|Me and my publicist, Karel.|
So why the update and itinerary? Well, because book signings and launches operate completely within the realm of Murphy’s Law. Whatever can go wrong, often does. The fact that those stumbles are generally completely out of the control of the poor author make them that much harder to bear.
So what’s gone wrong for me? Well, let’s see… The night of our launch in Toronto, we had rain of near biblical proportions. While the turnout was okay, it was disappointing. We’d been expecting twice as many people. What can you do? Next evening was lovely. We picked the wrong day. Luck of the draw.
As for signings, I’ve enjoyed them all but there have been trials and tribulations. How about books not being delivered to the store (postponed signing), day changed the night before the event (scheduling snafu), books in the store but so cleverly hidden no one could find them for about a half hour. All of it infuriating, but out of the author’s control.
My job as I see it is to be pleasant and welcoming to all, whether they be store staff who are having problems or readers who are rude or thoughtless. You know what? Getting angry will get you absolutely nowhere. Being kind certainly gets you a lot farther.
On a slightly different front, you’d expect fiction authors to be keen observers of the human condition, wouldn’t you? Why not bring that to bear for book signings? If you read my post last Tuesday, you’ll know that I’m a believer in having a strong, well-rehearsed, concise pitch. What if your pitch seems to be missing the mark? How do you know? Well, first indication is too many people are walking away. You hooked them into coming over to find out more, but after your message they say (more or less), “Thanks but no thanks.”
A subtler tell is there eyes, expression and body language. If they’re looking around as you speak, if there expression hardens, or they seem fidgety, you’re not going to sell a copy to them, but since they’re still listening, you can try another tack on the fly. What should you say? I can’t tell you that, but you write, don’t you? Try to come up with something. On my current round of signings, I’ve refined my pitch about three times. The results have been good.
Really think carefully about what you’re saying and to whom. If a woman comes by I ask, “Do you like reading mysteries?” If a male walks by I’ll ask, “Do you like reading thrillers?” Since my novels are a bit of both, I’m not stretching the truth. While I would prefer asking if they enjoy reading crime fiction, I don’t because all I’ve ever gotten are blank stares. I also don’t say something to general like, “Do you like mysteries?” because it isn’t as clear. I have seen first hand the effect another author got when she asked, “Do you like murder mysteries?” As someone pointed out, the word murder can make too many people uncomfortable, even if that’s what your novel is built around. The key here is to experiment a bit and then observe.
Lastly, I forgot to mention something that’s proven very helpful: bring a friend or relation who is open and friendly to be your “publicist” for the signing. I did this on Sunday since my son Karel was free and it was very useful for a number of reasons. First, the publicist can stand at the entrance to the bookstore and send people your way. I always give my publicist a handout of some sort so those who can’t stop immediately will maybe be coaxed over after they’ve gotten what they came for. This is especially effective when it’s a parent bringing a child in. While their little one enjoys the kid’s section, they will quite likely read your handout. Often they stop by the signing table on the way out.
Also, your publicist can peal off a person who wants to chat with you at length. Unless you’re a real Somebody, most people won’t wait around to talk if someone is occupying your time. Often these talkers are other writers, and for some reason they very seldom buy your book in the end. So basically, you’re wasting opportunities to chat with readers who might by your book — and you get nothing in the end. Your publicist, upon seeing these can generally coax them away with a kind word or two.
There’s a bit of cachet that can accrue to you by having a publicist in tow. It means you’re important to the publisher. Only Important Authors travel with publicists. What I usually have my person say to the bookstore manager is something like, “It’s my turn to help with signings this weekend. I’m here to greet shoppers coming into the store and help the author.” You’ll notice this really isn’t a lie, just a bit of truth stretching. To people greeted at the entrance, we’re a little more untruthful, but only slightly: “Hello. I’m from [name of publisher] and we have one of our best-selling mystery authors here today to sign copies of his latest novel. Want don’t you go over and see him? His novels are really great reads!”
You’ll also have someone to talk to while you’re driving home.