Tuesday, 20 July 2010

What's it like doing a book-signing?

There are book-signings and well, there are book-signings. You know what I mean. Any famous writer used to sitting at a table simply signing a pile of books, with a smile, will not expect to have to exchange more than a couple of pleasantries. However, I’ve heard various stories about how some naturally reclusive writers avoid them if it involves engaging with customers in a bookshop, hiding, or even delegating a partner to do the talking. Also, I am told that on rare occasions some celebrated authors now turn up expecting a queue and – no one is there.
Well I turn up and sure enough, no one is there! But soon customers enter the bookshop and if they don’t come across to me I bowl across to them and we small-talk. They look at my books, we chat some more, and more often than not they buy one or maybe both of my books. They wave at me as they leave the shop like old friends. I love it.
Often mistaken for a Waterstone’s bookseller (though neither informed nor uniformed) I am asked such questions as ‘where is the self-help section?’ or ‘do you sell maps?’ and some customers offer to pay me direct for my books, thrusting a tempting £20 note my way, but sadly I must direct them to the sales counter. After all, every sale will help to notch up my Nielsen’s stats.
As I am often a stranger to customers, it is a joy when one comes in and says, ‘I’m reading one of your books at the moment, got it from the library,’ or ‘saw you in the paper’; ‘think I’ve heard you on the radio’; or ‘saw your books on Amazon’. I have no wish to be famous or a celebrity (honestly!!!) but it does give me a warm tingle, up to a point, that a few random booklovers know of me and my books.
Booksales are erratic. In some signings I have struggled, it has to be said. There was one where I was placed right next to the entrance and customers just breezed past and had no idea I was there, even less why.
Sometimes customers are focused, blinkered and I am apparently totally invisible. They look above and around me, and walk past, sometimes taking a detour to avoid my table where I wait to meet and greet. People can be intent on finding something specific: parents with children, combing through the Kids’ Section, or men who ‘never read novels’; others who only ever read fantasy/thrillers/crime or travel/historical/biographies and so on. One man last Saturday said he did not want to look at my books. ‘I never read books written by a woman,’ he said, to which I replied, ‘I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that!’ ‘I’ll say it again then,’ was his crisp retort. By sharp contrast another lovely gentleman was gently browsing and I asked him if he read fiction at all. ‘Yes, I certainly do,’ he said and immediately came across to see my display, which he hadn’t noticed. When he saw the titles a broad grin spread across his face like sunshine. ‘I used to be a Gypsy Liaison Officer, as part of my job. I have a lot of sympathy for these people,’ he said. We talked for about half an hour and he was almost reading my books before he had paid for them! It sure does take all sorts.
I spend a couple of hours in Waterstone’s shops most Saturdays, feeling very much at home among the bookshelves by now. The booksellers are lovely – always so welcoming, helpful and supportive. Gypsies Stop tHere I launched in 2008 with a signing in Camberley, then locally at Woking, Farnham and Basingstoke, also venturing to Borders shops in Brighton and Southampton. With the new one, No Gypsies Served, again launched in Camberley, I have been to Epsom, Reading, Windsor, Bracknell, Watford, Basingstoke, Farnham and still have many more lined up – another visit to Windsor where people are so lovely, Brighton, Andover, Woking and Guildford and who knows where?
Next stop Brighton! 31 July Saturday afternoon – apparently they, arguably, get up later than the rest of the country.

Would love to hear of others' experiences of book-signings from either side of the fence ...

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