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It would seem obvious…

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. Gwen, 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 Gwen aside.

“Do you know what that author said when you were both out of the room?”

“No,” Gwen 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.


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Book Signings at PNBA: Above and Beyond

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.

with Ivan Doig

My wife, Kathy, and I getting books signed by Ivan Doig. Yes, by the way, I’ve been right all these years. I asked him if he was offended that I suggest that people start with Dancing at the Rascal Fair when reading his McCaskill trilogy even though English Creek was written first. He said he agrees with me that it makes more sense to start with Rascal Fair because it’s first chronologically. I am vindicated!

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.

A jackalope by Allie Brosh

The jackalope that Allie Brosh drew for us.

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?

Allie Brosh

My wife and I with Allie Brosh (she’s the one in the middle), as she finishes up the jackalope in our book.

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.

I guess I’m one of the few…

Who Pooped in the Cascades?In the bookstore today, a customer was looking at my big spinner rack of Who Pooped in the Park? books. He looked at the sign on the top, which shows a picture of me signing books in Yellowstone Park. Then he looked at me. Then back at the sign. Then at me. Then he raised an eyebrow.

“Yes,” I said, “that’s me. And, by the way, my 18th Who Pooped? book is coming out next month! It’s for the Cascade Mountains in Oregon, Washington, and California.”

He swiftly summoned his daughter. I’m very bad at judging ages, but I’m going to take a shot in the dark and say she was eight or nine years old.

“This man here is the author of the Who Pooped in the Park? book that you like,” he told her.

She eyed me suspiciously.

“The author?”

“That’s right,” her dad assured her. “He wrote these books.”

She looked at me more closely.

“He’s alive.”

“No, honey, not all authors are dead. Some are still alive.”

Oh, well. I’m still planning a book signing at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association conference in Portland, Oregon this fall. If I live that long.

A few book signing observations from Yellowstone

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.

Signing at the Old Faithful Inn in 2013

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

  1. 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.
  2. Where’s the bathroom? Usually question #1. Maybe folks weren’t drinking as much water this year.
  3. 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!
  4. Is that POOP? See below.
  5. 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.
  6. 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…

Signing at Old Faithful 2013 from above

Having a six-story lobby with balconies all around gives people a unique perspective on book signings.

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.

Guerrilla marketing

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?

Who Pooped WiFi network

That, my dear readers, is called free advertising.

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 I was wearing.

Yep, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

7 book signing tips for children’s authors

7 book signing tips for children's authorsThere are a lot of things that are different for an author who writes books for children — especially picture books. I’ve talked about some of these things before, but I’ve never specifically addressed how to actually sign the books. Most of the generic book signing tips and guidelines apply (see my 14 book signing tips for authors and 11 MORE book signing tips for authors, among others. Here are some specific things to keep in mind for children’s picture book authors:

  1. No cursive. I was born in 1958, so handwriting was a big thing in school. We learned to write beautiful cursive script, and that’s what our generation uses for formal occasions. Today’s children, however, are often not taught cursive. Schools in our area have dropped it, and many others around the country as well. If you handwrite a clever little note to the children, odds are they won’t be able to read it. This doesn’t apply to the signature itself, but…
  2. Who Pooped signatureUse a clearer signature. When I’m signing a check or a legal document, my signature is a scrawl. If you didn’t already know my name, you’d never be able to decipher the signature. As grownups, we get this. An illegible scribble is the standard for signatures. Little kids don’t necessarily get it. If the family is plopping down $11.95 for a copy of my book, I figure the least I can do is make it readable. I know kids who don’t read cursive won’t be able to read a signature, but the letters are close enough to identify if you know what you’re looking for. Speaking of which…
  3. Sign on the title page near where your name appears. When the child is looking at the book, they see your name printed in the book and your name signed close by. The younger the child, the harder time they have grasping that you’re the person who created this book. That proximity of printed name and signature helps reinforce it.
  4. If you’re the illustrator, draw something. Nothing fancy. Even a little smiley face. What you drew doesn’t matter. What matters is that you drew it just for them (anecdote below).
  5. Always include the child’s name. You probably do this anyway, but it’s doubly important for little children. One of the first things they will learn to spell and recognize is their own name, and it’s infinitely cool to them when they see their own name in the book.
  6. Always ask the spelling. Again, you probably already do this, but it’s more important with children’s books. If you are signing a book for a 60-year-old named Ellen, it’s almost a sure bet that her name is spelled E-L-L-E-N. Young parents today are much more likely to use unique (strange, odd, phonetic…) spellings than their parents or grandparents. A six-year-old with that name is much more likely than previous generations to spell it Ellyn or Elin or Ellan or Ellin or Elhen or Elen.
  7. Talk directly to the child. I see far too many authors of children’s books that speak to the parents and barely make eye contact with the kids. The book is for the kids. The experience is for the kids. Ask children what their names are and how to spell them, and look to the parents for confirmation if you can’t understand. Children are used to being ignored by grownups. Be the exception.

I promised an anecdote:

Tippi Hedren signature

The cover to Tippi Hedren’s book, The Cats of Shambala, and a closeup of her signature in the book.

At a Cheetah Conservation Fund event years ago, I met Tippi Hedren, the actress who became famous for the Alfred Hitchcock film, The Birds. She had written a book called The Cats of Shambala, and I bought a copy. When she signed it for me, she added three simple little birds around her signature (see the picture under the book cover at right). I told her the birds were really a cute touch.

“I wish I’d never started that,” she said.

When I asked why, she told me about when she first started drawing little birds. It was a random thing. Sometimes she’d draw two, sometimes three, sometimes four. Then, when she drew two birds by her signature in a book, a fan complained.

“How come my friend got three birds in her book and I only got two in mine?”

The little birds had stopped being a cute improvisation and became a part of her signature; an expectation rather than an extra.

Be prepared, as this could happen to you, too.

When I sign Who Pooped books I always write the same thing: “Watch where you step,” unless people ask me to do something else. That makes my life easier, as I’m not scrambling to think of something clever for each book I sign, and people really seem to like it.

I’ll add a little caveat to all of this. A really good book signing for me is a hundred books in three hours. Call it an average of 30 books per hour. With two minutes per customer, I have plenty of time to chat, write my little personalized greeting, and even get pictures with fans. If you are Mo Willems (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus) or Eric Litwin (Pete the Cat), then you’ll have massive lines and no time for such frivolity. Of course, if you’re Mo Willems or Eric Litwin, you’re probably not reading my blog.

Book signing

If they want a picture with you, do it! Here, I’m signing books in Yellowstone Park. Most of the time, the parents just want the kids in the picture, but sometimes they join in, too.



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