I haven’t gotten to book signings yet in the books I’m reading, so I may well revisit it again, but something I was reading in Booklife, about people’s strengths and weaknesses (i.e. this one lady who is very shy and actually does herself harm by trying to interact with people at conventions) made me think about how I deal with book signings.
The thing I always do is I think about what people expect when they see an author. I think they expect someone well dressed. At my first signing I wore a black dress that I always look good in, at another I wore a pretty black blouse with a glittery pattern in it because it was close to the Holidays and I wanted to inspire the idea of Blue Moon making for a good present. I always dress carefully and do make up, hair, jewelry…things to make me look my best, but I also try and subtly make people think of something else. Like with the holidays, or, like my signing last summer, I wore a blue summer dress and silver heels to make people think of sitting and relaxing and reading out in the sun.
Another part of the physical presentation is the display. I have a pretty vinyl sign that I got from Vistaprint, business cards, carefully made postcards and book marks. I believe in displaying all of my goods…I have a few of my past books, but more of the newest one, I have materials for all of my books. The newest one is always the forefront, but it’s good to show people that I’m not a one time only. The post card describes how to buy my stuff, and I try and get people to take them because I’m hoping that when they get home they might decide to buy something. Also, sometimes people won’t like the book that I’m primarily pushing, but they will buy one of the older ones. I tend to have widely different books.
I think there are stereotypes and expectations about authors, and I think it’s a good idea to play into the positive ones.
It also helps me put on a sort of persona. My persona is a combination of the good parts of my personality along with what people, like I said, expect.
Neil Gaiman will always have my admiration because he has a reputation of being incredibly nice and good to those who read this stuff. I remember stories about signings being long over, but he’s still there, writing his name on books or whatever people bring. I like that. I want to be the kind of author who is good to her readers, who treats them with respect and kindness.
So, Cindy the Author will always be warm. But that’s easy, I try and be warm and welcoming and friendly in my real life, too.
Cindy the Author will show that she’s educated without being snobby or make people feel showed up. Which means I need to speak elouquently. (I’m not saying you have to talk like you’re at a Cambridge dinner party.) It also means that I cannot curse. Which is harder than the above because I curse like a longshoreman. I go through bouts where I try to stop. Did you ever see Lou Diamond Phillips play Tony Hillerman’s wonderful Jim Chee in The Dark Wind? There’s this scene where he starts a small fire in a dumpster to distract someone, and when he comes back to see that it’s become a huge blaze, he’s like, “Oh, dear.” He doesn’t swear, his reactions are just as honest as if he had, but I find the way he did it gentle and endearing, and I think, “Must stop cursing!” but I usually fail. And people do tend to think less, sometimes, of people who curse, so I need to tame my tongue.
It’s also important to listen. Eye contact is important. People will come up to you and tell you the weirdest things…it’s insane. Now you may think, “This person obviously has no interest in me or my books, they just want a captive audience” and slough them off. But remember, it’s not just about how the person yapping away in front of you perceives you, but about how the people around you do. I do gently push people away, especially if there’s someone else waiting to get their book signed, and I often get compliments about how I treated the people. It’s not easy…sometimes people come out of nowhere with the strangest, long winded, surreal stories, but you can’t let yourself get itchy, because it will show in your expression and body language. When you genuinely can’t take it anymore, find a polite way to usher them aside.
Be calm and relaxed. You are the expert in this situation…in how you got there, in what your book is like, in who you are. I remember that…that no one knows what I know…and it puts me at ease, because I can’t be wrong. Now, granted, people will argue with you. Discuss with them as much as you like, but remember the ultimate escape hatch. “You may be right, bit this is my experience in the subject.” That is fairly hard to argue with. Not that people won’t try.
For me, these three elements make signings easy:
Presentation: If I look good, and my table looks good, it boosts my confidence.
How I act: If I act kind, a little elegant, and if I have a brain, I know people will walk away feeling good, whether they buy the book or not. This helps build my reputation, only if on a karmic level. 😉
Knowing I’m the expert: This allows me to chill and just enjoy the experience with no pressure. Really, once the table is set up and I’m ready, what’s to worry about?
So, what are your experiences?