Yesterday, I had the privilege of partaking in a Local Author Signing Day in South Pasadena. My fellow authors included Koji Steven Sakai and Dennis Sanchez (who is my dad, and also my writing inspiration). For my very first event, it went swimmingly. I sold a fair amount of books, got to hang out with some great people, and also received some valuable publishing advice.
But of course, there is always more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. Every moment is a learning experience, is it not? Here are five things I learned from my first book signing, and I hope you can take something out of it too.
5. Selling yourself is as hard as it sounds
I had this plan to ride my bike to the South Pasadena Farmer’s Market and pass out fliers for the signing. I thought it would be easy, considering the city is populated by educated and eclectic residents, so of course they would want to support local authors. I thought it even might be fun because I would get to talk to people about my book. But when I pulled those fliers out of my bag … I froze. I am a social person for the most part, but not amongst hundreds of people I don’t know. My initial spiel included my introduction, who I was representing, and a run-down of the event. Most people sat politely while I interrupted their afternoon for that whopping 30 second lecture, but after the fifth group, I nearly gave up right there. Not only did I feel like an ass for jumping in the middle of their conversations, but I felt that I was wasting my time. After anxiously texting my husband that I was failing miserably, he suggested I shorten my spiel to “Support local authors!” and basically shove the fliers in unsuspecting hands. That was even less do-able. I am not one to take immediate rejection easily, and less people are willing to take anything from a peddler shoving things in their faces. Needless to say, I went home early.
As it turns out, I’m not as good at this self-promotion thing as I thought. I still have people telling me “I didn’t know you wrote a book!” because I’m just not that good at talking about myself. I am a writer and an artist, but I’m now also a salesman. It is a frightful combination. I’m still trying to figure that part out.
4. Technology will always fail At crunch time
This is something you think I’d have learned by now, because it always happens. Go-time is quickly approaching, I’m about to step out the door, and whaddya know, the shit hits the fan. The computer freezes. Flash drives burn out. Files are corrupted. Files are missing. Files are overwritten, incomplete, incorrect. Printer runs out of ink, and then I run out of photo paper (both happened yesterday). I’ve been dealing with these kinds of things for a decade and a half (two, if you count school projects) and technology never fails to always fail.
The lesson? Don’t be like me. Plan ahead. Pretend the event is the day before the actual date, and maybe you won’t end up running through the house half-dressed smearing your make-up with sweat because you have all of ten minutes to be out of the house and you’re still replacing ink cartridges.
3. JUST LIKE ANY BIG PLANNED EVENT (AHEM, WEDDINGS) NOT EVERYONE WILL SHOW UP … EVEN IF THEY RSVP
Even if they tell you in person. Even if they text you an hour before and say they’re on their way. Even if you see them walking down the sidewalk right past the location — Okay, that part didn’t happen, but sometimes it can feel that way. I get it, people have lives. My book signing was in the late afternoon on a Wednesday, a difficult time for any commuting professional or parent. I don’t hold grudges against those people, especially to the many who graciously told me they weren’t going to be able to make it and wished me luck anyway. Conversely, there were quite a few people who did show up that I did not expect, and that was a pleasant surprise.
The bigger take-away from this RSVP thing is that I have to plan for these unexpected turnout numbers. I’ll have to remember to think bigger, beyond my scope of reach, tell people who I might not expect to ever come because those might be the ones who do. Friends are fickle. That’s not an insult. It’s a fact of life.
2. You can’t do everything yourself
The owner of Charlie’s Coffee Shop (who also happens to be my friend) offered me the opportunity to host the signing at her store. I am forever grateful for her generosity, and even more grateful for the fact that she basically handed me the reigns to put the thing together. The downside? I had to do everything myself. Aside from handing out some of the fliers and making the Facebook event, I pretty much did everything to make the signing happen. Why? Well, I am self-published. I don’t have a publicist or a publishing company to put an add in local papers (Doh! Why didn’t I try that?).
I don’t mind that I had to do most everything, but one thing I wished I had was someone who knew how to put something like this together. Suggestions came after it was already underway (advertisements in libraries? where are the neighbors?). Truth is, I’ve been so busy working and writing and selling my book that I didn’t spend as much time as I wish I had to make sure more people knew about the signing. As they say, “better luck next time”. Hopefully I’ll be better prepared.
1. More people will come if you have punch and pie
If (and that’s an if the size of the known universe) I ever become successful as an author, I’d like to remember the days when I became giddy when someone asked to buy my book. I knew that’s why those people were there — it was a book signing, after all — but the feeling of handing over a signed copy of my book is a tremendously glorious feeling. Some people even bought multiples so they could share with family or friends. Granted, my book costs about as much as a decent cafe lunch in LA, so it’s not a huge investment for anyone, but the fact that these people took time out of their day to show up to the signing and buy books was a great feeling. Many even stuck around awhile, chatted with the other writers and attendees, listened to live music, ate cupcakes, drank coffee and generally had a good time. I’ve always been the person who wants to throw an awesome and memorable party (people still refer to my wedding as “The Wedding of the Century” … no joke), so I put my all into this event.
Yes, I want to sell books. Yes, I want to present myself professionally. Yes, I want people to read the book I sell to them. But more importantly, I want people to enjoy themselves because those positive memories will transfer into the future. Maybe they’ll tell their friends about my next signing. Maybe they’ll keep showing up for the cupcakes. Maybe my name + my book will = happy thoughts in their brains. That is a powerful combination, because I’m not just selling my book, or just myself. It’s a package deal, whether I like it or not.