As most of you know, I attended my first book signing this past week. It ended up being one of the more intense experiences I’ve had recently; the intensity was both pleasant and unpleasant, mostly because I had no idea what to expect so I was quite nervous.
A bit of background; this book signing was not planned from the beginning to be such, but rather grew organically out of a series of serendipitous occurrences I couldn’t have imagined yet took full advantage of. Early in the process of writing Margin Play my editor asked the advice of a friend of hers, a retired cop/current PI working out of Illinois. He ended up liking my writing and told his boss about it. His boss in turn mentioned that there was an industry conference coming up in Des Moines Iowa, and said he could probably arrange to slip me in the door if I wanted to make the trip. I decided to take him up on it.
Long story short, this random series of events ended up with me frantically trying to get my novel done and published before the conference once it became clear there was a signing table waiting for me if I could show up with a book. I hit the deadline (barely), packed a bag and made tracks for Iowa with a suitcase full of shiny new books and a stomach crammed with bats.
After an interminable set of flights I found myself in a strange hotel in a room full of people I didn’t know – my editor was supposed to meet me there, but traffic and a few other circumstances beyond her control conspired to make her late. So there I was, a long way from home and all by myself, in a room full of people whose gazes asked “what are you doing here, weirdo?”
What did I do? I summoned up a smile, reached for my business cards and started shaking hands. It was nerve-wracking at first, but the other choice was to have the trip be a waste of my time.
By the end of the first day I found myself getting inebriated with a collection of salty Midwestern PIs and listening to their stories; to my liberal Northwestern self it was a bit unnerving to be sitting around a table with a bunch of armed drunk people, but I got used to it pretty quick. By the way, that Sam Spade mythology is not completely off base; I did not see any trench coats or fedoras, but I saw a lot of whiskey, cigarettes and pistols. And not just on the men…Amber Eckart is not a distortion, if anything she’s a mild example.
Anyhow, the next day I kept up with the smiling and shaking hands and handing out business cards; eventually I started to sell books – while nursing a good-sized hangover, I might add – and some great contacts came my way. Because of my efforts, one copy of Margin Play is on its way to a buyer for Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart…another is going to a Barnes & Noble manager. I sat down with Seattle Police’s CSI supervisor and picked his brain on matters forensic, as he was there as a guest speaker. He is now a consultant I can call on, so long as I do not expect a timely answer.
In essence, I presented myself in a friendly fashion and got good dividends from doing so.
This is something a lot of writers don’t seem to grasp; once you finish your precious bit of literary art and send it out into the world, it becomes product…a product which you then have to convince people to buy. And doing so requires that you learn all those cheesy “golden handshake” salesman moves you’ve no doubt spent your life mocking, because you never thought they’d apply to your situation. Yes, doing all that stuff is nerve-wracking. Yes, following up on random offers can mean conquering a mountain of uncertainty. Yes, sometimes you’ll find yourself at a table next to a drunken Viking with a Glock on his hip.
But all that makes for a good story later…and aren’t we authors in the “good story” business?
As an example; I was on layover in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, wanting some snacks for my impending flight. I went into a nearby bookstore because they had candy and Cheese-Its, and Cheese-Its sounded good. While the clerk rang up my purchase she asked me how my trip was going. I told her who I was and what I’d been doing, and when she expressed interest I handed her a business card (yes, that move really works). She responded by digging out her manager’s card and telling me to give that person a call, that the store chain is always looking for good books. That would not have happened if I hadn’t decided to open up.
Take a chance, follow those wild hares, and always be closing when you’re on the road.