Most writers love nothing more than to hole up in their special space and simply write. It may be at home, on a writing retreat, or surrounded by the sound of coffee machines and chatter in a café. While we love writing, most writers have an aversion to anything related to marketing. And public appearances? Book signings? Ooh, that’s a form of torture all on its own.
Unfortunately, the reality is we have to get out of our comfort zones once in a while and (*gulp*) … sell our books. Indie authors and the traditionally published all have to tackle the marketing beast at some point. We need to connect with our audience and continue building it if we want to earn a living from our craft.
This year, with that in mind, I decided to contact some local booksellers and ask if they would be interested in stocking my paperbacks.
Some authors offer their books solely in digital format but for me, it’s been my dream to see my books on the shelves of a bookshop. I love a fresh new paperback. The weight and feel of it nestled in my hands brings me joy. And the aroma of those fresh pages? It’s like the book is begging you to indulge in its juicy words!
To say I was excited when the first bookshop said yes is a major understatement. I did a happy jig around my office. But the bubble was quickly popped when they asked if I would come in and do a book signing as well. Well, shit. I hate speaking in public.
I may be completely comfortable with whatever subject I’m discussing, but my body contradicts me.
A lovely ruddy rash sprouts from my neck and plants itself boldly in my cheeks. I end up looking like an old Irishman with too many whiskies in his system.
We’ve all heard the horror stories of writers sitting for hours at a signing watching a distressingly high percentage of patrons pass by with casual indifference. How do I avoid looking like a raving lunatic with a goofy smile plastered across my face, eager for the attention of someone to show interest in my book? You feel like a lame duck, ready for the slaughter. It’s especially terrifying for the first book. That’s your baby people are judging you on.
With my first signing, I arrived with sweaty palms and a racing heart. It was like going on a first date with your first crush.
My goal was to be approachable and professional, avoiding any hint of smarminess. No raving lunatic here. I’d wait for people to approach me. It would be fine. After all, I have one major thing in common with people who visit bookstores: we all love books. Yes, it would be fine. F.I.N.E.
Except that first signing coincided with a torrential rainstorm and the after effects of a snap lockdown. In other words, it was a great day to stay home. And people did. Very few visited the bookshop. As embarrassed as I was, squeezed into the back of the bookshop, the only space available inside for my signing, I felt equally bad for the owner who kept apologizing for the lack of traffic. It wasn’t their fault. In normal circumstances, both the city and the bookshop would be buzzing on a Saturday. Still, standing there, waiting for someone, anyone, to walk to my table…Well, it gave me a lot of time to think.
I thought of the photos I’d seen of famous authors with hordes of readers stretching out the door. I felt like a failure. I began to second guess myself. What do I need to do to have that kind of experience? My mind whirred. If I don’t have lines out the door, that means I’m not doing something right. I’m not getting my book in front of the right readers. Maybe I wasn’t doing enough marketing, enough advertising. Then it hit me. I would have to put myself out there even more. It meant I had to do things like …. interviews. And that’s a WHOLE other nightmare. Nightmare scenarios began racing through my head. (Remember that rash I told you about?)
And that’s when someone walked to my table and asked me to sign my book before they purchased it. In that moment, everything was great in the world again. My racing heart quietened.
Between the signings I’ve done since that first time, I haven’t had to experience an empty table for too long. I usually have someone who has walked the Camino de Santiago or knows someone who has. Sometimes someone approaches who is trying to write a book themselves and is curious about my writing processes. And now, with Beneath the Surface out in the world, I have people telling me how much they ‘love a good thriller’ and they’ll ‘give it a go’ Most of all, I am lucky to have amazing book shops who’ve opened their doors to me, promoted my books, but best of all, kept some of that stock to sell later.
So, my goal in the end has been accomplished despite my initial anxiety attacks. My books are stocked on bookshop shelves, and I sell more books at my signings. Now I just hope that those buyers will leave reviews (!!!).
It’s a great reminder that we writers need to come out of the woodwork every once in a while. Even if we go kicking and screaming.
Here’s what I’d like to ask you:
If you’re ever at a bookshop and there’s an author sitting alone at a table, please go talk to them. You don’t have to buy their book if it’s not your thing, but talk to them. What I’ve found is this: having one person at the table piques other people’s interest. Others want to know what’s so interesting, so they will come over and casually look at what’s on the table. So while you may not be the buyer, that curious person may be. And maybe you’ll meet a very interesting introvert who is just hap