Take 12 ounces of published book
100-300 pounds of enthusiastic author
Add a venue
and some curious bookworms
Yield one book signing
If only it were that simple! At the heart of it it is but from being on both sides of a book signing— the venue host and the author, it’s also not. Last month Joan and I discussed how authors should approach libraries to ask about having a book signing. We came up with so much helpful information I felt the need to split it into two articles. Once you’ve landed the book signing, and hopefully several in a row from several different libraries so you can do a book tour, then comes the hard part. The execution!
You’ve got your presentation planned, right? No? Fret not. It’s not as terrible as it sounds. Public speaking frightens everyone. The trick is to be confident but not conceded, and humble but not shy. One of my favorite quotes is “Writing is show business for the shy.” From Lee Child. That’s why I treat book signings like concert nights. (I also sing and play the trumpet. I don’t make time for either now.) For any performance you dress up, show up early, and have a well-rehearsed plan for what you’re going to do once you have a room full of people’s eyes on you. I even do my preshow rituals in my car. Think of going through your presentation like putting on a show. Not public speaking. (Public speaking burns!)
For the content of a presentation: Think of some questions your friends ask about writing when they take you out to lunch. Write those down, then answer them confidently in a projected tone that the entire room can hear. Honestly, it helps to pretend you are either friends with or becoming friends with the audience. When CJ Box was here the crowd spoke to him like they all knew him, and he spoke back in the same manner. They were a crowd of people who had been following his work for years, who had been hearing his voice in their minds for years. They did know him well because it was like they had been one sided pen pals with him for years. And he knew them because they had been the ones breathing life into his career. The audience is either your friends or people who want to be your new friends. Tell them about what inspired you to write the thing, what kept you going, which publisher did you use and why, what drives the plot. All of it! They’re all very curious book worms who are very excited to see you.
One of the things that phased me the most for my first book signing(s) was “Omigosh, what am I going to wear?” What does “dress nice” and “business casual” even mean? At the time I published my first book I was a dewy eyed 20 year old with crazy hair. I had no idea. So a lot like I did for job interviews, I had a book signing shirt. It was white and I paired it with black slacks. A lot like I did for concert nights as a kid. Having one thing I’d wear for book signings made it easier because it was one less thing to think about during the event but the downside was that, unlike job interviews, pictures of you show up on social media. Everyone knows you’re wearing the same shirt. No one’s called me out on it so I haven’t ever changed my evil ways. Really, wear whatever it is you’d wear if you worked in an office (I didn’t at the time so that was unexplored territory). Either way, the goal with your look is to look like you want to be there and meant to be there.
Another tip: Buy a cash box and keep $50 of $1’s and $5’s. It helps to have someone run the cash box so you can schmooze. It works even better if the person running it isn’t your identical twin. That way people who saw your picture before the event won’t ask your cash-man questions about writing books.
Don’t do exactly what I do before every event we host at the library. Don’t get stressed up! Go with the mindset that you’re there to have a good time. That’s what the audience wants to have too. They left the comfort of their homes to be entertained, meet this cool person who wrote a book, and have a good time. Go make some new friends!
All you need to remember is have a plan, have another plan, be a showman, the audience wants to be your friends if they’re not already, show up early, dress nicely, watch the cash box, and act like you want to be there.