I spent much of today tromping around Manhattan and heading into bookstores to sign copies of Shades of Milk and Honey. Interesting thing about selling a book: your job doesn’t stop there.
The reason I trekked over the city is that signing books at a store does a number of things:
- It makes it easy to meet the staff
- Autographed books are placed face out
- They tend to sell better
- There are typically fewer bookstore returns of signed books
- Let me repeat the bit about meeting the staff. They are the ones who can handsell your book to a customer.
Blake Charlton and Paolo Bacigalupi took me on a ride-along when they dropped in to sign stock in Boston. Watching them was interesting especially since I’d no clue how to go about it.
Here are the steps as I understand them for a drop-in signing, as opposed to a pre-arranged visit.
- Find your book on the shelf
- Carry the books to the nearest information desk
- Introduce yourself, ask if they want you to sign them.
- They will say yes.
- Have your own pen. Be charming while signing (Blake is very good at this) and thank them.
Today I employed those steps and hit the Barnes and Nobles in town. All of the ones in Manhattan have signed copies now, except for the 86th street store which was already sold out of Shades of Milk and Honey. (Yay!) Tomorrow, in between meetings, I’ll hit the independent stores. Or rather, I and my phone will find out which stores carry it.
Any other useful tricks?
One of the ways that an author connects to the reader is by signing books. Here are some of the things that I’ve learned about signing things — not having a signing event, but the actual act of autographing.
- Pick a pen color other than black. Collectors and book sellers tell me that when a customer picks up a book to look for the autograph that it’s easier to spot when it’s not the same color as the rest of the book.
- Get a permanent pen with archival ink. What permanent means is that you want a pen which won’t smear. Archival pens… Some pens have a little bit of acid in the ink which causes things to degrade. To avoid that, when buying your pen look for ones that say “Acid-Free” or “Archival Safe”
- Always carry the pen with you. I have been asked to sign books in the oddest places.
- Carry bookplates with you. Particularly at conventions, I’ve already had people say that they would have brought the book if they’d known I was going to be there. Being able to offer a book plate on the spot has pleased folks.
- Practice your signature. I spent years signing posters after elementary school shows. For that I had to have a legible signature because it frustrated the kids, for whom reading was new, to be unable to read what I’d written. Most authors don’t and that’s no big deal. The point is that you need to be able to sign something while talking to the person.
- Have about three stock phrases of varying lengths that you can rotate when personalizing books. Again, this is all about being able to chat while writing.
- Sign on the title page. If you are signing an anthology, sign on the first page of your story.
- Date all your signatures during the first month. A collector told me that the closer to release day a book is signed, the more valuable it is. I had no idea. He suggested dating all signatures during the first month of release, by default
- Always ask people to spell their names, even if you know them. The number of ways to misspell names like Tracy, Traci, Tracey, or Tracie are astounding. When you are a debut author you will be missing half your brain and will misspell your own name at least once.
- Have a different signature for your legal signature. Your autograph will wind up on the internet on ebay. Having a different one for legal papers, checks or credit cards reduces the chances of identity theft.
- Put a postit with the name you want the book address to on the page you want the author to sign.
- Hand the book to them with it open to the page you want them to sign.
- Don’t be surprised when they have only half a brain, particularly if it is a new author.
Readers or writers, what other tricks do you have?
I had not planned to get a P.O. box. Truly, I just hadn’t thought about how I wanted to handle folks who wanted to have things signed.
My plan, if I had one, was that if someone needed to mail me things that I would just give them my home address. Since I’m not comfortable listing my home address on the website, this adds an extra layer of complication to receiving things. Not a big one, granted, but it means that folks needed to email me before they could mail me. It’s silly.
So, I decided to get a P.O. box. Here’s what I’ve learned about them.
- A P.O. box is not expensive. The box I got is only $55 for six months. I had thought that the monthly expense would be much higher.
- Boxes come in multiple sizes. The #3 is large enough for a magazine to lay down flat and hence can easily hold manuscripts and novels. I’ll let you know if the #3 turns out to be too small, but the Postal worker I talked to seemed to think it would work well based on the other authors that frequent this post office. Who knew there were so many.
- There’s a waiting list for P.O. boxes that varies from post office to post office. Mine said their wait was between 2 days to 2 months. I got it about two weeks after I applied.
- You can apply online. I applied in person, but golly online is so much easier.
- Small downside. This does mean I have to go to the post office on a regular basis to check it. The box is easy walking distance and I pass it on my way to the library so this is a small thing.
Overall, this is going to be something that will vary between individual authors. If you do decide to get a P.O. box, I’d suggest that you apply well in advance and pick someplace that you will routinely pass.
And finally, my mailing address is:
Mary Robinette Kowal
P.O. Box 221298
Chicago, IL 60622
I’ve been attending readings at conventions and booktours for years now. So when I started doing my own readings I followed more or less the model that I’d seen others do. First I’d read, then I’d ask if there were any questions.
I got pretty much the same response that I saw most other authors get. Crickets. Then, eventually, someone would feel sorry for the author and dredge up a question. It was awkward.
When I started the book tour for Shades of Milk and Honey I added a tiny little puppet show to the mix and suddenly started getting questions during the Q&A. they weren’t all about the puppetry either. When I added the puppet show was that I fell back into the rhythms built from 20 years of performing in children’s theater where almost every show was followed by a Q & A.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
- Signposting – This is a term from public speaking, which means that you let the audience know what’s coming up next. So when I begin, I say “I’ll start by reading from the novel, followed by a short puppet show from Chapter 10, and then answer any questions you might have.” After the reading, I signpost again, to remind them where we are. Continue reading