If you sit long enough at a book signing table, you hear all kinds of interesting questions. During my signing tour in Yellowstone National Park this week, signing Who Pooped in the Park? books, quite a few groups of people came by, looked at the poster and/or the books, said something to each other in a foreign language, and left. I have to wonder how many different languages people used this week to say, “Crazy Americans! They write books about poop!”
Many of the questions were very logical, and some were pretty silly. As an example:
Did you write this book, or are you just here signing it?
Really? I’m sitting here under a big sign that says “Meet the Author.” My picture is on the sign. And who signs other people’s books, anyway?
Do we have to pay for the book?
I forgive the little kids who ask this question. I’m sure they haven’t been trained in the ways of capitalism yet. But adults? Oh, my.
Another favorite of mine came from a boy about nine years old. He said,
My parents bought me this book when I was a kid. I really liked it.
I chuckled and thanked him. Our perspectives do change as we age, don’t they?
Some of the serious and logical questions have quick and easy answers, others more complex:
How long did it take you to write this book?
Actually writing the book? Not that long. On each Who Pooped? book, I spent 2-3 months of research, building animal lists, writing, planning out the page layouts, drafting instructions for the illustrator, and so forth. Then the illustrator (Eli or Rob) sketches out each page and sends them in to the editor, who goes through everything and makes changes and suggestions. When she’s happy, it comes back to me. I go through the sketches and check everything for accuracy and to make sure it fits what I was trying to accomplish. At that stage, we’ll often have someone from the park check it over as well. Then it goes back to the illustrator, who does final color illustrations and page layouts. After the editor and I sign off on those, the book gets the final details, like an ISBN, and goes off to the printer. Final books appear in my hand about a year after the contract was signed.
What gave you the idea for Who Pooped in the Park?
My kids. Up until then, I had been writing mostly specialized technical stuff (like The Closed Captioning Handbook). A stack of our hay was torn up one day, and I was showing the kids how to identify the culprits (deer poop and footprints). They told me I needed to do a book about animal poop for kids. We came up with the “Who Pooped?” title, and proposed it to a publisher who turned it down. Then a sales rep for Farcountry Press suggested talking to their acquisition editor, and the rest is history!
Did you do the drawings?
I wish I had the talent that Eli Clark and Rob Rath have. They are the ones that have illustrated my Who Pooped? series: Eli did the first six, and Rob has done the others. They are both very skilled, and they are a big part of the reason the books have succeeded.
Since most of my signings in the park were in gift shops and hotel lobbies, the most common question I heard wasn’t even related to the book:
Where’s the bathroom?
Last month, I wrote a blog post entitled “14 book signing tips for authors.” Last night, I kicked myself for not following all of my own advice.
Actually, things started out just right. I talked to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center well in advance and worked out the details. I would give a talk in their theater from 7:00 to 8:00 pm, and then sign books in their gift shop afterward. I publicized the talk and signing on Facebook, Twitter, and this blog (tip #1), leaving the local publicity to the Grizzly and Wolf Center — and I made sure the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce knew about it. I sent them some artwork for posters (tip #2) and packed my big sign. Since they told me that they regularly carried my book and it sold well, I assumed they’d have plenty of stock, but I tossed a few extras in the car, just in case.
See the problems? Hint: they’re both in that last sentence, and there are two key words in each problem. The first one is “I assumed” and the second one is “a few.” When I showed up a couple of hours early to check in (tip #4) and chat with the staff (tip #10), one of the first things the manager said to me was, “we sold out of your books, so I hope you have plenty of them out in the car!” Oops. I had five. Count ’em, five.
Luckily, West Yellowstone is a small, friendly town. The gift shop manager at the Grizzly and Wolf Center knows the owner of the bookstore in town, and called her. Oops again. They were out of stock, too. Fortunately for us, a very pleasant assistant manager at another store in town (thank you, Smith & Chandler!) had a big stack of books they were willing to share.
So all went well. I gave my talk to a good-sized group, and there were plenty of books for the signing. I also learned my lesson. I should have paid more attention to my own tip #13 (see below), and I should have called the store before I left home to ask whether they would need books. Calling ahead might not have been adequate, though. My event was on a Sunday, and they had a good stock going into the weekend. She might have told me they had it covered. But it still would have been good to ask.
TIP #13: Carry some spare books. If you’re lucky, the signing will be a smash hit. With the economy down, though, booksellers are being cautious about over-ordering. That means that if your signing is fantastic, they just might run out of books. If you have a box or two in your trunk, you can grab them (be prepared to sell them to the store at the standard distribution discount!) and keep on going. If you don’t, the signing is done.
As always, everything comes down to communication. As writers, that’s our first job anyway, right?
(Edited July 10)
Here’s the latest version of my Who Pooped in the Park? book signing schedule for July and August. There will probably be more, but here’s what’s confirmed so far:
West Yellowstone, Montana
Sun, July 24, 7:00-8:30 — Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
I will be giving a scat and tracks talk in the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center theater starting at 7:00 p.m., followed by a book signing outside the gift shop (which closes at 8:30).
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Montana
Mon, July 25, 11:00-2:00 — Old Faithful Store
Mon, July 25, 3:00-6:00 — Old Faithful Inn
Tue, July 26, 11:00-1:00 — Canyon Lodge
Tue, July 26, 4:30-7:30 — Lake Hotel
Wed, July 27, 11:30-2:30 — Map room at Mammoth
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
Sat, July 30, 10:00-2:00 — Red Rock Visitor’s Center
Red Lodge, Montana
Mon, Aug 1, 6:00-8:00 pm — Beartooth Nature Center
This will be a “poop talk” and book signing as a part of the Beartooth Evening Adventures program.
Most of these will be book signings without a formal talk, but I’m always happy to chat if things aren’t too busy.