Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Sighing over Signings

Every aspiring novelist dreams about doing a book signing, right? It’s a signal that we’ve made it, that we’ve actually published a book. And we can picture it all so clearly in our minds -- sitting at a linen-draped table, smiling confidently while television cameras roll and long lines of fans clutch coveted copies of our best-selling books.

So why was I so reluctant to let my local Walmart set up a book signing for the release of my debut novel, WHERE HE BELONGS, this month?

Well, for one thing, I’ve already agreed to do two other book signings in different cities. One will be with multiple romance authors. That seemed safe enough to me – if no one shows up, I can spend the time chatting with my friends. And I’ve already enlisted all my coworkers to attend the other.

But the Walmart signing will be during the week when most people I know are working. I’ll be by myself – sola – sitting at that table. Plus, I’m a new writer. I know I won’t have hordes of dedicated fans anxiously waiting to buy my first book.

No problem, you say? I should just chat up my book as shoppers pass by and let my friendly smile and warm personality lure them into buying my book? Oh, please. I’m a classic introvert – I love talking to people one-on-one but am very awkward at mingling. And I don’t enjoy the whole selling/buying process, either. I’m the type who even averts her eyes and scurries past the person giving out free food samples in the supermarket just to avoid a sales pitch.

Then why didn’t I refuse to do the signing? Well, for one thing, the manager sounded so excited about hosting it that I couldn’t bear to turn her down. And then I thought that just maybe I’d get lucky and meet a friendly reader or two.

So what do you think? Am I doomed to spending a lonely afternoon giving people directions to the bathroom? Is there anything I can do to make this event a success? Would anyone like to commiserate about book signings gone awry? Offer tips? Is the whole book signing experience worthwhile –- for readers or writers?


Colleen Thompson said...

Congratulations on your new release!

You're right that all signings are not created equal. Especially when you're starting out, those where friends and supporters can attend usually go well. Otherwise, it depends on store traffic, clientele, etc. If you're in a bookstore, you're at least reasonably sure that a goodly percentage of folks read. Not necessarily so for grocery and department stores.

Some people are into aggressive salesmanship. I just try to make people comfortable and not worry too much whether I sell books or how many I do sell. When I've been paired with an in-your-face type, I've noticed they don't move any more copies than I did. And even if they did, I'd rather readers remember meeting a "nice author" and mention this to friends (hopefully while recommending my book) than end up using the book as a doorstop because they're feeling resentful and manipulated.

It makes things a lot more fun if you can recruit a friend to come with you that day. If you're in a writing group, sometimes aspiring authors enjoy going to a signing to get a glimpse of the other side of the table. If you're relaxed and chatting, but still make eye contact and say hello to passersby, you may make people more comfortable with the thought of approaching.

Another suggestion, for this time of year, is a sign, which you can make on your printer and slip inside an inexpensive 8X10" picture frame that says "An Autographed Book Makes a Great Gift." I've used this both around Christmas and Mother's Day with some success.

Best of luck to you! Hope it goes well.

JoAnn Ross said...

I've only done about a dozen signings in 23 years, and most of those were at conferences, however, whenever a publisher or distributor asks, I put on my author suit and smile and show up.

Colleen had some great ideas. The sign about the gift is extra special. When my publisher had me do a signing for a huge supermarket opening, I found myself sitting next to a mountain of pointsettias by the door, suggesting to people who came in that they buy a book for a present. (Only after about an hr of them not making eye contact. I decided to just start selling them like they were someone else's book, which was much easier and worked really well.) The sign's definitely better.

The one thing about taking someone to talk with you is that if you appear to be having a conversation, a lot of people won't come up because they won't want to interrupt. I was with the regional sales manager for Anderson distributing at the time, and he wanted to make sure I was comfortable, but despite the HUGE stack of books, no one was coming up to me. Once he wandered off, that changed.

Also, if they're not going to have a poster, ask your publisher to make you one. Most will, on foam board. If not, you can print one up yourself. I always have a little dish of candy -- Hershey's kisses with those shiny red and green wrappers are great at Christmas -- to draw people in, but Walmart might think you're taking away candy sales, so you might want to ask ahead of time. Then again, if someone eats one Hershey's kiss, seems they'd have to buy a bag on their way out, which would make your manager happy.

Oh, and here's a funny thing. Sometimes people don't realize that you're actually the author. They think you're just a person selling books, like the lady in the grocery store who hands out cracker and cheese or sausage samples. So if they see you signing your name in the books, it'll help click the idea in. (Also, at the end of the signing, any books you didn't sell will be autographed and may stay on the shelf longer.)

Finally, definitely know the directions to the bathrooms. And customer service. Because you will be asked. :)

Oh, one more thing. . . HAVE FUN!!! Your first book is a very special time and you should enjoy it.

Anonymous said...


I know what you mean, because I tend to be like that, too, especially about a week before the event, I find myself thinking the same thoughts as you.

But remember, you were invited to come. That's so thrilling and half the battle right there! That the manager is excited to have you is fantastic! Let her enthusiasm pump you up, too, and be sure to ask her to announce that you're there. Hey, and be sure to tell every Wal-Mart employee that you see before the event about your book signing. Even have little business cards made up (you can do your own on the computer) with the date, time and the name of your book. Ask if they're working at that time. Whether they're working or not, invite them to come by and bring friends, family -- to help you spread the word.

I wish my books were sold at Wal-Mart. Every time I go through the lines, I run into a cashier who loves to read and we end up talking about the authors that I'm buying -- or the lines.

Remember your joy of being a reader. Remember that a lot of people are nervous about approaching an author. Don't sit at your table the whole time. Keep an eye on the table to make sure someone isn't looking for you, but mingle with the readers. Ask if they've read a particular author, then tell them that you write. Give a quick premise. Have chocolates, bookmarks and other promo goodies to hand out.

I don't mean to be bossy -- these are things that I've done what I think really works well. You'll be amazed at how people open up to you if you approach them. Give them freebies like candy. :)

Tell everyone about your signing that you can think of. I leave bookmarks with the info at offices, like my doctor, dentist, hair stylist -- anywhere they'll let me! :)

Hope this helps! Good luck! Enjoy! Hey where are your signings, anyway? I might be able to come! ;)

JoAnn Ross said...

Okay, that's a super idea about letting all the employees know and giving them business cards. I, btw, make up my business cards with the cover of my book taking up most of the front. This looks even better if you use the photo glossy cards. Then I can put my URL, and whatever other info I want below the cover, and backlist or a bit of a bio on the back. This has especially worked well since I don't do bookmarks. :)

Sally MacKenzie said...

You'll do great, Gail. And if it's a bust, then you'll have a great story to share when the next newbie author mentions booksignings. The fact that the manager is enthusiastic is wonderful. AND just having your book in Walmart is fantastic. So, take your sign (you can have one made up really easily at a place like Kinkos from a jpeg), your bookmarks, some candy, and your smile and have fun--and then let us all know how it went!

Candice Gilmer said...

The only book signing I've ever been to was a great experience for me. I got to meet a lot of great people and I had a blast meeting and talking with writers. And I picked up some books I probably wouldn't have read if I had been alone in the bookstore (or even Wal-Mart). And why did I pick them? I got to spend a few minutes talking to them.

You'll do fine, because, to be honest, they'll be just as nervous to talk to you as you will be to talk to them. I know I was! :)

carolg said...


Congratulations Gail! Traci DePree is an introvert too, and she has some great signing tips on her writing blog (her Oct. 3rd entry) at www.tracidepree.com.

I think it's a cool problem to have, and I wish you the best of success!


Nancy Herkness said...

Right at the beginning of my booksigning experiences, I showed up at a bookstore not just to do a signing but to actually make a little presentation. No one came. Not a soul. Not even the sales clerks bothered to wander over. So I packed up my presentation materials, moved my table over by the cafe and got out my bookmarks.

I walked around the cafe handing bookmarks to anyone having coffee. I offered them to folks as they walked in the store. My opening line was "Would you like a free bookmark?" The word "free" is magic. Everyone takes something if it's free. And I managed to sell, oh about six books. But at least I didn't feel I had wasted an entire trip.

So ever since then I've used the "free bookmark" approach. I've refined the follow up speech over time and I sell more books now. Bookstore managers appreciate the more active approach to sales as well and once they see me doing it, they'll often do the same. So take lots of bookmarks--they're a great ice breaker.

Sue-Ellen Welfonder said...

Gail, as Colleen said, mega-congrats on this first book! Like a first kiss, the first book will always remain special. Re signings, I no longer do them and haven't in years, but then I am very low key and not at all into self-promotion. What works best for me is maintaining a website that, I hope, speaks to my readers' interests. I also send out a newsletter to those readers who care to join my mailing list and I personally respond to readers who e-mail me. That personal touch seems much more appreciated than the hours I spent sitting at signing tables early in my career, hoping someone would stop by and say hello! But there were special moments in those early years of signings - times when a reader would stop by to talk about a particular character or just tell me she enjoyed this or that book and why. Those moments were golden and shall remain precious memories. But these days, writing for two publishers and needing to meet overlapping deadlines, I confine my promotion efforts to my website and newsletter - and, as said, I always personally respond to reader mail. That last takes time and effort but the rewards are many. This business is fraught with pitfalls that can derail and lame an author. An e-mail from a devoted reader, coming at a time when one might be in a black pit, is a wonderfully uplifting gift. Precious beyond words. And, in my experience, such readers are there for me because I have always been there for them - not because they may have briefly seen me at a signing. But enjoy the ride, the heady months surrounding a first release. It's a honeymoon period and should be enjoyed to the fullest!