Book signings are intimidating
I was recently part of an "Apprentice House Showcase" at a local bookstore, and it was an interesting experience. Everyone else either had written a memoir or a literary novel, serious books with personal meaning behind them. And then there was me with my fantasy story about wizards and dragons. To say I felt out of place is an understatement.
Before the event, the five of us stood in a little cluster and introduced ourselves and any significant others that were brought along as emotional support. Small talk was mostly about how our sales and reviews had been and our experiences at other events. I was happy to find out that there were a couple other authors where this was also their first signing. As it got close to start time, we slowly made our way to a nicely arranged arc of stools in front of a set of windows with our books displayed behind us.
The other authors each had a turn to read part of a chapter, and as I listened I quickly realized that they all were much more comfortable sharing about themselves. In my day job I spend a lot of time time talking to large groups of people, so public speaking isn't something that's scary to me. I can stare down a room full of scientists and talk about the genetics of an obscure bacterium for an hour with complete confidence. However at my first book signing, looking at the tiny gathering of maybe a dozen people, I found myself with sweaty hands and a nervous stomach. Turns out talking publicly about myself and my creative work is much, much harder than presenting on my scientific research.
When it was my turn, I didn't read a chapter from my book, but instead read the back cover copy. At the time, I thought this would be a better way to give the audience an idea what the book was about rather than make them guess from a partial chapter. In retrospect, I might have done this for myself instead, because I could read the whole thing in a minute and then move on to the next author.
After the event was over, a few people came up to me to ask a question about a shared acquaintance or something about microbiology they had heard on TV. No one asked anything about my novel, but I guess that should have been expected. I didn't really give them anything to work with. As we were packing up, a couple other authors wanted to know if I was game to try and find other local bookstores that would host us collectively, which is an easier sell than a single author event. I said I would be happy to be part of the group, and we're currently chasing down leads with a small amount of success.
Measured by sales or generating buzz, I think my first book signing could have gone better. The bookstore sold one copy of my novel. However, as a learning experience, it was excellent. I walked away with a better understanding of what is expected from authors at events and signings. Perhaps more importantly, realized that I need to work much harder to become comfortable talking about myself and not be afraid to show some excitement about my novel. If I'm not going to be a cheerleader for it, who will?
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