Having had a burst of book signings over the past week — and with more on the horizon — I’ve come to one major conclusion (more on this in a minute) and some assorted other thoughts (ditto).
First, the conclusion: Signings are not, in and of themselves, my favorite thing in the world. While people like Sarah Palin enjoy teeming crowds with twitterpating hearts, your average schlub author — and I’m nothing if not a schlub* — mostly sits and smiles for a couple of slow-moving hours. Now, let me be clear: It’s not the adulation I crave. It’s the human contact. In the paragraphs to come, I’ll propose some ways that you and I can do better by each other.
But first, a disclaimer
It would be the height of dishonesty to say that the exercise isn’t about selling you a book. It is. As much as it might entertain both of us to chat happily about this or that or compare favorite movies, in the end, I want you to take the book. That said, I’m a big boy, and I learned a long time ago that I don’t always get what I want. I can take it if you’re just not interested. OK? OK.
What you need to know
1. I’m not going to attack you: I’ve grown so amused by the customers who enter the store, see me sitting front and center, avert their eyes and take the most circuitous route possible to whatever part of the store they want to visit that I finally printed out a sign that graces the signing table: “Author will not bite unless you ask him to.” At the very least, it’s a conversation piece. It’s also a guarantee.
2. If you have the time, I’d love to chat: About anything, really. Whether you take a book or not, I’m going to have to sit there. Hearing what folks are reading or doing helps the time go by and helps me be more aware of the world around me.
A few weeks ago, at a Borders signing, a woman and her teenage son stopped by the table. While she ended up buying a book (thank you!), most of the conversation centered on what the young man held in his hands: The Grapes of Wrath. It was a blast to be able to chat with him about it and to tell him not to dismiss the turtle chapter, that it would all become clear once he was done. I’m thankful they stopped by.
3. Laughter is the opposite of soul-crushing: There’s a caged-animal-on-display aspect of signings that a lot of authors find distasteful. We have a lot of reasons for being there — promoting our work, supporting the stores that stock our titles, maintaining the court-mandated 150 yards from all schools — but I haven’t met an author yet who doesn’t appreciate the folks who come by, crack a joke and let some oxygen back into the room. So to those who do us this valuable service, I say thanks.
What I need to do
1. Have a good answer for this question: “What’s your book about?” All I can say is that I’m honing it.
2. Get up from the damned table: At my first signing, I never left my seat, and I sold about three books in two hours. Subsequent efforts have involved more movement and, not surprisingly, more sales. Just as important, they’ve led to more satisfying interactions with my favorite kind of people: the kind who love books.
3. Bring candy: No lie. It makes the table more inviting. I’ve been heavy on the chocolate of late. If you’d like something different — particularly if you’re going to be at the Billings Hastings this Saturday — let me know in the comments section.
* — Lest you think that I’m being falsely humble here, I point you to this excellent essay in the Indie Reader magazine on the death of the book tour. In it, Charles Stillwagon of the Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver says of midlist and debut (that’s me) authors:
“Why would they think that anyone would want to come out to meet them?”
Why, indeed. Let’s take the over-inflated bastards out back and kick the bejeezus out of them.