig and so forth--giving a little history lesson on the domestication of the pig. Yeah, book signings suck because somehow, despite the best intentions and efforts, you end up looking desperate behind that table. Do book discussions instead.

Angela Breidenbach said...

Fabulous! Thank you for all the wonderful tips.

Caroline said...

Great job, Lori!

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Thank you, Loree. I wish I'd seen your interview here before. However, I did a book signing last week that was a perfect fit for a charitable event and it went far better than I'd expected it to. For the next one, I'll have your recommendations to use. Pat D.