Book Signing: Newbie Prep

There is something thrilling, terrifying and somewhat off-putting about a debut author’s debut book signing. At least for this author.
Thrilling because it’s a dream come true. Terrifying because it’s an unknown. And off-putting because I’d rather be writing. Terror and off-putting feelings should be shoved aside – buzz-kills are NOT permitted on such a red letter day.

I’d attended a few book signings first hand and read of my Sisters in Crime experiences, and realized that advance preparation would be my salve. To prepare for my home town bookstore appearance, I:

– Contacted the local newspaper to request an interview. To my delight, a wonderful, nearly full page piece appeared days before my event and proved the biggest factor in promoting my appearance;
– Provided a press release to the bookstore who sent out an email to their customer list. This mailing was the second successful promo tactic, as those who could not attend ordered copies. I was asked to leave five signed copies at the store;
– Sent 100-200 postcards/letters to local residents announcing the signing. The physical result was negligible. However, this may have stimulated sales (I hope); and
– Memorized a short presentation about how I came to write my novel in case an impromptu speech was in order.

I brought along treats (my heroine snacks on mini jelly donuts in my novel), bookmarks, and postcards. After a few deep breathing exercises, a reality check that involved a lot of pinching and cheek-slapping (my own thankfully), I was ready to roll.

Wisdom dictates early arrival, say twenty to thirty minutes before showtime. Channeling Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, mathematics, strength, war strategy, and arts & crafts (I’d say most of my bases were covered here), I arrived nearly an hour before start-time. With all that talent channeled, I had work to do. With staff help, I placed myself just outside the front store entry. A spot that faced the only major street in the little village rural town where I lived.

And little by little, people came, ate donuts and bought books. I had a ball!

– Ask your venue if snacks are okay
– Check with your post office for the most efficient, economical way to send postcards announcing your book and the signing
– Smile
– Move around. If there was down time around my table, I strolled, bookmarks in hand, and stopped to talk to passers-by, handed out bookmarks, waved to cars, and visited the nearby Farmers’ Market.
– Above all else, have fun! It’s the law of attraction. Who doesn’t want to be around someone who is thoroughly enjoying herself?

Character Studies

While in the middle of writing my novel, I took a writing course that encouraged writers to know their characters. Really know each one, not just the heroes and heroines, but all those that came in contact with them. I took pen to paper and wrote until I had a strong sense of each personality, a little of their history, and their vision for the future. These character studies enhanced my understanding and sense of what each would do in any given situation. It also helped fine tune the voices in my head.

It’s been nearly a month since the launch of my novel, and I’ve noticed that one of my secondary characters is a standout for readers and reviewers: Gweneveera Bankhead, or Veera, for short. Veera is one of my favorite characters to write because her voice speaks loudly in my head. Veera wrote her own bio. I’d like to share it with you:

My name is Veera. I lived with my dad in Long Beach and went to Long Beach State. It took me six years to graduate, but I did it. When I was a teenager, one of my heroes was Queen Latifah. It seems like there ain’t nothing she can’t do. I want to be like that. A lot of folks tell me I look like her. We’re both tall, chocolate, cute, have a positive attitude and lots of bubbly personality. It’s hard for people not to like us. I don’t know for a fact, but she seems like she’s got brains. I’ve got smarts too, though I can’t sing a note and don’t dance too good. I always wanted to be in a position where I could get respect and help people. I thought about law enforcement, but I don’t want to go shooting anybody. I’ve been thinking I should be some kind of negotiator. You know, the types that talks folks out of blowin’ up a bank or killin’ innocent people. But I wasn’t sure how to get that kind of job so I decided to go to law school instead and work security during the day. I picked Newport Beach ‘cause it’s kind of a glamorous place and I like glam. Plus, I want to hang out with a different kind of people than I was used to growing up. Smarter people. I figure most rich people are smart. Plus, one of my dad’s friends offered me the job. It was either that or be a bouncer at Bobo’s in Santa Ana. That wasn’t happening.

I didn’t know that Veera lived with her dad in Long Beach or that she had high ambitions…until she told me so.

The Importance of Focusing on the Reader

Renowned stupidity expert, Walter B. Pitkin, author of A Short Introduction to the History of Human Stupidity (Simon & Schuster, 1932), estimated that four out of five people are not very bright when it comes to common sense and ordinary living (that’’s over four billion people today). I’d like to say I’m a bit more optimistic. I’d like to, but I can’t. As Mr. Pitkin asked and replied, “Can we find as many intelligent acts as stupid ones in any given period or region? No.”

I’m afraid I’ve fallen into that “four out of five” category. But my bouts thankfully affected no one but myself. For instance, I visited the local college student store to buy books for a friend. I noticed students milling about, wearing lost and frustrated expressions, miserably unable to find what they searched for. I, genius that I am, immediately located what I needed and made my way to the cashier. I climbed up two flights of stairs to purchase the books, while contemplating my brilliance.

“It’s wonderful to be smart!” I announced to no one in particular. I reached one arm over the opposite shoulder and proceeded to pat myself resoundingly on the back. As I patted away, I looked down and admired my very chic sandals; I picked up speed, taking two steps at a time. I felt exceptionally nimble and athletic while I sucked in my stomach. (Insert theme from Chariots of Fire here). All was splendid. Then …I fell flat…on my face, onto the hard concrete stairs. What is the likelihood of falling while walking up the stairs? 100% when thinking and acting like an idiot.

I can’t write when stuck in that moronic frame of mind because I grow blind. I lose sight of the reader, of the story, and the big picture, and think only of myself. “This scene will work because I say it will. Plus, look how beautifully it’s written.”

I take moments out when writing to ask, “Who am I writing this for?” It’s okay to write for myself, but so much better to think of others. The writing road is already a lonely one. It’s like baking a lemon meringue pie and eating it all yourself. Boring. And fattening. But when it’s shared and enjoyed by all, it’s like a party, fun and less predictable. Plus, you’re more apt to eat just the right amount. Once I took myself out of the picture, writing became more enjoyable, more creative, I hope, in the quest to tell a story that someone else would want to be a part of. Isn’t that why we write?