Anne here, responding to quite an old question from one of our readers, MaryKatherine Kennedy, who wins one of my books for asking it. (Questions sent to the wenches never die, they just ripen until they hit the spot.)
MaryKatherine sent this question: I'd like to know how authors at book-signings would like signees to behave. I've only been to one book signing, and it was horrible. I didn't know what to say so I didn't say anything – just got my book signed and left. The bad thing is that I was the only one there with two tables of authors. Now I have a phobia of book signings.
MaryKatherine, I'm so sorry you were traumatised. But you've raised an excellent question. I haven't been to very many signings but I've learned a bit. And what follows is entirely my own opinion, so if other authors have a different point of view, I'd love them to post a comment. I've never had a solo book signing, but I've been one of two, and one of hundreds and everything in between. (None of these pictures is of me, by the way – my computer is at the shop, so I'm using photos from my website of a group signing I did with my friends.)
My very first ever book-signing was a bit crazy, because a friend of mine talked me into putting my name down for the Literacy Book-signing at RWA National. At that point (2000) I had no books out in the USA, but my first book (Gallant Waif, which had been published in the UK) was a finalist for the RITA Best First Book, and the National Readers Choice Award, which is why I was there. Luckily my UK editor came, and brought with her a pile of my second book (Tallie's Knight) so I at least had books to sell, even if nobody came.
I expected nobody to come. I was all set to sit and just people-watch, but as it happened, quite a few people came past to say hi — people who'd read my book in the competitions, people I'd got to know on-line – other authors, members of the Georgette Heyer group and others, various people from my publisher, and some people stopped to chat simply because they were nice people (and I probably looked pathetic <G>)
So you don't have to buy a book to make an author happy. It's nice if you can but don't feel embarrassed if you don't want to buy one. If you want to wriggle out, say you already have it, and if they ask you what you thought of it, you can say you haven't read it yet.
Most authors will still be happy if you just talk to them for a minute or two — ask them about their books or about writing or how they got their agent – or even what kind of a book you should get your great uncle whose birthday is tomorrow.
I attended a book-signing last year, and there were just two of us, sitting at a table at the entrance of the store with mounds of books in front of us looking hungry and expectant. A very scary sight for shoppers, I'm sure. It wasn't very well advertised, either, so not many people knew about it, and my book had already been out for several months so anyone I knew had already bought it.
So, how should you treat an author at a book signing?
1) Smile — they're probably as nervous as you.
2) Talk to them. There's nothing worse than sitting at a table not selling books,trying to look as though you're having the time of your life.
Say hi. Ask them questions. What sort of questions? Are they local? From out of town? How they got started writing, what the book's about, what's their favorite story, what's their favorite children's book? Do they write by pen or straight onto computer? What's the best/worst thing about being a writer. Ask whatever you like — with the bounds of politeness, of course. It's just conversation and being friendly.
3) If you've read any of their books, say so, but beware, it can get you into hot water.
At my second RWA conference, I lined up at a Berkley signing to get a book signed by one of my favorite authors. When I handed her the book to sign, she glanced at my name tag and said "Oh, Anne Gracie, I liked your book" or words to that effect.
It wiped my brain completely. Couldn't think of a thing to say.
"One of your books is an all time favorite keeper of mine," I blurted. It was true.
"Oh, which one?" she asked.
Of course I couldn't think of the title to save my life. Stood there like a dummy, no doubt turning bright red, but still grinning foolishly because Mary Jo Putney had liked my book!!!
So be careful what you say.(The keeper book was Veils of Silk, by the way.)
4) If they're giving out bookmarks or a pamphlet, take one. And don't throw them away in front of them.
Most of the book-signings I've attended are with a large group of authors, and they're easier. The book signing with just two of us — my friend Christine Darcas and I — was made both easier and more fun because a good friend of mine dropped by, as well as a representative from the Australian branch of my publisher, and they hung around, chatting and looking friendly, which I think decreased the slightly intimidating authors-in-waiting effect heaps.
I didn't hassle anyone to buy. I think that's what people are afraid of, that they'll get the hard sell "buy-my-book" routine. Not from me, and I suspect not from a lot of authors.
I'd brought a pile of little mini books with excerpts of my books in them and my friend Alison wandered through the bookstore giving them out to people and chatting, which was brilliant.
Lots of people came up and chatted. I met a few people who'd read some of my books — they didn't buy anything, but I didn't care. I talked to some ladies about books for kids. I met some students doing a writing course, and they talked to me about writing. I got some fantasy recommendations from a couple of readers, and recommended some books myself. And once people saw a group standing around our table, talking, they came to listen, and some stayed to buy.
To my surprise, a number of the people I talked to ended up buying my books, not from my table, but from the store bookshelf well behind me, and after they'd been to the cash register, they brought them over for me to sign.
So if you see some author sitting at a table waiting to sign books, don't be afraid to wander over to talk to them. At the very least, it makes for an ice-breaker and might encourage others to wander over. You don't have to buy (see hints for wriggling out of buying, above) but it's nice to be a bit friendly. If you're the tongue-tied type, you can always just say "Hi, nice to meet you," and ask for an autograph. At the very least that author will leave thinking good things about the friendly people in your town or suburb.
So what about you? Have you ever been to a signing? Good or bad experiences? Have you met a favorite author? What happened?