Saturday, March 1, 2014

Book Signing Protocols

Sam Levenson
The very first book signing I attended was for Sam Levenson, noted humorist, talk show guest, and host and game show panelist, who came to a local department store to sign his book, You Can Say That Again, Sam! I had read his previous books and stood in line, nervous, hoping to make a good impression. When I reached the table and told him how much I had enjoyed his work, he asked me about particular stories in his previous collections that also appeared in the book I was having him sign. I was so excited, I could not remember a single one of the stories, but he was very kind to me.

Years later, when the legal reference and text book I authored came out in a second edition, my co-workers threw me a book signing at the office. I will never forget that wonderful gift. They had a fabulous caterer prepare food for the event, helped me to pick out just the right outfit to wear, and got a creative fellow staffer to come up with a humorous poster featuring my caricature. And, they went out of their way to call people they knew would want to come and celebrate with me.

Just last year, at Malice Domestic, I was excited that a brief memory of mine was included in the book, Not Everyone's Cup of Tea: An Interesting &Entertaining History of Malice Domestic's First 25 Years by Verena Rose and Rita Owen, Editors (Wildside Press)(nominated for an Agatha this year as one of the Best Nonfiction Books). I had been enjoying the Author’s Alley sessions (watching Gloria Alden and Debra Goldstein) when Marie O’Day, a long time organizer and former member of the Malice Board, came up to me. She had a copy of the book opened to the page where my fifty-word recollection appeared.
“Is this by you?” she asked. When I admitted that it was, she asked me to sign it. What a thrill. My first book signing at Malice. And, Marie O’Day recognized me.

A month ago, I passed another book signing threshold. I appeared for the first time as an author panelist at Murder in the Magic City and Murder on the Menu in Birmingham and Wetumpka, Alabama (see my previous blog). At each of those events, I learned how to deal with booksellers about stocking copies of the anthologies containing my stories (published in December 2013 and January 2014), and I came to the realization that for the first time, I would sit with other mystery writers behind a table, with a paper name plate propped in front of me, and wait for readers to line up with books to be signed.
Murder on the Menu 2014 Photo by Bob Witchger
What could be more intimidating?

So, I began to think about the advice and stories I had heard from other authors and came up with a list of “book signing protocols” to help prepare an author for the event.

1.  Know your situation.

Will you be alone or signing with a group? Many people find it easier to sign with others so they have someone to talk to if readers aren’t forming long lines. Group signings can be lots of fun and may provide the opportunity for introducing you to a larger audience. Be prepared if readers don’t flock to your seat. View the event as a party where you can’t circulate, but still get to enjoy seeing and hearing from the crowd.

Consider bringing your own party favors to pass out to anyone who might be interested. Business cards, bookmarks, or post cards are easy to transport and give you a chance to pass along pertinent information. For the Alabama events, I had two bookmarks made. Each featured an anthology cover on one side and my picture with a list of my stories and website on the other. As I handed them out, I mentioned that many of my stories were available online by clicking on the referenced links.

How will the event be publicized? What are you expected or allowed to bring? Some authors have portable signs to promote themselves or their books. For a group signing, check to see if everything needs to be uniform or if each author has some latitude in “decorating” his area. A friend gave me a wonderful ship replica that I want to take on local signings for the pirate anthology.

If you are supplying books, what percentage of the price will the bookseller retain and how will you be paid your percentage? Find out the particulars up front. The event planners in Alabama provided us with all this information. One bookseller had an intake/outtake contract to help keep track of the sales. Payments were made either at the event or by PayPal, which was very convenient and timely.

If the bookseller is supplying books, does he want you to sign any for his store? He may want to retain some autographed copies. You might want to consider purchasing some “Autographed Copy” stickers in case the book seller doesn’t have them.

2.  Be prepared.

Have a comfortable writing pen. Be familiar with your book’s layout. In advance, select the page or pages where you will sign.

For the short story anthologies, I put a short message with my name and the date on the title page, then signed my name on the first page of my story. Also, I placed a bookmark on the page where my story began.

Ask the readers how they you want you to sign the books. I learned the best lesson from Ridley Pearson when he was on the faculty of the Book Passage Mystery Conference I attended. He asked each person bringing him a book, “May I personalize it for you?” Isn’t that the most civilized way to address the subject? It allows a person to tell you if he only wants your signature. If he wants you to include a message to himself or someone else, be sure you have the name spelled correctly. Keep a pad nearby where you or the purchaser can write the name so you don’t make a mistake.

If you are asked to personalize your signature, think out in advance some short, sincere phrases to use. Have a variety, so if the buyers start comparing, or if they purchase multiple copies, they see that you didn’t write the same thing for everyone.

3.  Express gratitude.

Be sure to thank the people who organized the event and let them know you appreciate their time and effort. To both the organizers and the people who buy your books, you are a representative of the writing community. Let them know that authors are good people. Hopefully, that will encourage them not only to buy your work, but also other writers’ books, too.

Finally, remember that your work is your child. Some discreet, joyful discussion about your child may be in order, but you’re not there to brag about or hawk your child. You’re there to bask in your child’s glory. Be proud, yet humble. You may learn your child has thrown a rock into someone’s window. Even if it was an accident, the window is still broken and you’ll have to mend it if you hope this or another of your children will be able to make his way in the world.

Here are a few short articles to give you ideas for book signings:
Ideas for Signatures for a Book Signing
By Morgan St. James, eHow Contributor

How to Do a Book Signing

How to Throw a Book Signing Party

What has your experience with book signings been? What protocols do you recommend that authors follow? 


Jim Jackson said...

In my books from Barking Rain Press the name on the title page appears as though it could be a signature. I use a blue pen so it is clear that the actual signature and message are mine and not preprinted.

~ Jim

E. B. Davis said...

I've only had two signings, mine also for anthologies in which my story appeared. My pseudonym I chose on purpose so I could just keep my sloppy signature. No one can tell the difference. Meeting people who have actually read my work (not writers) was thrilling. The very first time I received the best compliment. "We thought yours was the best because we could relate to it." Now that's exactly what I wanted to hear!

Warren Bull said...

Signings can be fun. I like to dress like someone from the time period of the book. Even when few people want an autograph, it gives me something to talk to people about.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Great suggestion, Jim.

You're right, E.B. That's wonderful news to hear.

What fun, Warren. I've attended book signings with my friend who writes historicals dressed in costume. It's a terrific way to start a conversation without putting pressure on the writer or potential buyers!

Gloria Alden said...

My very first signing was at Malice for the first Guppy Anthology, FISH TALES. I was surprised when someone actually came up to me - another Guppy with their name in the anthology - and wanted my signature on the page of my story.

Since then I had a book launching at my church with food, a cake, etc. and more people than I ever thought would come. I felt like quite a celebrity that day. Of course, to be honest, I have a rather large family and belong to several book clubs, etc. and it was in the church I've attended for years.

The next really important one was at Malice last year. Because my books are indie published, I was surprised to be a part of Author Alley, have a table at the new author's breakfast and actually have a book signing time. And, Paula, Marie O'Day bought my books and had me sign them, too.

Barb Goffman said...

You qualified for a panel at Malice, Gloria, because you've had at least three mystery short stories traditionally published. I'm glad you enjoyed yourself.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

What helpful advice! I must admit, I greatly admired Sam Levinson. His humor was great. How wonderful that you got to meet him.

Shari Randall said...

My first signing was at the book launch party for the Sisters in Crime anthology my story appears in. I was shocked - and thrilled! - when someone who was not another author or friend or family member wanted a signature. Such fun! And now I will feel properly prepared for next year's anthology signing. Thanks, Paula!

Paula Gail Benson said...

Congratulations, Gloria, on all your success. So glad to see your latest story in the BWG Roundtable today.

Barb, thanks for stopping by. I'm sure you'll be doing lots of signing this year at Malice with two short stories nominated for Agathas. Thank you for all you do in putting together the Malice panel schedule.

Jacqueline, he truly was a delightful man, on TV and in person.

Shari, I'll be standing in line for your signature. Congratulations.

KM Rockwood said...

It's so encouraging to hear all these tales of success! I've had a few local book sales and signings, but nothing major.

Since I have a partially paralyzed right hand (industrial accident in a fiberglass manufacturing facility--of course I'm right handed!) my handwriting is not very good, but I'd certainly be willing to give it a go.

Thanks for the information and links.