A Reader's Guide to Book Signings
Over the years, I've had a gajillion book signings, give or take. Lately, that number has been growing.
And in the last bit, some people, knowing that signings aren't totally awesome unless your last name is something like Rowling, have asked how they should act when they see a writer at a book signing. What's the etiquette?
If I hadn't been on the other side of the fence, I wouldn't have the answer. But alas, I have been there. Many times.
And some days, I wish I had a sign with tips for people to read as they pass.
So today, a list of DOs and DON'Ts for the reader who happens upon a book signing:
1) DO Make Eye Contact and Smile.
In other words, don't panic, pretending the writer doesn't exist, then veer the other direction as if we have leprosy. Yes, we know you're avoiding us. And no, a simple acknowledgment of our existence doesn't obligate you to buy our book. A simple "hello" can go a long way in making the writer feel at least human instead of shunned.
2) If Something Is Offered Free, DO TAKE IT.
Any published writer has likely already been through a lot of rejection, but that rejection gets compounded at a signing, when 99% of people walking by don't buy your book (and some 85% pretend you have leprosy).
Ergo, if the writer offers a bookmark, a card with their book cover, a flier, or WHATEVER, graciously take it, say thanks, and walk on. By doing so, you are not obligated to buy the book. But having a free bookmark or a (ahem) free recipe card rejected can get rather demoralizing after the 186th time that day.
Many writers bring along candy or chocolate. Feel free to take a piece WHILE acknowledging the writer's existence in the process. (Don't take the candy and pretend no one is at the table.) A friendly exchange like that is actually a nice thing, even if you don't buy a book.
3) DO Feel Free to Talk to the Writer.
This does not in any way obligate you to buy anything. After constant rejection, it's nice to get even a simple comment like, "You wrote that book? Cool." Sometimes chitchat evolves into family stuff or interests. It helps pass the time, and really, at least in my case, I do enjoy getting to know people for a few minutes. Even if they don't buy a book.
A corollary for writers: Unless a person actually shows interest in your book, don't give them a three-minute spiel on it. That makes everyone uncomfortable, and you'll feel even more rejected when they don't buy it. Have ONE or TWO short sentences to use when people approach, and if they want to know more, they'll tell you. If they don't ask for more, DON'T keep pitching your book; find something else to talk about.
4) After making eye contact and/or smiling/saying hello, DO NOT keep glancing over if you aren't interested. Writers expect people to keep walking, since that's what happens most times. (And that is fine.)
BUT if someone keeps glancing your way, that's telegraphing a message that they might be interested. Writers have to read body language like crazy at book signings; it's all we've got.
If you keep looking over at us or our book display, you're asking to be talked to. If you accidentally find yourself doing a double and then a triple take and (ACK!) the writer SPEAKS, then just be polite. Smile and say something pleasant (even, "Good luck with your book"). Then feel free to keep walking. Just don't revert to the shunning and contagious disease thing.
5) If you DO want to buy a book, great! You're welcome to talk to us longer (you're our new best friend). As the writer signs the book, tell them if you'd like the book made out to a specific person, and if so, SPELL the name even if it's "Beth." It's amazing how many ways there are to spell the simplest of names, so if there's the slightest chance the writer could get the name spelled wrong, clarify it.
6) If you have no plans to make a purchase, DON'T talk for ten minutes. Seriously, that just messes with our heads. We are ON for hours at a time, keeping adrenaline moving so we can be peppy and fun and approachable. It's exhausting. If someone stops and chats, it's really nice. To a point.
But here's the thing: after ten minutes, I'm bound to get my hopes up that this person will actually buy a book. When they walk away, it's depressing.
I know this can be confusing with #3 above, but it comes down to there being a sweet spot for how long to talk.
You're safe chatting for a minute or two before you end up in commitment waters. But if you've heard several anecdotes about the book, you know what research the writer did, you've heard the backliner, and the writer knows where you live and how many kids you have, your favorite TV shows, and that you're currently potty training Joey, chances are you've been talking too long.
Caveat: These are my rules when dealing with a perfect stranger at a book signing. If you're already my friend, everything changes. For starters, I'll probably want to talk for 20 minutes. For another, you're probably THERE to buy my book.
That's my basic guide for handling book signings as a reader. Questions? Throw 'em into the comments.
Writers: Anything you'd add?