Monday, February 23, 2009

The Celebrity Life

This past weekend I did my first book signing. As I completely sold out my stock in under three hours, I guess you could call it an unqualified success, but it wasn’t all down to my careful planning and/or foresight.

Mainly, I was lucky in about three different ways. It was a lovely spring morning, and that brought a lot of people out. The bookstore manager, after a few trial and error attempts, put me in a location to die for (right at the top of the stairs so no one coming up to the top floor could possibly miss me, and right next to the very, very popular—just try to get a table—coffee shop). And there was another signing going on downstairs at the same time, which brought in additional people (I know for a fact that got me at least one additional sale).

So I’m trying not to let this go to my head; if I do another signing, it could just as well be on a miserable day in a deserted book store with me sitting at a table in the back by the Graphic Novels section. But at least I know a successful signing is possible.

The things I did right:

I went to the local paper about three weeks prior to the event and offered them the opportunity of interviewing me. They were very good about it and held off publishing the article until the day before the signing. Nearly half of the people who bought a book said they had heard about me in the newspaper.

I made a poster with my name, book name, photos of both and the large title “Local Author” on it. I printed out one but, after the bookstore manager saw it, she made another copy, put them both in A4 display frames and set one on either side of me on the table. She also took my books off of the display rack (about 15 feet away) and put them on the table as well. This proved the winning combination: anyone going to the second floor to browse for a book or get a cup of tea could not avoid seeing me; the colourful posters and pile of books told them right away who I was and why I was there; if they sat in the cafĂ© for any length of time, many of them became interested in what I was doing and stopped by as they were leaving.

So I got good press and good location, but I still could have blown it. The final key is to smile, make eye contact and chat to people even if they just stop by for a quick look (only one person who stopped at my table did not buy a book, and I gave her a business card with my web site address on it; you never know, she might become interested later). If you’re friendly, people will generally be friendly back; it was a bookstore, not a back street pub, the people were predisposed to buy books and were, overall, pleasant, so there was no need to be shy.

Other items that were not make-or-break but were nonetheless important included bringing a bottle of water, two pens and some mints. My business cards, while not necessary, also came in handy and I gave out almost all of them. I also wore my “Postcards From Across the Pond” tee shirt (what, you don’t have one?) but I don’t think anyone noticed.

The last item, but one I think really helped in a number of ways, was my AlphaSmart Neo. Sitting at a table with people milling around you can make you feel awkward, but if you have something to do, it helps you relax. I found typing into the Neo also reinforced the notion that I was, actually, a writer. While no one came over to ask what the cunning little device was (I get that a lot in pubs) I think it aroused some curiosity, and at the very least, it acted as an electronic security blanket.

If I had it to do over again, what would I do different? Not much. I might print off more than one poster, and bring my camera (I had to call my wife and ask her to come down and take a photo of me) but otherwise, I think I came across as a real, professional writer doing a real, professional writerly-type thing.

And only one lady came to my table to ask me where the toilets were.


  1. Anonymous9:05 PM

    The photo reminds me of Lionel Hardcastle's book signing on "As Time Goes By." His book was called "My Life in Kenya" and he resisted the temptation to where his jungle gear. I'm glad your photo shows you had sense enough not to wear an American flag t-shirt. Your marketing skills proved a bit more clever. Job well done.

  2. Anonymous12:33 AM

    I wish to have my copy of the book signed. It must not be that hard to sort out given the geographical proximity... maybe some time on your book tour you'll be in my neck of the woods! I know I scored you a few sales in the last few days too! (Rightly deserved, I might add...)

  3. Melissa: Maybe next time I'll bring a sound system and blare "Proud to be an American"

    NotFromAroundHere: If you mail your book to me (£.79 is all it costs) I'll sign it and mail it back. Send me an e-mail and we'll make arrangements.

  4. Well done you. Next time could you place some of mine next to yours....?

  5. Anonymous6:59 PM

    Have to admit I was think of Lionel Hardcastle's book signing also as I read your post. Not sure about Melissa, but maybe I watch too much telly. Well Done, though.

  6. ExpatMum: I only have one of your books, and it's mine ;)

    Miss Marla: I missed that episode, obviously. Good thing, or I might have been tempted to wear some safari gear.

  7. So.... when do you plan to hit Waterstones or Borders in Leeds then? - I'll rope 'em in you sign the books :-)

    Glad it all went well for you Mike some deserveds sucess I reckon


  8. Thanks, Steve. If I'm ever up in Leeds, I'll check that out ;)

  9. Jolly interesting - I must say you were unusually prepared. As someone who turned up to speak at a conference last week with no business cards (for my proper job), I envy your ability to bring two pens to a book signing. Strikingly organised.

  10. Chris: Jolly interesting that you were able to find this post after such a long time ;)