I lost my book signing virginity in a crowded Toulouse bookstore on a warm Saturday afternoon.
Placed at a table next to the cash register in my new “business casual" suit I had a view on the comings and goings of the store’s customers and would-be buyers of ‘The Perfectionist’ strolling past me during what was a busy day for the bookstore. I sat behind little piles of my book, pen clenched in my sweaty hand, smiling brightly at those who made eye contact with me. Some even dared small-talk, take one of the flyers I’d created, or pick up a copy of the book, flick through the pages, read the back cover blurb. Others would look down and get a good mental snapshot of me, the well-dressed author who writes about psychopaths and disgusting serial killers when he should be locked up somewhere and hidden from the general public.
Okay, I admit, that’s a bit harsh. That’s not exactly how it went down.
The initial idea of hosting a book signing was terrifying, like throwing a party and being certain no one will come, and then eventually sitting there alone, looking lost, scared and stupid. Any script I thought I’d prepared in my mind simply went out the window. In fact it turned out that I didn’t see the four-and-a-half hours of the book signing go by.
True, I was playing on home turf and I’d engaged in some pretty frequent pre-event promotion: My girlfriend was never very far, friends made appearances and kept the conversations flowing, and the store workers sometimes popped by to check on how I was doing. But I had no idea what kind of public turnout to expect.
Rather extraordinarily, total strangers did actually engage in conversation with me, and that I have to say was a pleasing experience. The event was relaxed, spontaneous and I loved the questions. It’s a great thing to sit in a bookstore for 4.5 hours among people who love to read and it’s a wonderful surprise to be the centerpiece of attention, a magnet of focus somehow attracting people of all ages and inexplicably making them walk over to the table. I got a huge kick out of obtaining reactions/connections with these people I’d never met before – I suppose it beats looking like a depressed vulture waiting for something to die at my feet.
After a short while I wasn’t afraid to smile cheerfully and greet customers. I engaged some of them in conversation: "This is my new book. It's about... Do you read crime fiction? … Oh and by the way it’s in English…" The answers are generally negative, but it can still be a good time to hand them the promotional flyer. You never know, they may pass it on to others who are interested. I tried to make them feel comfortable no matter how interested they were. My book may not have been their cup of tea but I might be remembered regardless. No act of kindness is ever wasted.
Then the unbelievable happened and one of those strangers bought a copy of the book. That act alone gave me the confidence to look around and talk to people more. And rather mysteriously, that prompted the sale of even more books. There was even an old lady who’d purchased the book in the store a few days prior to the signing and came back because she knew I’d be there. Safe to say, at that moment in time my self-esteem level was pretty much at its apex, I was fully embracing my fifteen minutes of fame, and I laughed at that myth about book signings not making money.
Each time I signed a book, I had fun, it felt good, it was meaningful and I had the opportunity to begin sharing my story with new people. I hope I was able to let my passion shine through.
I realized that what is most important at a book signing isn't to sell your books, it's to sell yourself. My face and my name were in front of the reading public, and that's the best promotion you can get.