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Book Signings

If your book is even a little successful (your metric for success is personal; I tend to find that "available in printed form without involving a vanity publisher" equates to "successful enough for the moment"), you will have to do a book signing. Here are some arguably helpful observations:

  1. Envision a book signing, like you might see on television or in movies. Do you have that securely in your mind? Good. That won't happen. There will not be a polite queue of fans eager to get your autograph. There will not be a queue at all, not until you have a half dozen books out and/or a television series based on your work. People - almost entirely friends and family - may come, but it will not be in such profusion that there will be the need to line up. Further, almost no one will request you to sign any body part, particularly not anyone whose body parts you would care to sign.
  2. People tend to expect you to write more in their books than your name. Have a pad of paper on which they can write their names, so you do not misspell it. Have legible handwriting (I do not, particularly when introduced to stimuli that make me nervous, such as a book signing). Think of something witty or original to write in the books (I never can, depending on the person I either sum up some aspect of the plot of We Shadows or write what I would in a yearbook).
  3. You may have to deal with other authors, especially in the beginning of your career. This is not necessarily a bad thing, if they write in your genre, as this could allow you to seduce their fans into buying your book. It also could allow you to have someone to talk to about ideas, creating a productive dialogue (trust me, there are few things fantasy authors like more than explaining their world to a receptive and experienced party). If, as is more likely, this is just a local author day, be prepared to sit beside a text book author and a photographer, across the room from a revolutionary war biographer, diagonal from a confessional poet, the only thing in common that you all live in the same county and - hopefully - can successfully write words.
  4. If most of the other authors are self-published, be prepared for competitive remarks, even and especially if the other authors are not in your genre. You are just there to shake hands with your fans and maybe move a few copies, but they may feel the need to one-up you for the impudence of not being owned by a vanity press. Your best bet is to make neutral to positive remarks about how some people think self-publishing is legitimate and then turn away to pretend that an approaching person is an avid fan. (This is not remotely to suggest that many people you will meet will not be stunningly nice and congratulatory, aware that the life of an author of any stripe is no easy path and we had better stick together. They will be and I have been honored to meet at least half the fellow authors to whom I have been introduced.)
  5. People will show up to demonstrate support. This does not mean that they will buy your book. It is tacky to appear disappointed. You are there for the fans, they are not necessarily there to line your pockets, as much as you may think that is the best way to show that they like you. I like to have a small poster of the cover available, which I will sign for free (not that anyone has ever taken me up on the offer).
  6. If at all possible, bring someone with you who can help you (or at least keep you company during the lulls). Pay them if you must, but you will need someone there to tend to matters that you cannot, since you have to sit placidly at a table and talk to fans. At the very least, they can bring you tea and a biscuit, which are rather nice things to have.
  7. Do not expect that stores will jump at the chance to have you there. Prior to my most recent signing, I had written to a few local stores, informing them of my availability and implying heavily that allowing me to do a signing at their store would cause hordes of highly literate shoppers dripping with discretionary income to barge through their doors to be parted from their money. One independent bookstore told me, in almost as many words, that they will not host any writer who dares to be sold by the "enemy" (Amazon) and that I had better learn a little something about bookstores if I wish to continue to be an author. The logic that most books in print are available on Amazon, doubtlessly including much of the store's current stock, did nothing to sway the letter-writer. Since this store would not allow me to do a signing there - and I frankly would prefer to help out independent bookstores - I was forced to attract business to the very national chains they perceive as the harbinger of their death. Then again, only the national chain and that solitary complainer cared to respond. A dozen others I wrote to likely deleted my offer unread.
  8. You may be shunted off to a back table, out of the way of pedestrian traffic. Nothing in your contract implies you will be allowed to sit somewhere especially visible. The bookstore refrains from sitting you near the bathrooms only because it is likely people would then be forced to see you. If it not in the bookstores best interest that you be right in front of the main doors. The store wishes your fans to wander the store looking for you and picking up other merchandise.
  9. Look very carefully at your contract with the bookstore. They are not joking. They really do demand a percentage of your sales for the privilege of letting you sit in the corner. On the plus side, they may lightly advertise you, will possibly create a small paper plaque with your name, and had better handle the checkout aspect in exchange for the cut they will take. The most I have seen a bookstore demand (and, unfortunately, I paid) was 40% of the retail price. At my last signing, I priced my book at an unreasonably steep $23 and felt rather bad about it, but saw no other option. This allowed me to pay back the loan I took for the books (about $12.10 per book), pay the book store their rapacious due ($9.20), and make a whopping $1.70 per book in lieu of my traditional royalties. The bookstore realized that my book is available on their website at $15.99 and charged that, meaning that I paid people about $2.50 per book to take them off my hands. This was in violation of what I had written on the paperwork, but the woman on staff for these occasions assured me that they did not feel the need to tell me this or pay attention to what I had written, though I had met with her privately earlier in the month to discuss these matter. "It's set by the corporate office, my hands are tied." I, in turn, put the remainder of my books in a box beneath the table and proclaimed myself out of stock.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.

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