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Monday
Jun192017

9 Things I Learned at a Book Signing


I had my first book signing appearance at a Chapters Indigo store this weekend. I really had no idea what to expect, even though I'd seen other authors at tables in book stores. Years ago, before she won the Pulitzer, I literally ran into Carol Shields who had a table set up in a tiny bookstore in between the stacks. I turned the corner, and there she was with a small stack of books and a timid smile. It was very funny interaction when I look back on it. I think I said something like, "So, you wrote a book then?"

This gives me some solace when I think of the conversations I had this weekend. Point 1. could have been "no one knows what to say to writers. 

But here is my list of things I learned - maybe it will help you if you find yourself in a similar situation:

1. Writers are Scary

I might have guessed this one, knowing that whenever someone sets up a table in a store, it is to sell you stuff. Usually stuff you don't want - like another high-interest credit card. For this reason, customers are conditioned to not make eye contact with anyone sitting, or even near, that table. they set me up near the front door - a great location in a really beautifully laid out store. As people went by, eye contact was usually avoided, but the odd brave one looked my way.

There were quite a number of kids in the store that day - a Captain Underpants event was going on, so kids (and staff) were wearing some fun looking capes. TBH, I kinda wanted one. The kids made eye contact with me, because they didn't know the rules about not looking at the person at the table.

Not sure how to make myself less scary - on retrospect, maybe the Jason hockey mask was a bad idea.

Note to bookstore customers: Most writers do not bite. Approach with caution, but come and say hi. 


2. Identify thyself 

For serious the most asked questions of the day:

"You're a writer?"

"Oh, did you write this book?"

"Are you an author? Of this book?"

This was more funny than annoying. I joked with the staff (who were fantastic), that there should have been a giant red arrow pointing to me. Live actual writer - in his natural habitat. Friendly. Literary even. 

On the habitat thing, I think people actually thought it was kinda odd that a writer would be in a bookstore. Like they should be home, in their den, with a smoking jacket. Or at least in some grotto somewhere.

 

3. Kids are great

Later in the afternoon my eldest daughter showed up with my two grandkids (who are, yes, amazing). I found out immediately that having a cute kid on your knee makes you about 1000x more approachable. I sold more books in the 30 minutes they were in the store than any other time. 

My granddaughter (4 years old), told me this sage advice:

"Big G (my name), when someone comes to talk to you, tell them that you wrote this book. And then tell them it's very good. OK?"

Yes. And check. Out of the mouth of babes.

 

4. People are super-interesting

When people did screw up their courage, I got into some completely fascinating conversations. One woman heard me talking to someone and was so interested in our conversation, that she googled the book, and then decided to come over and buy one (which she did). Often I found if one person, even one of the store staff, was talking to me, others felt safer to come and approach. I am not sure how I can change this in my next appearance - perhaps, have my granddaughter join me. Or hire some people to just stand by me and chat. So many times when people began to talk with me, I sold a book. One, sounding very surprised, said, "Huh. That actually does sound like a book I'd like to read." (And then bought a book.)

 

4a. (Partial) List of stuff I had conversations about with customers:

Nostradamus

Bagadavida

Hare Krishna in Regina

Trump

Watergate

LSD

Scandinavian surnames

Hockey in Weyburn

Carpentry

Mental Institutions

How Buddhists took everything they knew from the Hindu

Photography and shooting with film, not digital

House painting

Captain Underpants

 

5. Social media works

I wasn't sure if I should be posting, or even be on my phone during the signing. Mostly, I kept it in pocket. Except there was the person that saw a post on instagram that I had put up about an hour previous, who decided to come down to the store. And then bought a book.

 

6. Friends are great

Again, I wasn't sure if I wanted my friends down there at the store. So many have supported me, and came to the launch, that I didn't expect them to come by to this appearance. But when they did stop by, one wanted me to sign his book, it was so awesome to see people that I knew. And them talking to me, once again, made me more approachable (see all my previous points).


7. Next time bring candy

I was given this advice but didn't take it, and I should have. My daughter said to me when she was there, you should have a bowl of something that invites people to come over and talk to you. If the appearance thing is all about approachability (which I learned it is), then this would have gone a long way.

Also on that note, the local rep for the Writers Union of Canada paid me a visit (and was the one that suggested the candy... sorry, should have listened). It was a very nice gesture that she came.

 

8. Coffee always helps

After I was given my free Starbucks drink (Triple-Tall Americano please), I talked just a bit faster, and more animated. I'm kind of animated to begin with, so I had to be careful - but if you're kind of a slower, quiet person, then caffeine-up and dive in. Not really kidding about this one :)

 

9. It's not about the sales

Sure, I wanted to sell some books and find some new readers, and I did. But really it was more about the ongoing effort to get people taking note of the book, maybe picking it up at a library, or telling a friend about it. As well, it's building a relationship with the booksellers (just like my publicist told me) (who is also amazing) - and the staff and manager of this store were quite wonderful.

 

 

So that's about it. I have a few more of these planned this summer. I'll report back any new finding. Thanks for reading.

 

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