Thursday, May 13, 2010
More About Book Signings
I've done three signings for Code Blue recently, and they were extremely different than the ones I did in association with my non-fiction book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse. The latter category mostly came after I'd spoken to a group about grief and loss. The turn-out was a group of interested people, questions were primarily follow-up to what I'd said, and in general it was a nice comfortable situation. But things have been different when signing my novel.
To begin with, I'm not comfortable "hand selling" my book. By that, I mean wandering around the fiction section with a copy of the novel in my hand, approaching strangers and saying, "If you're looking for a good, clean piece of medical suspense, you might want to consider this one. It's about..." And lest you think I'm exaggerating, that's exactly what was advised in a recent issue of Writer's Digest. So that means I'm going to sit at a table with a stack of my books in front of me and a sign indicating I'm an author available to sign my books. And it makes me totally dependent on people coming into the store and passing by my station. That's where one of the problems comes in.
Established authors have a following, and these are the people who generally come to a book signing. The rest of us mention it to friends and family, but often they have other things to occupy them. In other words, the people who need the publicity the most get the smallest opportunity to interact with others, while those who need it least generally have folks show up. It's a Catch-22, and other than spreading the word and hoping, I don't have an answer.
Keli mentions fellowship with other writers showing up. At my most recent signing, two members of our local writing group (DFW Ready Writers) did come by, and I appreciate it. One of them had already bought my book at my launch but came by to be supportive. The other bought it at the store and had it signed there. We had a nice chat. But other than that, there were no writers or even would-be writers who showed up. Actually, most of my conversations were random and often non-productive.
I recall being asked, "I'm selling books on eBay. What kind of a deal do you think your publisher would make me?" (I referred him to the publisher). One woman wanted to talk about getting her daughter into medical school. (The girl was a sophomore in high school). Most of the people who stopped asked what the book was about, so I had a chance to use my elevator pitch, often handing them one of the bookmarks I've had printed, with a blurb and endorsements. "This will tell you a little about the book and what some others have said about it."
I think Dan's comment on my last post reflects my experience: "I feel your pain, Richard. My first novel, The Unfinished Gift, came out last Sept. Had 5 book signings. A partial dud, a major success, two total duds in a row, finishing with a partial success... My take on this is...unless you already have a solid readership, and bookstore managers willing to promote the signing well...it's going to be a real challenge, if not painful."
I agree with that. Let me hasten to say that I'm grateful for the hospitality of the various booksellers who've made these signings possible. They do what they can to get traffic into the store, but we all know that "you can lead a horse to water, but..." At one venue, I was with three other well-respected authors, and I think we each sold two books in two hours, and half of those were to the other authors. Just no traffic in the store, despite excellent publicity.
So, are book signings worth it? I'm not sure. I have another one scheduled for next month. Maybe I'll have more to say after that. Meanwhile, I'll still be interested in the comments from my readers about book signings in particular and marketing in general. It's an extremely important subject nowadays, and I don't think too many of my colleagues have a handle on it. I certainly don't.