I write in English and live well away from cities in a foreign country, so there’s not much call for book-signing events or any of that sort of thing anywhere near me – but “now” seemed to be a good time to get into it.
Right now I’m away from relative seclusion in sunny South-West France and I’m back in Australia for several weeks then on to Fiji for a couple more. A lot of the trip is doing research for the two new novels I am now working on – a sequel to BEGINNINGS, my time-warping, historical novel about Spain and the Basque people (by the way, the e_book is now on special discount of 0.99c for a short time), and a more personal memoir about growing up in Australia in the 1950s-60s …. and about dogs ———- but enough of that. Now, I’m taking the opportunity to do some active marketing as well – mainly “book-signing” and “book-reading” events.
I embarked upon these marketing appearances with some trepidation. Like many writers, I have a horror of casting myself as a salesman, PR person or networker. Somehow it didn’t fit well with my social and political conscience – but now I believe I was wrong. I’m keen enough to tell people how to make the world better place… so why not tell them about my fiction and other writings.
Indeed, I’ve written lots of academic and professional books but never has a publisher ask me to do any appearances, book-signings or networking. I gave papers at professional conferences and thought that was enough – I probably didn’t even really care about book sales. My readers bought my books because they needed to not because they wanted to – and therein lies the difference. So over the last couple of years, I’ve come to accept that these marketing activities just have to be done …. and indeed should be done. At first, I started by throwing myself into twitter , blogging, author pages on Facebook, AboutMe sites etc. That’s all time-consuming enough. So I never got into the business of “appearances” at book-signings, book readings and speaking events. But taking this on has meant facing a bit of a “learning curve”, at least for me.
Preparing or Winging It?
Now I’m not averse to speaking in public but even my short career as a trial lawyer and then a university law professor didn’t prepare me for doing ‘stand-up’ comedy, nor even for pitching my own creations to present and potential readers.
Everything I did before was about “preparation”. You don’t go into a trial without a heck of a lot of preparation and you don’t give a law lecture or present a paper at a professional meeting without being fully prepared … otherwise you risk embarrassment or even worse. But book promotion appearances aren’t the same. Here you speak from the heart not the head. You talk about your own creation, what motivated you to do it and where you wanted it to go and where it led you. …. It’s really about making a connection, not making an argument. It’s as much about ‘who you are’ as ‘what you say’. So I took a different tack and just spoke from the heart. Hey, that shouldn’t be so difficult, should it? But it goes against decades of professional training. Judges, students and other lawyers don’t care how you feel about things… they want to know about the case in question and the law that applies to it. So, did this “non preparation” approach work?
My first event was a book-signing at an occasional lunch function for survivors of my old High School Alma Mater – Brisbane Grammar School – and I was surprised by the warm reception, interest and how keen some people were to have their copies of BEGINNINGS signed. It was a semi-public event but pretty “laid back” and amongst relatively familiar company .. so a good start.
The next event was an appearance and signing at a privately hosted evening cocktail-champagne party on the Gold Coast – Australia’s version of Miami, for those unfamiliar with it. Mostly, there were new people present. A lot of fun. And I was to talk about my writing, my motivations for writing BEGINNINGS, what it was all about and then I had to follow it up with a “reading”. Well, again nothing was prepared and in view of what I said above about my background, it was certainly hard for me to contemplate just doing it, though a bit easier to carry it off. I can’t really be sure what it was that I said or will say next time, but the response was good.
Lots of applause, compliments and interest! So maybe it worked! But when it comes to reading, aloud, for an audience, even if it is your own writings; that doesn’t come easy …. and I’d recommend at least a little bit of preparation!
My support act – and I had invited him – was the writer of “Bar and Barbecue Humour”, a series of slightly ‘politically incorrect’ joke and humorous story books, Rumford Kindling – a pseudonym of course – but you can get his books on Amazon. A few jokes and funny stories was a wonderful way to wrap up the formal part of the event – if you’re not afraid of having the limelight stolen away from you by a comedian.
Autographing Books and Dedications?
It certainly is a pleasure and an honour when someone wants you to sign their copy of one of your books. A cynic might say that maybe they’re hoping that one day, when you are famous, it’ll be worth a lot of money. But I look at it differently. It’s just another symbol of what I was talking about about… making a connection between the reader and the author.
But you might ask: how do you autograph a book? Exactly where is the best place to sign it? I usually use the back of the front cover. There’s quite a few guides on these questions. But it can make a difference and autographing can be embarrassing. Of course, it helps when you have met the readers before or if you know them socially … but not if you can’t remember their names – though you can always ask glibly: By the way, how do you spell your name again? And as long as the answer isn’t B..I..L..L or something equally uncomplicated, you’ll probably get away with it. Then, what do you say in a dedication – though perhaps that’s not the correct term for the little extra you write above and beyond the signature? If I don’t know the person at all or haven’t really had a chance to meet them, and can say: A great pleasure to meet you! or Wonderful to see you again, all I have been able to come up with is hoping you enjoy the book! Any other suggestions would certainly be welcome!
And Are There More Events?
Yes, soon off to Fiji and another couple of appearances at book-signing or book reading events at a couple of tourist resorts. That will be interesting.
Finally, I’ve been fortunate to have these events set up for me, and for that I am truly grateful. But here’s a few tips and ground-rules for anyone thinking of hosting a book-signing for themselves. Better still, here’s how to maximize the impact of the event.