A few authors out there just want to see their book in hand with their name on it, but most of us also want to SELL our books. That means book store appearances (I hope). The September issue of Writer’s Digest has an awesome article called “Going Public: How to Ace Readings, Signings, Interviews & More” by Elizabeth Sims. She has awesome things to say about all those venues, but I want to discuss the part of the article that deals with bookstore appearances. She has nine tips for making sure your bookstore event is successful, even if no one shows up. I’m going to quote her nine tips word for word, then offer my own commentary on her tips. Read on:
1) Know that you’ll be judged by your own cover. This one’s a no-brainer, in my book. If I’m a professional writer, I will dress like a professional. Showing up in cut-off jeans and an old T-shirt just won’t do it. I can think of exceptions, though. If your novel is steampunk, I think it’d be fun (and thrill the crowds) if you dressed in steampunk costume. Elizabeth also reminds us to check our breath.
2) Arrive early. That way, you’ll have time to make sure everything is in place, meet the manager, find the restrooms, get bottled water and cough drops into place, and mingle with the crowd that’s gathered. If everything is as needed, then you’ve got some time to relax. If nothing’s been done, you have time to help get it set up. Don’t be a diva and demand a bunch of stuff from the manager–he has a store to run and employees to oversee. Whenever possible, be good to the manager, and your chances increase for a second appearance.
3) Be charming no matter what happens. We’ve all heard the horror stories of signings where no one showed up. I dread the day when I face that scenario. But even when no customers show up, there’s still book store personnel. Even when things go wrong, being polite to the staff is the only right thing to do. If they’re busy, don’t bug them, but if they have the time, treat them well.
4) Take command of the clock. It’s your hour. Use it wisely. Elizabeth suggested this schedule:
10-15 minutes: Read, with intro/commentary
10-15 minutes: Talk about your book and yourself
10-15 minutes: Q&A, thanks to audience and host
10-15 minutes: Sign books, kibitz, wrap up, and go
5) Read well, lively, and little. After you’ve introduced yourself in an entertaining way, read a portion of your book. Avoid parts with lots of description, use vocal inflections properly, and most of all, don’t rush! Going too fast will lose them all. Try practicing ahead of time in front of an audience of loved ones. They have to sit still and listen because that’s part of being family.
6) Keep them listening. After the reading, tell the audience why they need your book. Will it change their life? Or share a bit about how you came up with the idea for the book, or some of the research you did for the book, or amusing stories related to the writing of the book.
7) Always take questions at the end. Do this before the book signing part. If no one asks questions, have a few prepared ones handy that might jump-start other questions.
8) Adapt your talk to your audience. If you have a tiny crowd, make it more personal by arranging the chairs in a circle and sit with them (as opposed to standing over them like a power-hungry overlord). Ask them what they’re reading, what they like in a story, what they’d love to find on a bookshelf. If no one shows up, get friendly with the staff–they’re bound to have a ton of information that’d be relevant (like what types of books sell the quickest, what customers routinely ask for, what kinds of covers attract readers, etc). You can also ask the staff about their own reading habits.
9) Sign properly. Make eye contact with each person who wants your signature, ask for the correct spelling (never assume!), and sign the title page (as opposed to the inside cover).
If I ever get to the point in my career where I’ll do book signings in book stores, I’ll keep these tips in mind. And pass along any successes or failures to you. Is any of this helpful? Did you learn something new you’d never considered before?