FLY-FISHING IN THE RIVER OF POSSIBILITY
A dozen different tips for making your book signing a success
We’ve all seen those lonely writers sitting at those tables parked in front of bookstores. We’ve watched them slowly growing cobwebs behind stacks of sadly unsigned books.
Heck, I have even been one myself, over the years. Signings are never predictable.
Just last month I found myself outside of the Coles Bookstore in the Halifax Shopping Centre. This can be an awfully tough spot to sign in. People come to this mall with high-test boutique shopping in mind. I have seen them sprint past my book table – aimed towards dresses and jewelry and the cellular phone experience and, of course, the food court.
If I sign and sell a dozen books at this mall I figured I was doing great.
But I love that bookstore – partly because of the location – so handy to my home. Partly because the people who work there really love their job and they mostly know me by name and always go out of their way to make this writer feel right at home. Even on days that I’m just browsing the bookshelves they always smile and say “Mr. Vernon, how good to see you.”
So I go there and I do my best and this October I signed and sold twenty copies of my books. That is a fine fat day for a book signing author.
Which goes to show that you can never tell how a book signing will go. That is the number one tip for writers scheduled for a book signing. Anything is possible. Don’t go there figuring you know everything there is to know. You are a writer, after all – which means that you make stuff up. Which means that you need to believe in the power of possibility.
Anything can happen.
So abandon all preconceptions. The fact is we’re just fishing. And I can tell you a fishing story or two. Most of them all begin with “I went fishing and stood on the side of the river” and end with “the mosquitoes bit but the fish did not.”
Here are ten of the never-before-told secrets for signing success.
1. Make sure your bait is fresh. Remember – you are sitting in a building filled with books. Make sure that yours stands out. Set up a display. Bring a few photo stands to prop up copies. For the launch of my now-out –of-print weird western-horror I brought a small stuffed buffalo, tastefully zombified. For Lunenburg Werewolf I bring along a small stuffed wolf – all right, so he’s a husky, but don’t tell him that – you would only hurt his feelings.
Mind you, not everyone will have such an easily illustrated motif as reanimated bison, but anything that stands out stops people. A snazzy sign, a portrait of your main character, a funky colored lava lamp. You’re a writer, use your imagination.
2. Find the right fishing hole. Position your table close to an entrance. Heartily hail the folks who walk in. Wave to those who walk out. Keep smiling and have fun. Sooner or later people will come closer just to see what you’re so danged happy about.
3. Have a sharp hook. Get your patter ready. People are busy creatures. If they stop to listen to you they want it to be a succinct experience. On the off-chance if you happen to bore them to tears then at least they’ll be able to extract themselves quickly from what might otherwise be a sticky experience.
Hopefully, you won’t bore them.
“Hi there. I’m launching a new book today.” If they come closer to listen, reel them in. “This is my new book, YODELING WITH MALAMUTES, a heart breaking tale of a Swiss dog sled racer with deep-seated Iditarod dreams.” Talk to everyone who’ll listen. You are fly fishing in the river of possibility. Keep the fishing line dancing.
4. Keep casting and stay friendly. A lot of folks aren’t really interested in what you’re selling. Pity them quietly, but don’t browbeat them into conversion. It won’t happen. If folks bustle past, smile and say “Enjoy your browse.” Maybe they’ll stop on the way back.
5. Don’t forget to keep that fishing line dancing. Avoid long conversations. You’ll miss potential customers. Know when to shut up. If the person skims the first couple of pages, let your book do the talking for you. Odds are, you probably sound better in print, anyway.
6. Keep your feet in the water and stay hydrated. Have a drink, you’ll need it. Not a coffee, that’s bad for your breath. Have an herbal tea or a bottle of water – but make it a small one. Easy does it on the maximum-grandiose-large. The bookstore bathroom is a long walk away.
7. Bring a bright and shiny lure. Have a blurb clearly typed up for bookstores with PA systems. “Welcome to Check It Out Bookstores. Today we have novelist Steve Vernon signing copies of his new book PIZZA SCREAMS – A TALE OF DEEP ANCHOVY LOVE. He’s at the front entrance. Come and chat with a real bearded author.”
8. Don’t throw anything back. There is no telling who you will meet. In a two hour signing I met a school principal who hired me to teach a workshop on storytelling and writing; a radio host who lined me up for an interview, and the head editor of a local publisher who signed me on for my next book. Remember – the world is watching you, sitting there at your table full of hopeful books. Sometimes opportunity knocks, and sometimes you hold the door hard against the right set of knuckles.
9. Try and personalize your signature. I make it a point to chat with the person I am signing for and find out who they want it personalized to. Sometimes they are buying the book for someone else. Be prepared to just sign in generically – for the folks who are buying it as a gift idea but haven’t got an idea who to give it to.
10. CHECK YOUR SPELLING! This is very important. There are a lot of ways to spell a name. Ask them to spell the name – no matter how much you think you know how to spell the name “John” sooner or later you are going to run into a “Jon”.
11. Keep a tally on how many you sell. Sign a few before you go. I recommend signing them with a little space up top. That way, when you come back to this store for another signing you can always personalize it with “To John” in the blank space you’ve left up top.
12. Here’s my last bit of advice. No matter how hard the day goes, no matter how few copies you sign and sell – remember to have fun while you do it. You’re fishing, aren’t you?
I would like to dedicate this blog to my stepfather Irvin Chatelois and my grandad Hanlan Vernon – both of you took me fishing and neither of you laughed too hard when I caught nothing but a handful of stickleback perch.
I’m pretty good at book signing – but I SUCK at fishing.
Yours in storytelling,