I worked at Tattered Cover Book Store for ten years, and in that time, was present for roughly a thousand book signings. Which ones worked? Which didn’t? Here are a few that stand out:
- Clive Barker: First, it never hurts to be hot–cheers, Clive. Then, he’s incredibly polite and nice to his fans, staying for hours afterwards to sign books, butts, boobs, paraphernalia. (His publisher is smart enough not to put a limit on what he can sign, like some pubs do–“current book only” is bad customer service, in my opinion.) He draws little pictures by his signature and he’s just generally cool. Plus, British accent. Never hurts.
- Janet Evanovich: This Jersey girl is hilarious, always great if you can pull it off. To sign books, she puts on a leather jacket just like her heroine, Stephanie Plum. Then she plays rock n’ roll and chats readily with her fans. Seems like she would be a blast to hang out with.
- Bruce Campbell: Not a great literary light or anything, but he puts on a heckuva book signing. For his If Chins Could Kill tour, he stayed till one a.m., signing, chatting, calling his fans’ wives on their cell phones to explain why they were late. He’s snarky without being mean, name-droppy without being arrogant and just all around a fun time.
- Dr. Abraham Verghese: I had the pleasure of hearing one of his talks in Shambala auditorium in Iowa City for My Own Country, about his work with AIDS patients. His intelligence and compassion shone through. With a smaller audience, he thanked them for coming out in bad weather and spoke with quiet feeling about his friend, a doctor who lost his battle with drug addiction, prompting Verghese to write The Tennis Partner. He answered questions at length and was always gracious and smart and interesting to listen to. A class act.
- Diane Mott Davidson: Not only does she make great recipes from her own culinary mystery books, but she’s really energetic and excited to meet her fans. (She’s also extremely personable with bookstore staff, getting to know them and bringing them treats. Highly recommended.)
What do they all have in common? They put their fans first and make them feel welcome and important. And they also seem to love what they do. Here’s some booksigning behavior not to emulate:
- Arguing with or making fun of or otherwise being rude to the attendees, even if they’re rude first. Authors who can handle difficult guests with aplomb–Ted Conover, Roger Ebert, Al Franken–leave a much better impression. Try not to take weirdos personally and continue to act professionally.
- Complaining, about anything. See my previous post on this. Suck it up, whatever it is. You’ll provide a much better experience for your guests.
- Not signing every book. This happens when publisher PR people overbook a popular author and rush them from one signing to another. Fans who’ve been waiting in line sometimes for hours are left wanting, and they’ll never forget this treatment. Bad customer service at its most extreme.
- Losing sight of what your audience is there for. A little-known author penned a book on forensic pathology years ago, at the height of the CSI craze. A number of people showed up, interested in the subject matter, but the poor fellow couldn’t seem to grasp this and instead talked about friends and made self-deprecating jokes. It was a lost opportunity and it was too bad because the author did know his topic.
Keep in mind why fans are coming to your booksignings. Give them what they want and they’ll keep coming back for more.
Here’s a link to a master of self-promotion: JA Konrath on book signings. No extra charge.
- Next up on Devlin’s blog: Great Story Songs of Yore