Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Why I Almost Love Book Signings

Book signings. They sound wonderful, something anyone would love for the honor and pride that comes with them. "I've written a book, and now hordes of people have come to buy my book and get my autograph!"

Indeed, they can be wonderful. I recall one signing where I arrived at the store on a crisp September afternoon and found a line of people extending out the door. Gosh, I thought, there must an incredible sale going on, or someone famous in the adjoining art gallery. I felt odd passing all those people by and going inside. I'd be late if I didn't. 

"Excuse me.....oh sorry.....I have an appointment in the bookstore I can't very sorry......excuse me......thank you."

It turned out the line was for me. Imagine! Me! All those people had come to buy my book and have me sign it. But....this sort of ego-booster doesn't happen very often.

There are a few misconceptions about book signings I'd like to clear up. Bear in mind, I speak from experience. My first book signing was in 1987, and I've had many since then. (Yeah, that picture of me at the top was taken quite a few years ago, when my hair wasn't yet white and I had many fewer books to my credit.) I want to dispel the myths, mostly because I think it's important for people to know that being a writer has more challenges than just the daily grind of pecking the keyboard and revising ad nauseum.

Yep, I'm smiling! This was a good one--a talk for a lighthouse group and then a signing.(That's my handsome husband in the blue shirt and tie, handling the $$.)

Suffice it to say, only when you write a best seller, or a very good seller, are book signings really fun and lucrative. I've actually heard they can be tiring when you're very famous, though I have no experience with fame. I have a good "following," though, but only a few of my readers would recognize me on the street or at the 7-Eleven on a Sunday morning as I grab the newspaper and a package of donuts. That's probably a good thing.

Let me share some books signing experiences, in case you think they're the best thing since sliced bread--

Usually, the bookstore or gift store hosting you puts you at a table with a stack of your books, a bottle of water, and a pen. If they've done their homework (and some don't!), there's a poster by the entrance and maybe they've put a notice in the local newspapers.
You sit down at the table, and then you wait--unless you're Stephen King or John Grisham or Danielle Steele. (Their experiences are different, to say the least.)

This young gal was crazy about lighthouses! She brought a couple of my books she already owned to have signed and then bought several more. Check out her sweatshirt--a genuine lighthouse fan!

People come by the author table. Some pass right by as if you aren't there. They may not have noticed you, or they may want to avoid being snagged and coerced into buying your book. Others stop, flip open the book,  stare intently at the pages and pictures, and covertly look you over. Usually they ask: "Are you the author?" I always politely reply, "Yes, I am, thank you." But what I really want to say is: "Can't you read my name tag?" Or, "No, I just like to sit here and sell another author's books." (Forgive my sarcasm, but after you've been asked this question fifty times, you get a bit jaded.)

I suppose people don't know what else to say. I'd be glad if they engaged in conversation, and asked questions about writing and the book's content. "What got you interested in this topic?" I love that question. But conversation can be tricky too. Once, at a signing in Michigan, a man stopped by my book table, took a cursory look at the titles, and bluntly told me: "I don't care about lighthouses." Then he strode away, leaving me feeling absolutely crestfallen.

There are fabricators...prevaricators, who conjure up an avoidance comment. "I bought that book a few years ago," a woman once told me. I was surprised, since the book had just been published, but following the protocol of all gracious writers, I only smiled and thanked her.

Sitting at a book table can be lonely.  What to do with your hands? Do you smile and wave at people who pass? Do you try to reel in passersby: "Hey! Check out my new book!" I usually apply and re-apply Chapstick obsessively and re-arrange the books, neaten up the table, and even browse through my own title(s).

Just when I think someone is interested, I get a question like:
"Is there a restroom in this store?"
"I'm looking for a book on castles. Do you know where I can find one?"
"Do you know what time the store closes?"
"Have you seen my wife? She's wearing a purple scarf."
"Does this store carry calendars?"

Put on a name tag, sit at a table with books, and people will assume you work in the bookstore.

Notice my hair is turning whiter....maybe due to too many book signings.

Not all is negative or funny: I've had some really nice experiences at book signings. My husband comes with me on occasion. At a signing in Florida, he met a man who was distantly related to him! The man bought several books too.

I had a woman in a Barnes & Noble tell me she'd always wanted to meet me. She bought a book, had me sign it to her, and had her friend take our picture together. That felt good. The guy in the photo below was also excited to be photographed with his "favorite lighthouse author." He later posted the photo on his website. So nice!

A man in Maine said he had a copy of my book but asked me to sign a paper napkin so he could slide it inside. Then, he said: "Oh, why not!" and bought another copy. "I'll give the one I already have to my sister. She likes lighthouses too. Wait until she finds out I met you!"

One of the most awesome experiences happened at a signing on Cape Cod. A woman and her teenage kids stopped by and asked if I remembered her. She said her name was Karen McLean and that I had interviewed her at the Kennebec River Lights when she was the keeper there. I gasped, opened the book I was signing that day, and showed her a section written about her and the pictures I'd taken. She was so surprised! So was I. We had a few treasured moments of conversation before I realized the two teenagers with her were the babies I'd met when I interviewed her years before. It all came full circle.

I did a book signing in my husband's hometown many years ago, a very small hometown where the name DeWire takes up an entire page in the phone book. My mother-in-law was beaming, very proud. (I use my married name, not my birth name.) In her mind, I AM FAMOUS! She celebrates her 96th birthday this Saturday and she still loves my books and my talks. Go Mom DeWire--you'll make 100 easy!

The most fun and gratifying book signings for me are for lighthouse groups and audiences that like lighthouses. They come interested, and they want to learn more. They hold conversations with me, tell me about their travels to lighthouses and their involvement in lighthouse preservation projects. Many of them collect my books, along with those written by other lighthouse authors. A number of them regularly read this blog! They're the following I mentioned a few paragraphs earlier. My people indeed!

I hope I haven't discouraged any first-time authors from holding book signings. They can be great fun, especially if well-advertised and attended. Go for it...but find out where the restrooms are beforehand, not for you, but so you can direct people who ask.

Anyone who writes a book deserves a signing. Book-writing isn't a cakewalk if it's done right. You work hard--you draft, revise, revise, revise, revise...and eventually you finish. Then there are editors and designers and all those other people associated with book publication. It can be a long time from start to finish, a literary marathon. Hang on and enjoy the glow of success.

A lot of people talk about writing a book; some start; few finish. The fact that you managed to get it done and in print is pretty amazing, so reward yourself with a signing.

Even dogs I've worked with have done prints. Here's Lucy, who appeared on the cover of The Lightkeepers' Menagerie: Animals at Lighthouses. She did a paw print autograph session as the cover girl!

And like the famous book signers I mentioned earlier, she got a bit weary of it all. Maybe too many passersby were asking where the nearest fireplug was located.

Speaking of signings, I've got one coming up next weekend. The audience is just right too--a group of avid lighthouse fanciers. Hooray! Click here to find out where I'll be.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome your comments, photos, stories, etc.!