At my very first book signing, I was sitting at the table wearing my leather tricorn hat. I’d had a nice turnout, and it was almost time to leave, when a woman approached my table. “I saw your pirate hat from upstairs,” she said, smiling. “My daughter competes in pageants, and we did a whole pirate thing for the last one. Pink and purple, and I made her outfit myself, even her hat. It was better than yours.” While I was sitting there, unsure how to respond to that, she picked up one of my books, had me sign it, then went off happily to pay for it.
We all have those moments. You know the ones I mean, when the snappy comeback goes horribly wrong, when the name leaves your head, when the compliment turns sideways. Jo Walton had a blog post on Tor.com not long ago, talking about just that sort of thing. I did it myself, years back. Orson Scott Card had been invited to speak at my college campus, so I breathlessly rushed out to see him. Afterwards, I don’t remember how the subject came up, but he mentioned something about Tim Powers. I squealed, “Oh, do you know him? Nobody can write better than he does!” Yep, in my out-loud voice and everything. 😀
It’s so easy to open your mouth and stick your foot right in. It’s not just fans who do it to writers, though. I’ve seen writers commit some sins right back at fans, sins that might mean the difference between a sale and a pass.
Some writers seem to have no idea how to behave in public. Mark Wise mentioned the biggest boo-boo in comments the other day – writers who sit at their signing tables looking like they’d rather be in Torquemada’s torture chamber. If you’re shy, I can understand that reaching out to potential readers is difficult, but a smile goes a long way. If you’ve brought along a friend for moral support, that’s wonderful. Send him out into the store to steer people toward your table, or put him in charge of giving out free bookmarks. Don’t spend the whole time chatting and ignoring people.
Writers are often brilliant people. Some of my favorite writers dazzle me with their intellect. Knowing you’re smart is one thing, but hitting a potential reader over the head with your smarts is a sure way to kill sales. I ran across a book signing for an iUniverse science fantasy novel last spring. In an attempt to be supportive, I stopped and picked up a copy. The author took it from my hands, opened it to the Author’s Note inside and insisted I read that first. It was two pages of the author saying that this book was more than likely too smart for most people to read, but if I felt I was capable of handling the “collegiate level” subject matter, I could go ahead and read the book. I ended up buying ice cream instead.
I know quite a lot of our readers are writers-in-progress, so while you’re making your marketing plans, keep in mind that your body language and behavior is just as important to marketing yourself as the free bookmarks and blogging. And smile!
If you haven’t already voted, please go over to Urban Fantasy Land and cast your votes for Faith, Kim Harrison and our very own C.E. Murphy! And please come by Magical Words tomorrow to enjoy a guest appearance from best-selling author Kim Harrison!