When I arrived, they had a table set up for me, complete with a "Reserved" sign, just like in a fancy
restaurant. I felt special and maybe even a little bit important, feelings that bore no resemblance to those I'd had just twenty minutes before as I lugged my books and paraphernalia into the car, fearing that my husband and I would be the only ones there. To them, it was a small detail. To me, it was a paradigm shift.
Book signings are a mixed blessing. At bookstores, these events are commonplace -- it's part of what bookstores do -- but when you're a newbie author, your name isn't a big draw beyond your own circle of friends and family, so securing the date and location is only part of the battle.
Let's face it, the pressure is on on both sides of the table. Authors are nervous and perhaps a bit hesitant (at least this one is), and even polite potential readers may hesitate to engage, fearing a high pressure sales pitch. (If only they knew I hate those as much as they do). Finding the sweet spot between "engaging" and "annoying" is essential to making the event a success from all perspectives.
After an initial inner struggle to determine my best approach, I settled on making eye contact and offering a friendly hello to everyone who walked in, a response that's a natural extension of my personality. I had bookmarks and post cards prominently displayed, and I considered offering them to patrons as they came into the store, but after watching a few people avoid eye contact (and several who found a route to the counter that gave me and my reserved table a wide berth), I decided that a laid back approach that avoided making people uncomfortable was my best approach.
As a result, I had fun. It helped that several friends (including two who aren't local and made a special trip in to see me) stopped by and made purchases (and bought me a cookie), but I also appreciated the people I didn't know who stopped to chat. The young lady whose mother just published a book of her own and has a signing coming up in a few weeks. The grandmother who wrote a children's book, and would like to someday be standing on my side of the table, and her nine-year-old granddaughter who asked what my book is about and told me about her adventures in theatre.
Is it disappointing to leave a signing having made no sales? Yes, of course. But smart authors recognize that it's not all about the sales. It's about making connections. A stranger who's kind enough to put aside the fear of being forced into buying something they don't want deserves the courtesy of an actual conversation that doesn't repeatedly loop back to a sales pitch. And maybe it's the counselor in me, but I enjoy being on the advice-giving side of the table as well, helping another writer to determine the next step in her journey.
So to all of you who stop and engage with authors at book signings, thank you. I can't promise that you'll never fall prey to a sales pitch that would make the stereotypical used car salesman blush, but I can promise that it won't happen at my table.