The Writing Life
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The Writing Life
by Julie Anne Parks

How to Survive a Book Signing

So you're a masochist who has booked your first signing, eh? Envisioning a line of eager customers awaiting their autographed copy of your book, are you?

Re-think that.

The sad truth is that it won't dawn on most people, particularly in a mall bookstore, that you are an author.  No matter that you're perched in the front of the store with stacks of your book and a  "Meet The Author" poster dangling from the front of your table.  They assume you are training for the bookstore equivalent of a Wal-Mart greeter, or doling out free samples like little old ladies in the Stop 'N Shop.

Get yourself a shiny red "VIP" ribbon/badge combination and have the word "AUTHOR" printed on it in gold.  You want your status as an author to be instantly visible and to reduce queries like, "Where are the bathrooms?" or "Do you carry Pokeman cards?"

Don't wait for people to talk to you.  Stand up, move around, but hover close to your displayed books.  Greet everyone who passes.  If they make eye contact with you, ask, "Would you like to take a look at my book?" and hold out a copy.  Or offer them a bookmark you printed up (make sure the ISBN number is prominently displayed on it) and ask, "Would you like one of my bookmarks? It's free."  Everyone wants something that's free, and the blurb on the bookmark might pique their interest, either now or later.  Bookstore owners don't mind you handing out bookmarks, unless they say the book is available at Barnes & Noble and you're signing at Waldenbooks.

Hopefully, you arrived plenty early and introduced yourself not only to the manager, but also to each of the sales clerks.  Those clerks are your best friends.  If they like you, they may recommend your book to their customers, or display the book cover-out rather than spine-out.  Take a few minutes to chat with each clerk, and be sure to mention him or her by name in the thank-you letter you send after your signing.

Also, in those few minutes before your signing starts (particularly if the bookstore is in a mall) spend a moment outside, determining whether the traffic flows more heavily in one direction than the other. Mall bookstores often tend to be toward the end of the mall near one of the large "anchor" stores; if that's the case, you don't want to be angled with your back to the heaviest flow of traffic. Bookstore managers tend to place authors wherever it is most convenient for them.  You want your table facing the heaviest traffic, with at least two easels displaying your books--one facing in each direction.  If you don't feel your table is facing in the most advantageous direction, just rearrange it yourself.  Don't be a nuisance to the manager.

Remember that you are there to sell as many books as you can. Don't become embroiled in a long conversation with a wannabe writer or anyone else to the exclusion of chatting with potential customers.  If a wannabe writer snags you, explain the situation politely in a "from one pro to another" manner, and hand them your card, assuring them you'd love to chat, but you're working, and will be happy to call/email/write them later to compare notes. Then make sure you do.

Ask the manager how many copies he/she wants you to sign before you leave, and offer to sticker them yourself.  Many booksellers appreciate being relieved of that task (and if they agree, it allows you to place the sticker strategically, according to your wishes!)

Above all, remember to relax and have fun.  You are there to sell your books and to sell yourself as an author--but you're also there to meet great people and to have a good time.  Do it.

But find out where they keep the Pokeman cards.

Julie Anne Parks is the author of Storytellers, and has survived thirty-three signings for that novel over the last nine months. She's published many short stories in both the mainstream and genre presses, and won the 1999 Larry E. Watkins Memorial Fiction Award for her short story, "Requiem."  She's also a contributing editor for, where she writes a weekly regional
humor column.

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