A couple Saturdays ago I spent the afternoon in downtown Los Angeles at a book signing for John Scalzi. He’s a NYT best-selling author for Old Man’s War and several other fantastic scifi novels, including his latest one, Fuzzy Nation. Basically, he’s an experienced guy who ran an excellent book signing. I’ve been to a few other book signing/reading events—and they are, sadly, not always a blazing success.
So, let’s say you’ve done your promotion and your marketing and you’ve managed to gather a respectable crowd at your local Barnes and Noble. What do you do with them?
1. Audience participation
Get involved. Scalzi was chatting with all the early arrivals when I got there, funny stories about his travel or whatever. When he started the "real" bit, he asked us a lot of questions. Did we hear about this from his blog? Did we want to hear him read from his new novel, or his next, unpublished one? He let the audience vote on it, and he then he had us all swear secrecy for the excerpt from his new book.
Take away: Talk to the audience before you start; this is the best way to assuage nerves if you’re uncomfortable. Ask questions. Maybe do a poll on favorite genre, how they know you, favorite character (particularly if you have an Edward/Jacob setting), or maybe how far they drove to come. The people coming to a book signing want to feel known even if it’s only a small way.
2. Elite status
Make the audience feel privileged. Signing books is only part of it. By coming to your book signing, they’ve formed a tenuous relationship with you, and inside information is a great way to cement the feeling of that relationship. Scalzi read from his novel that will be released in 2012.
You might not have another book contract, but you can still give inside information. If you might (possibly) be doing a sequel, give some clues about it. If you have nothing in the future (hopefully not!), give some insight into how this story came about. If the main character is based on your dog, or started as a ghost and turned into a vampire—talk about that.
3. Question control
A Q&A session is great for audience involvement, but you have to be on top of it. Scalzi told us up front that some questions he couldn’t answer (for legal reasons), and he didn’t hesitate to say, “Nope, that’s all I have to say about that,” on a couple questions that were off topic.
Some questions will be off the wall—only glancingly related to you or your book, or even inappropriate. A short answer is good, but don’t let them hijack the session with questions of no interest to anyone else. The rest of your audience will appreciate it.
Do funny. Okay, so a lot of us don’t have great comedic timing or fantastic impersonations or anything like that. But you don’t have to. Scalzi read the first few sentences from a prologue he spoofed on April Fool’s Day; the writing was hysterically awful and over the top.
Maybe you’re not into spoofs, but most of us authors have some pretty hysterical rough drafts and drawer manuscripts. Dig one out (an old one that doesn’t grieve you anymore), and find a section to give your audience. If you read from your current book, don’t be afraid to spice it up. Dramatic pauses, voices, gasps—whatever fits. They’re ready to be entertained, so be brave. Collect some anecdotes from your travel or tour and have them ready. Self-deprecating humor is always a safe bet, too.
Getting people to your book signing is fantastic, making them tell all their friends about it is even better. Have fun!