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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Anatomy of a Book Signing

I rarely do book signings. For a couple of reasons.

One, 99% of my books are downloaded by readers all over the world. Aside from Christmas, I rarely sell more than a dozen paperbacks in a month.

Two, I'm not that big a deal. I have great rapport with readers through social media and email lists, but not the fervor that would compel someone to stand in line. I've worked author events in Charleston, in particular Yallfest, and watched fans stand in lines that stretched around the block to meet James Dashner. I'm not sure they all knew who he was, but it didn't matter.

Three, and probably most importantly, nobody asks me to do them. (See reason two for an explanation.)



Recently, Summerville did an event. Summerville is a small town outside of Charleston. It's where I live. Initially, I wasn't interested. We've all seen the sad author at a table of books with no one around. Passerbys avert their attention lest he start a conversation about his merch. I've been that guy.

Before writing fiction, I was primarily a technical writer that published in trade magazines and eventually two textbooks on landscape design. I was giving a talk at a conference on the topic. The attendance was good, the crowd enthusiastic. The event organizers asked if I would like to sign textbooks after my talk. They were being nice and I didn't want to look like a tool.

I sat next to a guy that was evidently a PBS personality in the gardening world. I wasn't familiar, but every person at the event was. They lined up, they laughed, they swooned. Every once in a while, they'd look to their left at the sad man with his landscape design books. I felt bad for putting them through that. It went on for an hour.

So of course when Four Green Fields asked if I'd like to participate in the local event, I said sure, why not. They've been kind to me, carrying my books in their storefront for the last several years. And, quite frankly, it sounded like a challenge I was up for.

My wife came with me, and that helped. I wasn't the sad lonely man and his books. I was the man with an attractive woman and his books.

We set up inside the store. As I was putting away the boxes, I caught my head on the corner of a glass shelf. Had the edge not been beveled, I'm certain it would've lobotomized me. Instead, I had a Harry Potter gash. So much for marketing.

This event is all over the downtown area. If you haven't been to it, downtown Summerville is like a movie set with very quaint brick roads and small storefronts. People walk down the street, stop in art galleries and restaurants. I was one of thirty-three authors scattered across the area. I guarantee you not one customer knew who I was.

But here's the thing. I didn't care if I sold a book. And that made all the difference.

Customers wandered through the store. As they rounded the corner and saw me, I imagined a shiver of discomfort possess them. To be honest, I didn't imagine it. It was happening for real. I said hi, they said hi and that was it.

Here's where things changed. We started conversations that had nothing to do with books. And this exchange, this interaction led to a connection that happened spontaneously. One person said she didn't like my kind of books, the science fiction kind. I said I don't blame her, fiction is subjective. I wasn't crazy about Harry Potter and clearly I was in the minority.

I sold 13 books. Quite frankly, that was shocking. But the best part of the night was this, I had fun. And that's what all this writing business is about.

The best part was a young man named Chris. He came through the store photographing the event. We started talking and I got him laughing. He didn't like digital books. He liked ones he could feel. He said his favorite science fiction book was probably Ender's Game. If he was interested, I said, he could come back at the end of this event and I'd hook him up with a free book. My wife went to the truck to grab The Discovery of Socket Greeny.

Chris came back when it was over. I signed the book and gave it to him. Maybe he'll like it, maybe not. It doesn't matter.

That made the whole event worth it.