Friday, February 18, 2011

Girlfriends Talk About Their Most Memorable Book Signings

The good, the bad, the lonely. Girlfriends give the lowdown on author book signings
More Than Just a Signing

I love planning different and fun things for kick-off book signings. Last year, I worked with the great folks at my local Borders (not closing, thank God!) and the wonderful ladies at our chapter of Komen for the Cure to do a fundraiser at my event. I wanted to do a talk and signing but have fabulous baskets to raffle with lots of goodies and signed books by authors that would draw people into the store. So I did a lot of emailing to friends, saying, "Could you please send signed books for this?" I got wonderful things from everyone, including generous peeps like Marilyn Brant, my Stiletto Gang buddies, Charlaine Harris, Laurell K. Hamilton, and on and on. I believe I ended up making a dozen baskets that looked amazing. It was a very, very cold night in February, but at least 50-60 people showed up and bid on the baskets and bought books. The Komen folks sold the raffle tickets so I didn't have to handle money (good thing, since I can't even balance my check book), and the Borders folks had coffee and yummy things to eat. All in all, just a fabulous time, and I feel like it was more than "just a book signing." Now I want to do something like that with every launch!

--Susan McBride

Out of the Mouth of Babes
My favorite book signing story went like this. I was walking around a Borders in Vermont the day before my scheduled signing bewildered by the fact that the store didn't seem to have my book anywhere! It felt conspicuous to ask so I meandered and searched for quite awhile with my two children, then one and three, toddling at my ankles. Finally, frustrated and confused, I gave up and headed for the exit. At that moment, my son said, "Look, Mama! They have the same baby we have at home!" I turned to see what he was pointing at and there indeed was "the same baby," otherwise known as the baby on the cover of THIS LITTLE MOMMY STAYED HOME. And not just one of these babies but a whole Danielle Steele worthy cardboard, six-foot high container of babies/books. I was pleased to see such a huge vote of confidence in my upcoming signing, but if I couldn't find the book, how would anyone else! They would need a toddler by their side...
Samantha Wilde
Cupcakes Anyone?

For booksignings, I always really loved the authors who would take a minute or two to really try to connect with each person who stopped by -- whether they bought a book or not. I'm, personally, not a fan of the hard sell (at all!), so I refuse to push books on anyone, but I'm happy to chitchat with passersby. And I think it's always wise to have some freebie material onhand that you can give out to potential readers. Like bookmarks or postcards -- something with your book covers and blurbs on it that they can look at on the spot and/or take away with them. And sweets (cookies! chocolate!) on your signing table are never a bad idea either, if only as a conversation starter. ("Who wants a mini-cupcake, hmm?")
Marilyn Brant

Feeling Like a Rock Star

I love signings. I love meeting people who have read my book that are not related to me. It gives a face and a smile to the readers I am imagining as I bang on this keyboard. I am not a person who likes public speaking, but when I have a reading, I never feel shy or self-aware. It's usually easy and fun. At the risk of sounding too new age-y, I like readings because it's the chance for the characters whose voices have been cluttering up my brain for months or years to finally get to come through me and speak for themselves. Plus, it's the closest I'll ever get to feeling like a rock star. I always get myself a new "signing shirt" and sometimes if I feel especially indulgent, I get my hair blown out. And afterwards there is usually alcohol and cheese.
Ariella Papa
An Endangered Species
There are different kinds of book signings. There are the ones where you go into the bookstore and sign copies of your books that they have in stock. Then there is the author event where you sign books at a table and sometimes give a reading beforehand. My very first stock signing was in the fall of 2007 at Stacey’s Books, a major independent store in downtown San Francisco where they featured my debut novel, Midori by Moonlight, in a lovely display. I was thrilled and signed each book with the Cross pen my husband had given me to celebrate my first published novel. A couple of hours later I was at my first author event at the huge Borders store in Union Square where I read from my novel, answered questions and signed copies—another major thrill I’ll never forget. Stacey’s closed a few years ago, a victim of Amazon and the big box stores. Borders has just filed for bankruptcy and the Union Square store (one of the largest in California) is on the closure list. Things are changing in the publishing world and more and more people are purchasing their books through Kindles and iPads. Book signings are an endangered species and are set to become extinct—a quaint memory from the past, much like the album signings by your favorite rock star at Tower Records.
Almost Famous
People have always told me that I should have been a stand-up comic but I much prefer sitting down so book signings are great. I adore speaking to readers about their love of discovering new writers and I know how much personal inscriptions mean to me when a favorite author signs my book. That's why I always, always write a meaningful message- no matter how long the line. Anyone who buys my book and waits for an autograph deserves a special token of my appreciation. They may not be able to read my scribbles, but they'll always remember that I took the time to say something nice.One time I saw a young girl waiting in line with her mom and she was clutching a copy of my new novel. Maybe she was 9 or 10 and the closer she got, the more nervous she appeared. Of course I wanted to make her feel comfortable when it was her turn so I asked her what grade she was in and what she liked to read and did she enjoy writing and she cut me off mid-sentence. "Are you famous?" she asked. "Not yet," I replied. "Okay never mind." She grabbed the book back. "Mom can we go now?"So much for life in the trenches. Couldn't even impress a kid, but hey. Maybe one day I will be famous and she'll show up for an autograph again. But this time I'm going to charge her, lol.- Saralee Rosenberg--
Saralee Rosenberg
So far, with a January release, I’ve been to five book signings—definitely baptism by fire. My experiences run the gamut, from a pump-up-the-ego crowd in Mansfield, MA, to an Atlanta Borders that echoed. First lesson learned, unless you’re somebody, never agree to a weeknight signing. Let’s just say, by the time I left, I knew the manager’s birthday and the four subjects he majored in before settling on interpersonal relations. (BTW, Happy B’day Dave on March 3rd!) Secondly, nothing beats a sure thing signing. A large real estate firm, near Boston, recently threw themselves a red carpet, open house, launch party. They purchased BEAUTIFUL DISASTER in vast quantities and gave the books away as gifts to their guests. All I had to do was show up, drink their wine, and sign! Not surprisingly, I highly recommend this format for book signings ;-)

Laura Spinella
Weird First Signing
My first signing was at the huge Literacy Signing at RWA. My book wasn't scheduled to come out yet but the publisher sent some anyway. I was so excited! My very first signing.The first person who came up to me looked at my book, 'SCUSE ME WHILE I KILL THIS GUY, and asked me what my hero type was. I was flustered and had no idea what to say. They have types? I thought. So I said, "well, um, he's a bodyguard." She looked at me and said, "Oh. A warrior. I'm looking for something else," and she walked away. Weirdest signing ever.
Leslie Langtry

I See Real People

I love book signings. Absolutely love them. I spend the majority of my writing time alone in a room with made-up people who seem very real to me. (Some would label this behavior as psychotic, but I just call it a job.) In fact my characters often become so real that I fall in love with them, I grow angry with them, I talk out loud to them. These characters become a piece of my life. So when my books finally come out and I get to introduce my pretend friends to my real readers...well there really isn't anything much more wonderful than that!

Maggie Marr
James Frey Fracas
For booksigings, I once wrote an article for The Baltimore Sun about funny things that happen to big-name authors at booksignings. The best interview was with Jodi Picoult, who told me about the time she was asked at an event why she didn't write nonfiction. She replied that getting all the details right was so tricky - and she brought up the case of James Frey and how Oprah went after him when he fabricated parts of his book. At the end of the event, the librarian brought by a couple to meet Jodi. They were James Frey's parents!

Sarah Pekkanen

Pulling Out the Stops
Book signings are either the best of times or they're the worst of times. I've had some great signings with friends, family, and strangers turning out to buy my book. Then there's the flip side: standing at the entrance to the bookstore, handing out bookmarks and smiling inanely at everyone who walks in--essentially doing cold sales, which is very hard for an introvert! When my first books came out, I did tons of signings and worked for hours to promote them with press releases, posters, and post cards. Lately, I've been doing more group signings, which are so much more fun for someone like me who would rather not be the only focus of attention. Since my books have a military spouse as a protagonist, I've done quite a few signings at military base exchanges, small department stores located on military bases. The exchanges pull out all the stops to promote the signings. At Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, I walked inside and saw a five-foot-high banner suspended from the ceiling with my book cover positioned over a round display table with about two hundred of my books. I nearly had a heart attack because that is not the treatment I usually get from my local chain bookstore! I certainly didn't sell out of my books at that signing, but it was sure memorable.

Sara Rosett

Visible Yet Invisible
A writer friend of mine once said that having a book signing is like going to the bathroom in public. The funny thing is, however true that is, it's even worse if no one shows up to witness the event. There you are, in a big Borders, parked at a table signing your books, feeling so invisible and yet so visible. Strangers pass by avoiding eye contact, and who could blame them? They might get roped into having to talk to this person they've never seen about a book they might or might not have heard of. Perhaps a sign saying, "I won't bite or talk to you about past lives or multi-level marketing" would help, but the only thing that really works is to have three or four people come over at once, to stand up and start talking to them and then you're popular. If you want to make friends with a writer, go to her book signing; you'll never find someone so eager to make your acquaintance.
Mall Signings: Seventh Circle of Hell

Mall bookstore signings - the kind where it's just you and a table and a pile of books - can be the seventh circle of hell. Conventional wisdom is to set out a bowl of wrapped candies, then try to snag a would-be buyer's attention as they pluck out a sweet. Mystery writer Meg Chittendon once told me about a time an old woman came up to her table, pointed at the candies, and asked if they were free.

When Meg said yes, the old woman opened up her purse, poured in the contents of the candy bowl, and then walked away.

April Henry

Puzzling Personalization
I love book signings--they're fun, they make me feel like a real grown-up writer, and you can actually see your books selling. A perfect trifecta. I always ask how the person wants the book signed (and to whom) and I try to personalize it. Anyway, one day, a woman came up buying the book for a friend. She'd been all chatty during my little talk. So, I asked how she'd like me to sign it and she thought for a minute and smiled and said, "Because we all like little boys." I smiled back at her thinking, there's no possible way I'm writing that and signing it. I nodded and wrote, "From one mom of sons to another." I just really hope she had sons.

Judy Larsen
I've had two one-person-in-the-audience book signings in my career, the second of which came at a B&N in Danbury. I’d simply done far too many area performances at that point for my debut novel, The Thin Pink Line, plus it was pretty much well the most gorgeous fall day of the year. The World Series may have even been on. This meant the only person there was a nine-year-old girl with a notebook. She told me she wanted to be a writer too, but we both agreed that her mother probably wouldn’t approve of her reading my novel just yet - you know, my dark comedy about a sociopathic Londoner who fakes an entire pregnancy - so instead she had me autograph her journal. Then she proceeded to pump me with questions on the biz. It fast became clear that she was positive she’d outshine me as a writer one day, just as soon as she got discovered. If she’d been sitting behind that desk, there’d have been a lot more people there than just one girl with a notebook! Still, despite the withering looks she gave me, I felt it was time well spent, since I always count it time well spent when I help out other writers, even if the only help I’m providing is in giving them cause to tell themselves, “Hey, if she can do it…”
Bodily Functions
Once I spoke at Cocoa Florida library and the crowd was sparse and composed primarily of elderly retirees. The librarian apologized for the small turnout. A retiree who was listening in said, “You should have been here last week. There was an author who had a long line out the door.”“Who was the author?” I asked wearily.“I don’t remember,” said the retiree. “I just remember the name of his book. It was called Overcoming Incontinence.”So yes, I was upstaged by incontinence.
Karen Neches
Worst Vs Best
The leading candidate for my worst signing would be one my publisher had set up at a Borders near the town where my novel, HEART ON THE LINE, was set; it was thought that the local angle would attract hordes of fans. I drove 230 miles to get there, and entered the emptiest Borders I've ever seen. Even the events manager who'd scheduled the signing wasn't there. The clerk behind the counter seemed bewildered, but he located two huge cartons of my book and led me to the enclosed booksigning area at the back of the store, where he left me. The only person who ventured into the signing area during the entire evening was a chatty janitor who wound up telling me about the novel he hoped to write someday while I signed stock and stuck "Autographed Copy" stickers on the books.My best signing took place on Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island. I'd visited Block Island on a family vacation and knew at once that I wanted to write a book set there. Exploring the small island, I ventured into the Block Island Pharmacy, which also served as the island's book store. I got to chatting with the pharmacist and told her I was planning to write a book set on the island. She scoffed, insisting that everyone who visited Block Island declared they would write a book set there. I swore I would really do it, and she said, "I'll make you a deal. If you write a book set here and it gets published, I'll host a book signing for you."
I promptly went home and wrote SAFE HARBOR (one of my all-time favorite books, which went on to become a RITA Award finalist and which I've recently reissued as an ebook, available at Kindle, Nook and Smashwords.) I contacted the pharmacist and, true to her word, she set up a booksigning. The pharmacy was owned by a couple who also owned an inn. They insisted that my family and I spend the weekend on Block Island as their guests. The pharmacist ordered 200 copies of my book, which seemed awfully optimistic, given that the island's year-round population at that time was only about 500 people. But we sold out! Because the book mentioned actual shops, restaurants, streets and beaches, the locals bought multiple copies to send to their friends and relatives on the mainland. Vacationers snapped up copies, too. I sat on the pharmacy's rustic porch signing books, and at times the line of people eager to buy the book extended down the steps and halfway up the street. By the end, I was signing bookmarks for disappointed customers, and the pharmacist was promising to order more books for them. My visit to the island was a front-page story in the Block Island weekly newspaper, and my sons got to see their mother as a star--or at least as a big fish in a small pond.So, yeah--good times, bad times. That's what book signings are.

Judith Arnold

Girlfriend News
Sarah Pekkanen's Skipping a Beat launches this week on Tuesday, 2/22....
Wendy Tokanuga os teaching a class called So Not Chick Lit: Writing Novels About Women's Lives for Stanford University's Online Writer's Studio. Registration starts Feb 22 and it's open to anyone since it's online. More info is here:
The winner of yesterday's giveaway was Aurora M!


  1. What a fun post!! I loved hearing all your stories. Again, it shows how different a similar event can be for each of us. I've been thinking a lot about book signings since I bought my Nook. How do you, as authors, think book signings will change with the onset of electronic reading devices? Book plates? Some kind of electronic pen (similar to credit/debit card machines)? Just curious.

  2. My book launches March 29, just in time to experience a book signing before they become extinct. I am paying attention!! Thank you, Girlfriends!

  3. Oh, Karin/Karen, that is hilarious! (I was going to say I almost peed in my pants but...well, that would be just too punny!) ;-)


  4. Good question, Jill. I personally think real books will always be with us. I hope so anyway.

  5. IDK, sometimes I think real books will go the way of the rotary phone--at least w/ the next generation. But I hope I'm wrong!

  6. I am enjoying the advantages of having my latest novel out in e-book only, but one thing I am trying to figure out is a good way of connecting personally with readers. If anyone has any ideas, please send them my way.