This was my first book signing, and damn it, I didn’t want to mess it up.
I’d managed to squeeze in a signing at the last minute, thanks to my father-in-law and the local Barnes & Noble manager. Scheduled six days before Christmas and one day after the release of the new Star Wars film, it seemed like a good time to offer my space opera novel to busy shoppers. So without fanfare, I arrived right on time to find a table prepared for me, with my books lined up, as well as a standup flyer with my name on it.
This was the moment I’d only dreamed of. Yes, that’s a cliché spoken by every writer, but it’s true. For someone like me, a book store is both exciting and sacred, a library where proven classics shares shelf space with new blood. And here I was, the new blood, daring to seat myself in the center of such a place.
The store clerk welcomed me and offered to bring me coffee from the instore café should I need it; my wife, a few relatives, and friends took photos, bought a few copies, then left to do some last minute Christmas shopping. I was lucky enough to have an extended conversation with a local author and friend, but soon, even he was gone. I was set adrift in a sea of words and the people who pay their hard-earned money to read them.
But as soon as I sat down at the table, my anxiety disappeared. I don’t know why.
I’d always heard that you should engage people, but not come across too strong or annoying. So I sat there, hemmed in by my books on one side, and my cover blowup on the other, and waited.
It was interesting to watch people pass my table. You could tell who might be interested and who wasn’t. If anyone made eye contact with me, I made sure to say hello, and ask how they were doing. Most people are friendlier than they appear. If someone paused and glanced at my books, or my blowup, then I’d greet them and ask if they like science fiction. If anyone replied in the positive, I would continue my sales pitch (because that’s what it is) and ask if they liked Star Wars or Firefly, if they had a favorite SF author, and so on. This worked almost every time, with the result that I signed a book and garnered a sale at the end of the conversation. There was no median age, gender, or ethnicity; I sold books to the young and the old, men or women, whites and African Americans.
Some were parents shopping for their teenage children, some were buying Star Wars board games and wanted an SF book to go along with it, and some were intrigued enough by my description that they bought a copy. One woman liked my explanation of Kivita and Sar’s romance in my book. A guy mentioned that he liked SyFy’s new show The Expanse, and I mentioned that I watch it too (which I do) and that I tried to follow science much like that show does, by respecting different atmospheres and gravities in my own work. He bought a copy. Then there was the young guy who arrived after I had packed everything up. Wearing a curious smile, he picked up a copy, and soon we were discussing the works of Kevin J. Anderson, Timothy Zahn, and David Brin. I complimented him on his Boba Fett shirt (yes, I like that iconic character too) and the young man finally bought a signed copy.
So yes, I was being a salesman, but I know my genre, and I know my audience. I’m a fan too, and that connection with other fans worked for me.
There’s no doubt that the current popularity of space operas helped me out. But during the signing, the store clerk came by and let me know that I was doing very well. According to her, she’d seen other authors give a signing, sit there for hours, and not sell a single copy. She said I was good an engaging people.
Later that night, as I carried my briefcase and cover blowup back across a darkened parking lot, with my wife in tow, I smiled. The event was a success: over half of the books sold, but most importantly, because I’d proven to myself that I could do it. That I really can talk to strangers, and perhaps, connect their love of science fiction with my own in such a way that they’re willing to buy and read my work. Best of all, my wife and family were very proud. You can’t put a price on that kind of support, and I thank them.