Though I’ve posted many book signing tips here, there are a few things that seem so blatantly, searingly obvious that I haven’t bothered to write about them.
I suppose I should have.
We had an author in my bookstore last week for a signing and talk. When she and her husband arrived, we chatted for a few minutes about where we would set her up, and then I went in the back to grab some supplies for the talk. Doug, the tea bar manager, had coincidentally gone back in the kitchen for a moment.
A bit later, when the author went out to her car for a moment, some customers that were seated in the tea bar pulled Doug aside.
“Do you know what that author said when you were both out of the room?”
“No,” Doug responded.
“She made some comment about being in the middle of nowhere and asked her husband why they even bothered to come to this place.”
I suppose it never occurred to her that in a small town indie bookstore, the customers sitting at the table might be friends of the owners.
Needless to say, this exchange made us feel rather uncomfortable when she came back in the store. Because I like her book and was looking forward to the talk, I didn’t say anything to her.
As it turned out, this was one of those rare events where nobody shows up. Where most authors would be setting up a table and engaging everyone who came in the store, she hung back and stood by the projector. When customers came in, I told them about the book and encouraged them to take a look. I had to specifically ask her to come over and engage.
After 15 minutes with nobody sitting down waiting for her talk, she told me she wanted to pack up and leave. I talked her into staying another 20 minutes or so, and then she signed a pre-sold book and left, even though the event was scheduled to go on for another hour.
As an author, I’ve done book signings where we didn’t sell anything, but I never packed up and left early. I never stopped trying to engage a customer. And I definitely never talked bad about the store or the town.
As a bookseller, I’ve had big-name authors in my store who didn’t get enough people to justify standing up and giving a talk. What did they do? Sit down and engage with people one-on-one. Offer to sign stock. Talk to the employees about their books. Anything but talk us down and leave early.
So, let me offer another book signing tip for authors: if you don’t get the turnout you expected, don’t bad-mouth the store and leave. Word spreads about this kind of thing.
My dual personality is in full bloom today. It’s the first day of the PNBA (Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association) conference in Portland, Oregon. I have been going to bookseller conferences for a decade or so now. Since my wife and I own a bookstore, I always attend these shows with a bookseller badge hanging around my neck, even when I’m dragging around copies of my own books to peddle. Today, I have that bookseller badge, but it’s tucked in behind an author badge in the holder, as I’m primarily here to promote my newest book, Who Pooped in the Cascades? Having the author badge doesn’t stop me from turning into a drooling fanboy, though. I had a chance to meet one of my favorite authors today (Ivan Doig!), and I was utterly starstruck.
Unlike most of the bookseller conferences, PNBA offered a whole track of seminar sessions designed for authors. This was a great idea, and the networking was worth every bit as much as the content of the sessions. There were authors, publishers, and editors in attendance, and I went through almost half of the business cards I brought to the show with me. Note to self: bring a bigger stack of cards next time.
My book signing is tomorrow afternoon, so at tonight’s “Nightcapper” author event I switched to the bookseller badge and collected signed books. About a score of authors ringed the room, sitting at tables with crisp white tablecloths and piles of their latest masterpiece. Most were in the mental zone authors tend to enter at a book signing. The process, while genuine, is routine: smile, make eye contact, chat for a moment, sign the book, move on. Some offered to personalize the books, while others waited to be asked. Autographs ranged from simple initials to elaborate signatures with little added comments.
In my post titled “7 book signing tips for children’s authors,” I talked about adding little extras to a signature. Tonight, Allie Brosh was going above and beyond the call of duty (wayyyy above), by offering to draw a picture of an animal on the title page of her book, Hyperbole and a Half, for anyone who asked. Any animal you asked for! I requested a Jackalope.
Thanks, Allie. You have set the bar even higher. I once drew someone a picture of a wild boar and they thought it was a rhinoceros. How am I supposed to compete with what you’re doing?
Yes, by the way, those are wine glasses. I like this kind of book event. Wine and chocolate and books. I wasn’t going to have any wine, but right before visiting Allie, Mike Veseth signed a copy of Extreme Wine for me. How could I not have a glass of wine?
It’s been a good day. Technically, I was writing about today when I started this post, and now I’m writing about yesterday. We have an early morning start tomorrow (err … today), so I shall sign off and write more later.
Last week I made my annual pilgrimage to Yellowstone Park to sign Who Pooped in the Park? books. There are two concessionaires in the Park: Delaware North, which operates the gift shops, and Xanterra, which operates the hotels. Some years I go to the Xanterra sites and some years I go to the Delaware North sites. Some years I hit both. This year, I was invited well in advance by Xanterra and offered one of the choice sites in the Park: the lobby at the Old Faithful Inn. Since it’s a busy time of year, I decided instead of my usual routine (a few hours a day for a week in various locations around Yellowstone), I’d just do two long days in the same place.
Signings at places like this are very different from bookstore events. For one thing, no bookstore is going to ask you to spend eight hours behind a signing table. For another, the foot traffic is simply amazing. For a second-tier author like me, selling 30 books at a signing is pretty good. I did that in the first hour in the Old Faithful Inn. Also, the questions you answer are quite different (I’ve talked about this here before).
This year’s top questions
- When is the next eruption of Old Faithful? See that thing on the wall behind me in the picture above? It’s a clock showing the estimated time of the next eruption of Old Faithful. This question was #2 last year and jumped to the top this year for some reason.
- Where’s the bathroom? Usually question #1. Maybe folks weren’t drinking as much water this year.
- I took a picture of some scat. Can you identify it? Maybe. Unless it’s a blurry picture with no context and nothing to give it a sense of scale. But what the heck? I’ll give it a try!
- Is that POOP? See below.
- Where are the animals hanging out? I try to answer this one. Really I do. But Yellowstone is over 2.2 million acres of wilderness and I just got here yesterday. This is what the interpretive staff is for.
- Are these free? Really, people? You think I drove down here to give away free copies of my books?
Yep, that’s poop
Props are a highly effective way to start a conversation, and starting conversations sells books. Lest that sound entirely mercenary, I’m a social animal and I do love having conversations. But back to the main point…
In this picture, you can see a row of round things on the table in front of me. You can also see rows of books. Sometimes I do rows, sometimes big spiral stacks, sometimes pyramids. The round things on the table are samples of animal scat (a.k.a. “poop”) that I have cast in resin. The big one in the middle is bear scat — always a crowd pleaser. That thing in the lower left is not poop. It’s my lunch.
As a complete non-sequitor, I inscribed books to hundreds of people this week. The vast majority were children. The most common names were Emma and Wyatt. Do what you will with that information.
Something new and different
I have done a lot of book signings in my time, but every year brings something new. This year it was an evacuation.
It was about 6:15 p.m., and I had been sitting at that table since 11:00 (minus a few bathroom breaks). I was chatting with a family when an alarm sounded. I made some quip about someone opening a door they shouldn’t have opened, and then a recorded voice came on asking everyone to evacuate the hotel. The restaurant was full, with a line halfway through the lobby. The bar was full. The gift shop was packed. There were lines at registration. People were unpacking their bags in their rooms. Everyone began streaming out.
I had my handy-dandy leather satchel with me, so I swiftly stuffed my important possessions in it (signing pen, poop samples, phone) and headed outside. The books and the sign were left to fend for themselves.
Cell service at the Old Faithful Inn is spotty. Did I say “spotty”? I really meant “lousy.” In the interests of keeping Yellowstone as pristine as possible, there is one cell tower in the area, and it is utterly incapable of handling the data traffic that people attempt to use it for. When I went outside, I found myself surrounded by hundreds of people all trying — with varying degrees of success — to tweet about the experience. I managed to get a tweet to go through myself, shot a text message to my wife so she could find me, and then settled in to chat with people.
“We had just gotten our dinner,” one woman lamented. “I had only had one bite of my steak!”
“There’s the difference between men and women,” I told her. “I would have brought the steak with me.”
In general, people handled the situation with grace and humor. Someone commented that a vendor with a beer cart would be making a mint. Someone else said if there was a fire in the kitchen, at least the food wouldn’t get cold.
The signing was scheduled to end at 7:00, and that’s about what time we were allowed back in. It wasn’t until the next morning that I found out what had actually happened: low water pressure in the fire sprinkler system had triggered the alarm.
I believe in using whatever tools lay themselves at my feet when it comes to marketing. When we checked in and went to our room, we found that there was no WiFi available in the hotel except for “Dave’s iPhone.” I don’t know who Dave is, but he had a password on his WiFi, so it didn’t do us any good.
Luckily, however, I have my iPhone set up to become a mobile WiFi hotspot, too. Using it for that does suck the juice out of the battery, so I don’t use it that often, but this situation gave me an idea. There was only one visible WiFi network in the hotel, and it would probably be going away soon. So I changed the name of my iPhone and activated the mobile hotspot app when my signing began the next morning. What did people see when they searched for a WiFi hotspot that day?
I’m a celebrity, by golly!
Every writer should have the experience of being recognized. It’s an amazing feeling. When I was having breakfast with my wife the following morning, someone came up with a book she’d purchased in the gift shop right before the evacuation and hadn’t gotten signed. She recognized me, of course, by my ruggedly handsome face and thoughtful, intelligent demeanor. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the Who Pooped in the Park t-shirt, the black cowboy hat, or the fact that I’m 6’5″ tall.
Yep, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.