Writer Wednesday: About those Book Signings…

I have a book signing coming up this Saturday at the beyond wonderful indie bookstore Farley’s Bookshop in New Hope, PA.  It’s from 1-4 p.m. Stop by if you can!  I haven’t really done too many book signings this year, so this got me thinking about all those book signings I have done in the past.

I used to have several a month, sometimes even a few a week.  I kept my book signing stuff together in one spot in my office, ready to grab and go. A bag of book plates, pens, fliers, signs, and candy to give away (usually chocolate kisses).  But now I feel almost rusty.  Since it has been a while, well, needless to say the chocolates are all gone.  My fliers are used up or just out of date, missing the most recent reviews.  And is that sign seriously turning yellow?

Jeesh.

The last huge book signing I did was back at another beloved indie, Doylestown Bookshop. That was for the launch of DRAWN way back in January.  Since then, my books have been for sale at various events where I’ve put in appearances. At these, I’d sign a copy of  a novel if someone approached me with one.  But I haven’t really done one of those “sit at a table for a few hours and smile” thingees for DRAWN.

Book launches are a blast to do. It’s the first time your book hits the stands, and all your friends and family rally with readers to show up and celebrate and eat cake. At these the author feels an outpouring of love and appreciation.  There’s constant conversation. And, as I mentioned, there’s cake. Many books are sold.  You head home feeling awesome.

But other signings, well…

I’ve recently talked to a number of new writers all fired up for their very first signing.  It’s such a landmark, and such a thrill.  I never want to bring them down, but I wish there was some tactful way to prepare the new author for that second signing. Or that third and fourth.  Not every signing will sell 100 copies like you did on launch night. If I could somehow make them lower their expectation and view every signing as a success even if not a single book was sold, it might spare them from that sinking feeling of misery.  Same feeling you got as a kid when teams were picking sides and the captains argued over who would get stuck with you. Blech.

I’ve been at signings where not one person showed up. I’ve been at signings where someone came up and asked, “Do you people sell rubber bands?”  I told them I didn’t work there, and I was the author.  “Oh, really?  You wrote these?”  So, fine. Lesson learned. I started wearing a tag that said: Marie Lamba, AUTHOR.  And I made a giant poster with the book cover, and my picture.  And at the next signing someone walked up to me and asked, “Do you guys sell magazines?”

I’ve had people come and talk to me forever about my book, about writing, and then not buy the book.  I’ve had people not stop or talk to me at all, which is far worse.  I’ve been scheduled to give a talk, and showed up to a space with seating for 100, and only the bookstore person and my daughter came.  I gave a talk at an urban Barnes and Noble, and the audience was made up of a sleeping homeless guy, and a woman who sat in that space every day just to knit. No clapping that day.

But you know what?  It’s a total crap shoot.  I’ve had talks that I thought would surely be a disaster, and when I got there, the room was so packed they had to drag in extra seating.  And I sold a ton of books afterwards.  I’ve done signings where people flocked to the table, eager to buy. I’ve been at signings where old high school friends showed up and brought their kids.  I’ve been at bookstores where fans of my books came and acted like I was a rock star!

You never know. So you lower your expectations to none, and smile.  Book signings can definitely keep you humble. You’ve got to remember that not everyone is a reader. That people are busy. That times are tough. That reading is a subjective thing, so not everyone will be interested in what you write about. That some people feel they can’t walk over to talk to you, because if they don’t then buy your book it’ll be weird.

So how can every book signing be a success? Well, I always use a signing as a newsworthy moment. An appropriate time to tell the area about my books through press releases and feature stories that I send out to press, and through announcements on social media.  That’s a win.  Someone could read about your book and buy it at a later time. At signings, I always enjoy interacting with the bookstore staff and supporting what they do.  I work hard to make the event fun (bringing munchies for the booksellers, too), and I’m building relationships with these fellow book lovers. The bookstore also always has me sign the remaining stock, so that even if the signing felt like a bust, the books will probably be prominently displayed and sold.

And then there is the experience of meeting people…something we isolated authors don’t get to do on a daily basis.  We can yak about books and writing, and share our book info with others.

So, if I could speak directly to those new authors out there, I would like to tell them to not count the success of a signing by the number of copies sold. To check egos at the door, but haul along your sense of humor.

And you may want to find out ahead of time if the bookstore sells rubber bands!

Wish me luck on Saturday…