Friday, December 14, 2007

The Truth about Signings

In my pre-publication days, if I ever imagined having a book signing, it included images like people actually wanting to buy my book and have me sign it. Maybe (if I was getting really deep into the fantasy) a line of people.

Of course, reality crashes down after publication, and you realize that unless your book is about teenage wizards or vampires, you won't have a long line. Or any line. And you'll be lucky to sell more than one that your mom came to buy to support you.

You do book signings anyway to show your publisher you're committed to promoting yourself. You chat with the employees and get to know them. You try to meet customers, and when they pay you the slightest attention, you try to encapsulate your book into about five seconds, because that's as long as they're going to give you before moving on.

And that's if you're lucky enough to get someone to make eye contact, because as people walk in the door, they instinctively look away from the lonely author as if she has a contagious disease. Whatever path they were taking through the store, they now make sure to veer away from your table.

The experience is less than glamorous or ego-stroking.

I've done so many book signings that I've lost track of the number. It's got to be close to a hundred over the five and a half years I've been doing this. In that time, I've gotten a thick skin. If I don't sell any books, that's okay.

I've also managed to break out of my shy bubble so I can talk to perfect strangers and give them a very brief spiel. Then I walk away so they don't feel any used-car salesman pressure. It's a delight if they decide to come find me at the table and buy a book.

As for the chair at the table, forget it. Unless I'm actually signing a book (and sometimes not even then), I don't bother sitting. I'm up and around and talking to people.

While signings are still not in my top ten list of fun things to do (in fact, they're exhausting; it's tough to keep yourself "on" and smiling and cheerful and energetic for long spells), I've started experiencing a few new things in my most recent ones.

When I tell people about my books, I always mention the three old Utah temples they're about. At least once at every signing, and often more frequently, I invariably get asked, "What about Manti?"

Out of the four old temples, that one is glaringly absent, of course. It's great to be able to say, "That's next."

Then I get a response like, "Oh, good. Because that's my temple."

I'm amazed at how many people have a personal connection to one of these sacred buildings, how they are drawn to a specific one and cherish it. Many times people have bought one book or the other specifically because they grew up in Logan or their daughter went to school in southern Utah and loves the St. George temple or they were married in the Salt Lake temple.

I embarked on this entire series because of my personal love of the Logan temple. It's my temple. I was married there. So on one hand, I shouldn't be that surprised; I just didn't anticipate the intense reaction.

The second unexpected thing to happen this fall is something that turned out to be ego-stroking after all. (Who knew that was possible with a book signing?) Sometimes when I've talked to a customer about my books, they say the unthinkable:

"Oh, I have all your books. I love them."

Excuse me, wha-ha?

I'm so used to introducing myself and my work to people that it's completely bizarre to have reached the point where anyone has actually heard of me. Some have read my books multiple times.

More than once I've had to stop myself from saying, "Really? Are you serious?" and instead grin and say, "Thank you so much," with my mind spinning.

Such moments are still few and far between, but they happen just often enough now to keep me plugging along, seeing that hey, I'm making real progress, inch by inch.

And if you've been keeping track of my manuscript progress, I'm about a week away from submitting the Manti book!


Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

It's a mark of your talent that I, who can't even imagine finishing her first book, can now imagine the dubious joy which is a book signing.

I'm definitely buying the rest of your books next time I'm down there. Living in the middle of nowhere, Canada, has very definite disadvantages.

Unknown said...

Annette - you always make me laugh. I dream about the long lines at one of my booksignings too. Glen Beck signed over 50,000 books in the last couple of weeks on his Christmas tour. Sheesh!

Don't forget to R.S.V.P. about our Blogger Babe luncheon on the tenth of January. Details on my blog, right-hand column! We really want to see you there. Hope you can make it.

Unknown said...

You've put book signings in a nutshell here, Annette. Made me chuckle.

Josi said...

so true. I only wish I were as hard working as you are and still made the best of it.

Julie Wright said...

ah booksignings. Once you realize they are painful, you do pretty good :)

RobisonWells said...

My opinion on booksignings has changed a lot in the past couple years. For a long time, I was really into learning signing tactics--finding the perfect place to stand, the perfect attention grabber on the tables, the perfect handouts, etc. But lately, I'm not interested in any of that.

My new philosophy is go and have fun. If you sell books, hooray. If you don't, big deal. There are two big factors at work here:

(1) Any type of hard sell is bad at a book signing. A book is not something that you can convince someone to buy--it's not a TV or an iPod or an electric razor, where you can explain the product features and benefits. Instead, a book is the promise of a good experience (which is subjective anyway). When you use a hard sell, and "convince" someone to buy your book, you've already damaged that experience. You've put a bad taste into the buyer's mouth, which doesn't bode well for their perception of your book. There's nothing wrong with telling someone about your book, but there's a point where further pressure hurts, not helps.

(2) How many books do you have to sell to make the signing financially viable? A lot, probably. Probably more than you'd ever sell, even with a lot of sales pressure. And honestly, if you crank up the pressure and sell fifteen extra books at a signing, so what? How many such signings will it take before you can be a full-time writer? The answer is: booksignings are never going to make a significant financial difference in the sales of your book. No one hits the NY Times bestseller list because they do a lot of booksignings. No one quits their day job because they do a lot of booksignings.

My opinion is: go to the signings that sound like fun. Talk to people about your book (and other books). Be nice. Be friendly. Quit selling.

(Sorry for writing so much in the comments. I should have just written my own dang blog on the subject!)

Anonymous said...


Talking to employees can be CRUCIAL. As an employee of Seagull, I know that if I have met the author and they were personable, I will sell their books. On the other hand, if they weren't, I won't. It is that simple. Many authors (not you, luckily) fail to recognize that in the end, it is the low man on the totem pole who will sell your books.

Annette Lyon said...

Anon, I couldn't agree more. The real magic happens when the author is NOT at the store, and is done by the staff. If I've gotten to know some of the employees, then, with any luck, they'll help me out after I leave.

Looking back on all my signings, the one I consider my greatest success is one where I didn't sell a single book. But I chatted a lot with several employees, and got to know one in particular pretty well. As I prepared to leave, she said I was her favorite author ever--and I'm guessing it was because I cared about what she said to me.

I've found a ton of wonderful employees at Seagull stores who are absolute gems. So fortunately, talking with the staff is the most enjoyable part!

Karlene said...

Hi there. Just wanted to extend a special invite to all the Blogging Babes to participate in my Winter Reading Challenge. I'm hosting it over on my Inksplasher blog. It starts Dec. 22nd. Details on my blog.

Janette Rallison said...

That is sooooo the truth about book signings!

Good luck with your Manti book!

Luisa Perkins said...

Sigh. I wish I could come to all your signings. You're lucky I don't live close by.


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