Six Self-Taught Rules for Book Signings

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Sydney Moore wants to be a writer, and we had a long talk about what that means and how to do it, some tips of the trade. And she bought a book. (Note the table in the background – B&N had already set it up, so we left our fancy decor in the car. Ours is better, but theirs was done and done is art.)

Sunday we did the last signing of this tour, at the Barnes & Noble in Knoxville. It went well. Looking back at the two weeks has given me a chance to think about what works and why.

I won’t try to compare the results of the Blackbeard Pirate Festival in Hampton, VA, to the three bookstores we did – they were different both in type and scale. But some of the observations still apply.

We did signings at the Barnes & Nobles in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and here in Knoxville. We did an event – reading and some schtick – at the Red Canoe Bookstore and Cafe in Baltimore. I prefer readings, because I believe in “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter” and know in my soul that if I can get them to listen to a bit of the story, they’ll be hooked. I love reading to crowds. I’m a ham, I admit it. But sometimes that’s not what the store wants, and you have to take what they’re willing to give.

The two Barnes & Noble signings were similar to an event I did with Cap’n Slappy (my pirate friend Mark Summers) when our book “Pirattitude” came out. That was pretty grim, but I learned a lot that time out and was more prepared this time around. Here are some things to think about when you do a book signing.

A “signing” isn’t a reading. There’s no expectation that you’ll have an audience or even any interested passers by. The store sets up a table for you. In Wilkes-Barre it was five steps from the front door, so everyone had to walk right past me. In Knoxville it was about a third of the way down the main aisle, next to the customer service desk. Good location. They give the table a generic cloth and, usually, a sign, and put a chair behind it.

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There’s an old politician’s maxim that applies equally to selling books, or anything else, I suppose: No one ever made an enemy by telling a woman her baby is beautiful.

Rule 1 – DO NOT sit down in the chair. If you sit down, you disappear, even if you’re dressed like a pirate in full gear from head to foot. It’s too easy for the people passing by to ignore you. Ninety nine percent of them aren’t there to see you, have no idea who you are or what you’re doing in the store. They have their own reason for being there and it has nothing to do with you. They will be happiest if they can slide past you without making eye contact. You’ve got to make them notice you, and you can’t do that sitting on your butt.

I worked the table, pacing front and back. Everyone who passed within the sound of my voice (and that’s a goodly distance) was greeted with a growling “Ahoy!”

You do what you can – or what you have to – to engage them. They’re not going to buy your book if they don’t notice it. Make them.

Rule 1B – Don’t be embarrassed. You are not begging, you’re not imposing on the store or your potential readers. Just get that out of your head! You’re doing them a favor. You’re giving the store an opportunity to make a few bucks by selling a great book. You’re doing the store’s customers a chance to be entertained by your book. They’re going to love it! Believe in your book and yourself. Of course you want to get in their faces. You’re giving them a chance to read a book you really believe in – yours.

Rule 2 – Don’t let the bookstore choose your decor. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve got a lovely table cloth of some bland neutral color, and they might have a sign on a standard. But that’s pretty generic, don’t you think? We have our own table covering – a layer of burlap and a layer of netting – that gives it a nautical flavor. I bought a small chest years ago, knowing that I’d eventually have a book to sell and that this chest at a second-hand store was the perfect size and style to sell a pirate book. And we added other piratey touches that help attract potential readers.

If, like the guy I talked with in Hampton, your novel is set in the Prohibition Era gangster milieu, you might want a violin case that holds your books instead of a Tommy gun (but if you can get a replica Tommy gun to put on the table, that’d be cool.) And dress in a pinstripe double-breasted suit and fedora. You get the idea. Be creative.

Rule 3 – Don’t count on the bookstore for publicity. With the infamous Corvallis Borders appearance I mentioned (and I can certainly see why Borders went out of business) their idea of publicizing the event was to print out a flier with the bare facts, who and when, and stick one on the door. That doesn’t cut it. You’ve got to take the bull by the horns. After this tour was nailed down I sent releases and photos to every newspaper, radio station and TV news show in those areas. (That means you’ve got to learn to write a news release. Start now.) I posted regular reminders of my schedule on Facebook, including “the night before” posts – “Just a reminder to my friends in …” There were people there who came specifically because of that.

Rule 4 – Don’t judge success solely by sales. Yes, you want to sell books. Lots and lots of books. And you can tip the odds in your favor. But there are days when there’s just no one there, for whatever reason no one is shopping for books and didn’t see your PR. There will be good days, and there will be slow days. But no day has to be a bad day. You do the things you can, and try not to worry about the things you can’t control. We sold a lot of books this time out. But more importantly, we had fun. It’s FUN to work the crowd, to engage someone. As they learn about you and your book they get drawn in. Usually, you can almost hear the “click” when they decide to buy. But even when they don’t, have fun talking to them. People are interesting. Listen to their stories and tell yours. Connect. There might be something they say that can work in your next project, or a particular look or expression that you want to steal. You’re learning your craft, and part of a writer’s craft is selling, whether you like it or not. Get used to it. Even when you don’t make a sale, you’re getting the word out, you’re showing the flag (in my case a Jolly Roger, of course.) There’s a cumulative effect to luck. To be lucky, act lucky. To be successful, act successful.

Rule 5 – Don’t give up. At the end of the Wilkes-Barre signing – which was mildly successful but in terms of sales not our best outing of the trip – we had packed everything up. Tori brought our pickup around to the front door and we were throwing everything in the back when a woman walked briskly by.

“You’re not too late to get a great action story!” I said.

She paused.

“Yes she is,” said Tori, creating the dramatic tension needed so that the woman would feel like she was defying odds.

“No she’s not,” I said, I said, making myself the hero.

“What age group is it?” the woman asked, taking a step toward me. CLICK!

I told her, told her about “Chrissie Warren” Pirate Hunter,” and the sea battles and chases and cliff-top duel, the action and adventure. And within three minutes I was signing a copy for her fourth-grade son.

NEVER give up.

This is long enough for today. My next post will be about facing a room full of three-year-olds in Baltimore.

Day 2 on the Road – Resting Already

 

Day 2 of the road trip has been a rest day. We spent the first day driving from home in New Orleans to our friend Robyn’s house in Knoxville.

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Robyn, Tori and jb at the quarry.

So instead of doing the drive to Hampton in one burst, we made plans to take Thursday off. And it’s been a very nice, restful day, enjoying Robyn’s incredible yard (She’s been in this house about a year, and already has it certified as an urban wildlife refuge.) We took her on an errand, where she traded a container of worm castings (she grows worms in her garage) for burlap sacks from a coffee roaster, and made arrangements with him to pick up a couple of buckets of coffee grounds for – whatever it is she uses them for.

We also went out and saw a couple of historic sites, the quarry where a lot of the marble in federal, state and municipal buildings across the country was mined – apparently Knoxville was once known as “The Marble City.” Who knew, outside of Knoxville?

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John and three-pound rifled ordinance.

Then up to Fort Dickerson, the site of a Civil War battle in which Union Forces slammed the back door to Knoxville on a superior Confederate force. It was interesting, and always a little awe inspiring to think about what had taken place on that spot 150 years ago, men not much different than myself engaged in a life and death struggle – literally – for the soul of a country.

We’ll be off at the crack of dawn tomorrow, heading for Hampton, Virginia, for the Blackbeard Pirate Festival. Looking forward to the Pirates’ Ball Friday night, where we’ll get to hobnob with Hampton’s finest freebooters. And we’ll be doing our best to sell “Chrissie Warren” Pirate Hunter,” while we’re there. After all, it was not an accident or coincidence that the opening chapters of the story take place in Hampton. I knew I’d be there soon.

This is the time.

jb

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Tori knows what the big guns are for – Looking dramatic!

A Wing and a Prayer

Sometimes days go exactly as you plan. And some days are like this Saturday.

When I woke up Saturday I knew exactly how the day was going to go, knew what I’d do and when I’d do it. Had it all planned out. Then we heard the first car horn.

We were outside, and every time a car passed down the street it honked. It puzzled us. Then we saw it. Out on the pavement there was a bird – walking down the middle of the street. Sidling a little to one side or the other as cars passed, but not taking off.

It couldn’t. Even from 50 feet away we could see there was something seriously wrong with its wing, and there was an ugly red gash just in front of where the wing connects to the body.

The bird marched gamely on, then crossed the street. It stood at the end of the driveway three houses down from us. And just stood there. Tried to flap its wings and take off, but couldn’t.

Most people – myself included – would be inclined to think, “Poor bird. Mother Nature sure can can be a bitch,” and then get on with our day. Not my wife. Not Tori.

First we called the animal rescue place here in town. They would send someone out to “stabilize” the bird, then take it back to the shelter for rehab. It would cost us $300. I explained it’s not my bird. But it was my call, the woman explained, and they had to charge somebody. Well, that was out. I hung up.

That’s when Tori took over. She wouldn’t just forget about it. She couldn’t. Half an hour on the phone and she had found someplace that would take the bird, if we could get it there. The bird hadn’t gone far, so we were able to get around it and subdue it. I’ll say this, for a bird with a broken wing, she was otherwise very healthy and fast on her feet.

So between the calls and the chase, that was about an hour. Then we got in the car. The place that would accept the bird – the only one we could find on a Saturday – was an hour and 15 minute drive away. Middle of Nowhere Louisiana.

Wings of Hope was at the end of a long road in the middle of the country (which down here, is only three days of hard rain from returning to swampland.) The woman who runs it, Leslie Lattimore, has been involved in rehab all her life and runs the place as a labor of love. They operate on donations – and I recommend checking them out on line and sending them a few bucks.

Anyway, she looked the bird over, holding it gently but surely, talking to it the whole time. She couldn’t offer a lot of hope. The wing was badly broken, apparently held on only by skin, not tendon or muscle or ligament. Under those circumstances, there’s very little chance of recovery, but she said she would do what she could. At the very least, she said, we had spared the frightened bird a death in the cold rain on the street, or being torn apart by one of the neighborhood’s feral cats.

We made a donation and left, trusting that she would do what she can, and what she has to.

I think days like Saturday are exactly why I love Tori so much. Not because she’s kind to birds, or anything like that. But because her heart is so big, and she won’t let anything stop her from doing what she can for what she thinks is right, regardless.

Maybe it was a fool’s errand. It was obvious from the start the bird was badly injured, and the chance that it could recover seemed pretty small.

But if that’s the case, Tori would prefer to be a fool who cares and who tries, rather than a sage who sits back and says, “well, probably nothing you can do.” At least Tori tried. And I’m with her. That’s the gift she gives me.

She helps me be a fool.

Love in the Supermarket

IMG_3172I was at the grocery store Thursday afternoon with Max. We went through the checkout and headed our cart towards the door. Usually that’s a 10, maybe 15 second walk. This time it was moving much more slowly. Ahead of me was an older couple – he looked like he was in his late 70s, at least, and she wasn’t more than a year or two younger. They both had hold of the cart and were using it and each other for support, slowly pushing it towards the door.

The passageway was a little narrow. I could have probably maneuvered past them, but I didn’t want to disturb or alarm them, and I didn’t want them to feel like they were in the way.

A pair of women in their 20s came up behind me, no cart, and started swinging around to pass me. I pointed ahead and they both slowed and smiled. “That’s so cute,” one of them said.

We all waited for the couple in front to clear the narrowest spot, then the two women went on ahead and out. I waited behind the older pair. They moved slowly, resolutely, towards the door, apparently talking quietly to each other, swaying slightly as they walked so that their shoulders bumped on every other step. It even took them a few seconds to negotiate the double door, but then they were out and headed towards their car. I lost track of them as we headed towards our own car.

Instead of taking ten seconds or so to get out of the store, it had taken a minute and a half, maybe two minutes, an insignificant portion of my day. And I got so much more for my time. They weren’t in any hurry. They didn’t need to be. They were with each other. What else did they need?

End of the Week Odds and Ends

Jambalaya Writers Conference

I’ve been asked to take part as a presenter in the Jambalaya Writer’s Conference in Houma April 2. I’m pretty excited about it. I have no idea why they asked me, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

I’ve been asked to present on marketing. I know a bit about that, although not knowing about a topic has never slowed me down before. And I will educate myself all the more in the next month. It’s not a paying gig. They’ve got a hotel room for me and my wife, Tori for the Friday night, and she gets to attend for free. Mostly it’s a chance to get myself out there, and to sell some books.

Good Will

Filled a chink in my cultural armor recently. Finally saw “Good Will Hunting.” I know, the movie is almost 20 years old and it’s not like it was a big secret. But somehow I just missed it, then never got around to catching up.

What a terrific movie. I really loved it. The story, the performances, everything. It’s not just a good story. The story about it is a good story. Two young guys trying to make it in Hollywood and not getting very far, so they wrote their own movie and somehow got it made. And it was so good they ended up winning the screenplay Oscar.

It’s a movie that makes you feel like, whatever you’re doing, you can do better. And you should. It was inspiring.

(It was also the first Minnie Driver movie I’ve ever seen. Seriously. Seen her on a couple of TV things, but never seen a movie with her. Isn’t that odd? But now I have.)

Not A Sociopath, Please

On the Killzone blog, they have a regular feature where people submit the first page of their work in progress and get it critiqued, first by one of the bloggers, then by readers in the comment section. It’s always kind of interesting, but this week’s critique had a kind of horrifying fascination. Unlike most of the submittals, this one was really bad. My rule in making any comments is to find something positive to say before I suggest any areas for improvement. It was impossible with this one.

You can take a look at it here and see if you agree with me.

It suggests a rule for writing: You should make your main character someone who, if not necessarily likable, is someone the reader at least will be willing to share a couple of hundred pages with. Failing that, at least make the character believable. A character, purportedly some kind of private detective, who slaps her client in the third paragraph for “back talk” and threatens to punch his teeth out when he refers to her as “Ms.” isn’t quirky. She’s a sociopath.

Progress and A Thought

I like where my WIP is going, but I recognize there may be a problem, the kind of problem that would get ripped up in first-page critique. No, the main character isn’t a sociopath. I save the sociopath for third chapter.

No, it’s a style thing. I know why it “breaks the rules” but I also know why I want to tell the story that way.

Anyway, what I’m thinking of doing eventually is posting the first couple of pages here and getting feedback. Not right away. Not until I’m sure that the beginning of the story is solid. Then it’s always interesting to get some insight, to find out if a reader thinks the same thing that you thought when you’re writing.

I used to belong to a critique group at the local library. But they’re schedule changed, then my work schedule changed, and it became impossible for me. Too bad, I really enjoyed it.

That’ll do for now.

Fa La La La Folicles

Here’s my beard. Ain’t it weird? Don ‘t be skeered, just a beard.” – George Carlin

Since my friend, Mark Summers, and I entered the pirate realm as creators of the ersatz holiday International Talk Like a Pirate Day and became Cap’n Slappy (Mark) and Ol’ Chumbucket (me,) I have always been the well-trimmed buccaneer of the duo. Mark hasn’t touched his beard except to push it out of the way when he eats or drinks for at least ten years and possibly much longer. (When did we do “King Lear?” I don’t think it was that wild then.)

Anyway, I was always the more dapper one. But then, sometime last summer, my beard trimmer broke. And I didn’t think much about it, but my beard started getting longer. When I finally noticed this fall, it was getting a little crazy. It started twisting and curling in ways I never expected. If only the hair on top of my head (when I had hair on the top of my head) had been that wavy.

I had to use scissors to keep in check the hair around my lips or it would end up in my mouth with every bite of food. And Tori wasn’t fond of that much hair from my face getting into her face, and I do like kissing her.

So top of my Christmas list this year was a new beard trimmer, and Santa came through. Here are the before and after pictures, taken on Dec. 25. (I admit, it also helps to pull my hair back, but when you’re going for the hairy scary pirate look …)

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And a bonus picture. One morning in mid-November, Tori was cleaning out the bathroom medicine chest and happened across a jar of hair gel, which she gleefully began running through my beard. The resulting pictures convinced me that, yeah, I definitely needed a trim. And now I’ve got one.

“Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter” is now on sale at these sites

And here it is. Days of anxious waiting are over and now “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter” is available for sale. Now months of anxious waiting are on the horizon as I try to keep from obsessing on sales numbers – if any.

Here are the links:

csFINALfrontFor the trade paperback edition ($12.95, 268 pages)

This link takes you to the CreateSpace estore, where the paperback is loaded.

This link takes you to the site where you can advance order a special, signed and numbered hardcover edition: ($45, 272 pages)

This is a one-time-only limited edition hardcover of “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” signed and numbered by the author. This volume also contains three interior illustrations by cover artist/designer Katherine J. Bishop, not contained in the paperback.

Orders will remain open through Nov. 1. When orders close, that’s how many copies will be printed. They will be shipped to me where I sign them and mail them to those who bought them. They will arrive in plenty of time for Christmas. This is the only opportunity to purchase a signed copy of the book online.

When you order, make sure you use the “Notes to Seller” tab at the bottom of the checkout page to tell me who you want the book signed to – your name, or the name of someone you intend to send it to as a gift. Otherwise i’ll just sign my name.

And of course, the Kindle version has been available all week. If you’re a Kindle reader, you can purchase it here:

And the first person to purchase the Kindle version has already posted an Amazon review, which I’ll share here, because, well, damn.

“This is a very compelling story, moving at a great pace. I hope there is a sequel in the works, because the story leaves you wanting more, in a good way. While I am technically not a young adult, I think they will enjoy this, too.” D. Van Middlesworth

I know that eventually someone is going to write a pan, tell me it’s a terrible book and I’m a terrible writer, because that’s the nature of the beast. I’m practicing being philosophical. I’m also laying in a supply of rum.