Sunday saw me at my first (and only) book signing at my local Waterstones branch. I chose this one for two reasons: it’s in a humongous shopping mall that’s always busy, plenty of free parking and close to an intersection of two major motorways; and at the moment the store is promoting local authors and you don’t get much more local than me at only 10 minutes’ walk away! The staff were wonderful, so friendly and helpful but it took a great deal of courage for me to go in and ask if I could use the store for my debut! I like to learn something new each day and having gone through the experience, thought I would pass on my top tips, the do’s and the don’ts for book signings.
1) Don’t pick a day when major sporting events are on television. In my case, the Wimbledon final and the British Grand Prix. The first couple of hours were busy, time flew by and books sold. Come 2 o’clock, the store was pretty much deserted.
2) Although very much out of our hands, try to pick a day that you know will be wet. The shopping malls and stores are always much busier at weekends when it’s raining. Or in my case, rain was forecast but they got it wrong again – the afternoon was bright and dry and mild.
3) Wait until all the furore over the latest current best seller has died down or else you won’t get so much as a glance. In my case, the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy at discount was flying off the shelves, stacked at the entrance to the store, thus few ventured deeper into the bowels of the shop where my table was in the fiction section. I should have written a sex novel, even badly, and had a husband who was a PR manager. My book, Every Step of the Way, is set in West London in the locations where I grew up. Guess what? The author of Fifty Shades also comes from West London apparently. From my home town! Perhaps we know each other? I will have to find out… I wonder if her husband would be my PR manager too if I ask.
4) Don’t stagger in with extra copies of your book in case the store run out of stock. Be realistic. I didn’t and I was. I left my extra copies in the boot of the car, just in case some miracle might happen. It didn’t.
5) Do rally the troups, cajole, plead, beg and persuade, or in my case bribe with offers of a free lunch, family and friends to come into the store, preferably all at the same time. This creates a queue at your table and a crowd gathered around you. Great stuff – people are always curious and nosey and want to see what is going on, see what they are missing. Worked a treat. Thank you everyone who came in to say hello, take photos, buy the book. I love you dearly. Family – where the hell were you? Oh yes, I forgot. Most of mine live 80 or more miles away, some even further afield, abroad. So, dear family in Spain. I am in need of a holiday and some sun. Can you arrange a book signing for me there? P…l…e…a…s…e…
6) Do contact your local paper in advance to tell them, particularly if they have previously covered you writing the book. They love a follow on story. … Except in my case. They didn’t and still haven’t returned my calls or emails. Shame on you.
7) Do approach people in the store with your book, it creates more sales and interest. Oh heck! When the manager told me this, I nearly fainted and backed out. You see, I’m a shy, nervous person who finds it exceedingly difficult to strike up a conversation with a stranger. My mum told me never to talk to strangers and it’s sort of inbred in me. The crowd around the table helped to spark interest. One or two did approach me later. The rest, I plucked up the courage and approached. “Hey, I love your dress, where did you get it from?” “Are you here to buy anything specific or just browsing?” “Do you read historical fiction?” “Interested in the 1950s?” “Have you read this great book set in London and the West Country?” I felt like a shop assistant, particularly when someone approached me (smile, Kit, here comes another sale…) and asked if I worked there and could I tell them where they could find a book about some Russian or other. A teddy bear was thrown at my feet by a child in a pushchair. A friendly smile from me as I gracefully bent to retrieve and hand back the discarded toy, all the while thinking this is a good way to begin talking to the parent about my book. Well, it would have been if it had been a woman. “No sorry, love, I don’t do books. I’m here with the wife. She’s at the till buying Fifty Shades of Sex or whatever it is. I keep telling her she spends too much on books.” Oh well, foiled again.
8) Don’t drink copious amounts of tea or coffee or gin beforehand to calm the nerves else you’ll need to leave your table at frequent intervals and miss potential sales. A swift coffee when I arrived and no food passed my lips all morning because I know what my body is like under stress. Too much detail? Okay, I’ll move on.
9) Don’t get your hair stylist to cut your hair a few days before the big day, particularly if they are zealous with the scissors. I looked like Ellie from Ice Age… still, I suppose I am that old. A bit of a relic, or is that wreck?
10) Whatever you do, enjoy yourself. It was a great experience, and as a writer, there was plenty to observe and note mentally. All good research material to use in a book one day. And you never know, I might one day be back there signing another new novel.