Pen Ready, Smile Bright: a practical guide to book signings — Guest LynDee Walker

lethallifestyles-front-smWe are so happy to welcome back LynDee Walker, the Agatha Award nominated author of the Headlines in High Heels Mysteries. The sixth book in the series Lethal Lifestyles came out in September 2016!

Lyndee is giving away a copy (paperback or ebook) of Front Page Fatality – the first book in the series to someone who leaves a comment!

Here are some of LynDee’s experiences at book signings:

Hey, fabulous writer friend, congratulations are in order: your book birthday is finally here! This calls for a celebration—and what better way to celebrate a new book than a bookstore signing party?

But but but…signings are scary! People! Sales! Pressure! What if it bombs? Or what if it doesn’t (especially if you write about fictional people because real ones make you want to run screaming for a safe room)?

Here’s a secret from six books deep in these trenches: nobody ever really knows what to expect from a signing (okay, I bet Stephen King and J.K. Rowling haven’t wondered if anybody will show up in a pretty long time. I also bet neither of them is reading this, so if you are, take heart), and there’s fun to be found in every book event.

Another secret: it’s always a crapshoot. You can prepare for a signing at the same store on the same Saturday of the year the exact same way, and you’ll speak to a standing-room-only-all-the-way-to-the-back-of-the-shop packed house the first time, while the second, balloons and cookies will only manage to grab the attention of three people in two hours (one of them might actually buy a book, too).

In this relatively solitary pursuit, it’s easy to let that second scenario punch a double-wide hole in your self-confidence. Take it from someone who’s been there: it’s not personal. It’s not a reflection of your talent. And the very next signing you do could be a blowout.

Let’s take samples from the events I’ve done in the past four years, shall we?

lyndeeMy debut’s launch party set my personal bar pretty doggone high: we had it at the most adorable bookshop, in a part of Richmond that featured prominently in the book, on a Saturday in February. I fretted for weeks over traffic and parking. I watched forecast models like I’d suddenly been hired by channel 8’s storm team. Tuesday that week it was sunny and 70 degrees. Yes, in Virginia in February. Saturday morning it was gray and frigid with ice pelting anyone who stepped outside.

“That’s it,” I told my husband. “This is over before it starts. Who’s fighting Shockoe Slip traffic in this mess?” (And I’m an optimist, y’all.)

Pretty much everyone, it turned out. I am blessed with a wide circle of friends, and they turned out en masse—plus, the first two rows of chairs were full of people I’d never set eyes on who just came to hear about the book. The store was packed from stem to stern, we sold a bajillion books (well…more than 50), and I signed stuff until my hand cramped. Fabulous day.

In 2015 when my fifth book launched, I put all the same care and planning and broadcasting and inviting into a launch at my local (awesome) Barnes and Noble. The manager had signs all over the shop for weeks, I was on TV talking it up, and I was pumped.

The day before the event I got frantic call from the store: the books had been ordered but had not shipped.

How the heck do you have a book signing with no books? I grabbed the five copies I’d gotten from the publisher in the mail a couple days before and went to the store hoping for the best.

The cool spin on this news: we sold out of books!

The not as cool honest truth: I sat at the table for two hours and sold exactly those five books. There was never anything that could be called a line. Every single cookie was eaten by a child who walked up and said “can I have one?” while their parent stood far enough back that they didn’t have to talk to me. BUT. One woman drove almost 100 miles round trip to get me to sign her book. See? There’s always something fun.

Like that time I went to sign books at Bouchercon only to find myself right next to Charles Todd. The only time it could possibly make anyone feel self-conscious that there are ten people in line to get their autograph is when there are a hundred in the next line over. BUT. Charles and Caroline were lovely people (most book people are), and he leaned over at one point and whispered “you’re new. You’ll get there.”

Fast forward to September 2016, the launch event for my sixth book. Same Barnes and Noble, same wonderful store staff, same 2 p.m. Saturday time slot. I did the same PR, I sent cute wedding-themed invitations, and I crossed various appendages.

The books (big stacks of all six titles) arrived a week in advance. Everything was set and ready. I worried that we’d only sell three this time and they’d never ask me back.

I ran into the store right at two (small child emergency on my way out the door, naturally) and plopped into the chair. By the time I sat up from bending to pull pens from my bag and tuck it under the table there was a line the likes of which I hadn’t seen since…maybe ever. It took almost two hours to get to everyone (full disclosure: I did chat with anyone who wanted to chat, because that’s my favorite part of this gig. I’m that woman who makes new friends in the grocery store checkout line). And while a few of my girlfriends were there, by the time you’re on book six, this whole “LynDee wrote a(nother) book” thing is old hat to your circle and they have their own stuff to do and will download it to their iPhone later, thankyouverymuchandcongratulations. Most of these people didn’t know me for anything but my work. And that was pretty darned fun, right there. I kept glancing to the back of the line to smile a “please don’t leave,” at whoever was last.

At the end of the day we’d sold out of four of the six titles, the store manager was beside himself, one of my readers had brought me (amazing) home-baked pink high heel cookies, and my face hurt from smiling.

I had no idea when I left for the event that it would go that well. And I have no expectation that my next one will do the same (but I can hope).

So readers, know that we love you even more when you drop into events to say hello, and writers, walk in with your pen ready, your smile bright, and your best “I got this” attitude. Whether there are two people or two hundred, something fun will happen. Pinky swear.

frontpageReaders: Have you been to a fun book signing? And authors have you had a good/bad experience you want to share?

Bio: LynDee Walker is the author of six national bestselling mysteries featuring crime reporter Nichelle Clarke, beginning with the Agatha Award-nominated FRONT PAGE FATALITY (2013).

The newest book in the series, LETHAL LIFESTYLES, was published on September 27, 2016.Before she started writing mysteries, LynDee was an award-winning journalist. Her work has appeared in newspapers and magazines across the U.S. She adores her family, her readers, and enchiladas. She often works out tricky plot points while walking off the enchiladas. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she is either playing with her children, working on her next novel, or admiring beautiful shoes she can’t wear.

69 Thoughts

  1. Really enjoyed reading about your adventures — great insight into the realities of being an author, sales and signings. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I love going to book signings, especially at conferences. We have a local bookstore here that I try to go to whenever an author that I know and/or read is having a signing there. The only thing that will stop me is the weather.

    I’ve been to conferences where I’ve seen an author seated next to one with a long line — I am the one who will go to that author’s line and have them sign their postcard or something.

  3. Ain’t it the truth, though! Thanks for visiting us and sharing your launch stories, Lyndee. This one isn’t a launch story, but I was invited to a big library two towns away. The library advertised my talk, I pushed out the news locally, and showed up on time with my box of books. By five after the appointed time, one woman sat in the second row. The librarian didn’t even come in! So I pulled up a chair and had a nice chat with my audience of one, and at the end she bought three books. Ya just never can tell, and it was an enjoyable forty-five minutes (although I was glad I’d driven only twenty minutes to get there instead of two hours…).

  4. Lyndee, you are doing so many things right – getting the word out to your friends! I own a bookstore and completely agree – you never know how it will go – and we worry as much as you do, believe me. I’ve had events with local authors who didn’t even whisper to their neighbor they had a book signing and surprise – no one showed up – and with others who worked their butts off spreading the word with the result of a nice crowd and healthy sales. We once did an event with Nevada Barr, very successful, but the day before she’d been somewhere where she sold two books and no one showed up. And this was recently, not when she was starting out, which really proves your point.From our point of view we have also done everything possible so a good attitude is all.

  5. Sounds like you have a great time at signings even if they are not as big as we all like…

  6. I have never been to a book signing, but would love to go to one sometime. I think it would be a great experience to meet an author that I enjoy reading.

  7. You never know, right? My worst: drove halfway across the state for an evening library signing. In the rain. With road construction. Arrived to find precisely one person there–and she had already bought the book. Even the library director who had set up the date didn’t show up. After that, anything is an improvement! Whatever happens, just go with it, and remember to smile. And readers, we are always happy to see you there.

  8. I have an amusing /mortifying signing story, but I’m not sharing it in public! Nice post, LynDee. I hope your next signing has a line out the door.

  9. I went to a book signing once that was really fun for me. Probably not so fun for the author. The store had done a lousy job of publicizing the event. I was the only one there, and I’d just happened to wander in, looking for something to read. Well-known, very successful, award winning author of several series. I felt sorry for her. But — I did get the chance to have a long chat with her about books and writing and reading. She was so gracious and pleasant about something that must have been a huge disappointment for her. I’ve made it a point to buy all of her books, because of that (although I do love them for their own sake, too).

    1. The author was lucky that you showed up and you were so fortunate to have stumbled onto the even. I am sure she appreciated your presence even though it was accidental.

  10. You make everything sound great. The only books signings I have attended were at the Texas Library Convention. When I lived close to Houston, most signing were during the day and with my husband’s coaching and my school sponsorships, there were few evenings free. It was always a thrill to meet someone I admire as much as I do authors. No one comes near Corpus and I can’t say I blame them but it is sad.
    Good luck at the next signing. You don’t need luck with the books!!

  11. I love to go to book signings! The ones I’ve been to have all been great experiences. It’s fun to hear the author’s insight. It’s also fun to meet an author that I admire!

  12. I love to go to book signings. Unfortunately we don’t have that many that come to my area. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

  13. Delightful post, Lyndee! I’m forwarding it to author friends whose debut books came out in 2016. We’re planning a joint event, and I know this will make them laugh as well as learn!

    1. Thank you so much! Congratulations to everyone on the new books, and best of luck with the event! 🙂

  14. Morning, y’all! All the little ones have been successfully delivered to their classrooms, and I have a fresh cup of coffee—now let me see if I can catch up!

    Sherry (and all my Wicked Cozy friends), thanks so much for inviting me on today! Always fun to be here.

    Kimberley, thank you so much for stopping by to read! 🙂

    Dru, it doesn’t surprise me at all that you would try to stop a new author at a group signing from feeling discouraged—that big heart is one of the reasons so many of us love you to bits! <3

    Ramona, you have a knack for speaking the truth. I bet nobody has ever told you that… 😉

    Edith, so true! Sometimes those one-on-one connections can really resonate with people more than if you were speaking to them as part of a group. When I worked for Weight Watchers, most of the meetings were packed full, and my getting started sessions were always huge this time of the year, but I had one lunchtime meeting in a funky location where I often ended up with just one new member staying after for the getting started. I loved it when that happened because I had a chance to really get these folks to open up, and I got to know so much more about them and how I could help them. After a while I started to notice that the people who had the one-on-one getting started sessions were much more successful—two of the members who lost over 100 pounds in my meetings started off all alone in the getting started, in fact. I bet that woman still buys your books!

    Robin, thanks so much for that comment! I love bookstores (and am SUPER excited that we have a brand new local bookshop—finally—in the town were I live) and I always want to bring in a crowd for the store as much as for me. Love your Nevada Barr story. One of the reasons I'v been able to take dismal events in stride is because early in my career I hard a similar one from a famous author who is one of my high-pedestal idols, about how she had a tour stop in one large city where one guy came in and didn't even buy a book. I figured if that can happen to her, it can happen to anyone!

    Gail and Gram, thank you both for stopping in!

    Melissa, oh, you should go next time an author you love is near you—we really do love seeing you all as much as people seem to love getting their books signed (to this day, the idea that someone would be excited about my signature being on something that's not a check is a little mind-boggling), and there are usually other readers to meet and chat with, too.

    Sheila, holy cow! That's a lot of effort for little return. But I bet you had a blowout that made up for it another time.

    Barb, okay, but now you have to tell me next time I see you. 😉

    Dragons, what a happy coincidence for you and the author both! I love this story, and it proves my point: something fun happens at ever book event.

    Jeanie, I bet the Texas Library Convention is fun, and I'll confess I've always wanted to do an event at Murder by the Book in Houston. When you write mysteries, there are a few shops that are legendary, like Aunt Agatha's and Murder by the Book, where getting invited for an appearance is a milestone. Someday!

    Christi, I promise the authors have just as much fun as you do!

    Kristi, I hope your weekend is lovely, as well!

    1. Apparently even the coffee isn’t enough to help me catch typos this morning—please excuse my flying fingers!

  15. I love to go to book signings too and I still get a little tongue-tied!

    Many years ago I worked at a Waldenbooks and I was proud to have Lisa Scottoline in my store (maybe it was 20 years ago- how did that happen?). She made meatballs and gravy because she’s Lisa Scottoline!

    Thanks for the fun read- I remember the days of worrying about book signings- the greatest relief was always the friendly and outgoing author- thanks god for you guys! 🙂

    1. Thank you for stopping by! And OMG, Waldenbooks! When I was a little girl, my mom worked in a huge office building downtown where the first two floors were a mall. I adored going to work with her on Saturdays, because once I made it to third grade she’d give me some pocket money and let me go downstairs. I always made the same three stops in the same order: Waldenbooks, to see if they had the new Babysitters Club or Nancy Drew Case Files (remember that 80s Nancy reboot? I have every single one!), then through the basement entrance to the central branch of the library (the main building was across the street from mother’s office, but I didn’t have to go outside to get there) to see if anything caught my fancy and check out Half Magic again if it didn’t, and then to the burger place to get a cherry icee and find a place to sit and read.

      I love that Lisa Scottoline cooked for her signing. That’s awesome! 🙂

      1. I totally do not miss working retail but I do miss my Waldenbooks customers- I was very, very lucky to work in bookselling. Both my employees and my customers were top-notch. I had no idea how hard customers could be until I left books in late 2008 and moved to sporting goods (that was an insanely stupid move) and now I work for a department store chain and the customers are tough. Thank goodness I’m an accountant now and they only let me out in the stores once in a while!

        I never read the Babysitters Club but I read all the Nancy Drews- including the 80’s reboots and the originals my mom and I would find at yard sales! I read everything when I was kid- thank god for libraries or I would have bankrupted my parents!

  16. The paperback would go in the short stack by my bed; ebook would have half-a-dozen ahead of it. Looks interesting.

  17. I haven’t been to a book signing yet but I hope to attend one soon. The B & N near me does have them once in a while but they always sit the author at a table right by the front door. I always feel sorry for the authors because there really isn’t any way you can stand and chat with them if they are “new to you” authors.

    1. It’s such a catch 22 at B&N: if they stash you in the back of the store people might not be able to find you, but at the front it can feel awkward, depending on the store layout. I’m lucky that the one here has a big open area in front, but well away from the doors.

      Speaking for myself I can say I’d rather a reader who’s curious come say hello and look at the book (if they want) and decide not to buy it, than just walk by because they’re afraid to offend me. Not every book is for everyone. But I love it when people do come over and discover a book they might not have ever found. 🙂

    1. I will definitely keep that in mind, Betty! Thanks for the invitation, and thanks for stopping by today! 🙂

  18. Awesome description of a book signing. My family loves to go to signings. Chatting with old favorites and meeting new ones… The whole experience is a treat!

    1. Love hearing this! I love going to signings, too, no matter which side of the table I’m on. 🙂

  19. This is a wonderful series that you write! I have never been to an author signing as I am disabled and live in a rural area of Ia but i did go to baseball signings and baseball card events where there were baseball players that signed. Some like Pete Rose never looked up a the person he was signing for he was just watching a sports event on his small tv. It was really bad. I someday hope to go to one and that I can find someone to take me .

    1. Thank you so much, Peggy!

      And UGH, there’s NOTHING that will turn me off of an author/musician/athlete faster than that “I’m better than you” attitude toward fans. Who do they think makes it possible for them to do what they do? Personally, I love readers. I love meeting readers. I can’t imagine ever feeling dismissive of them—and if I ever were to behave that way I sincerely hope someone would have the sense to smack me in the head. 🙂

  20. Very interesting–thanks for giving us an inside look at appearances!
    I’m the parent who has purchased an author’s book because twice (TWICE) I thought that the candy/cookies were some kind of promotion for the bookstore and let my kids go to town. Once I realized what happened, I apologized and bought the books. In my house somewhere there is a spy novel set during the Korean War and a non-fiction detailing the WO&D trail system.

    1. Oh, Sarah, no worries (and you shouldn’t feel obligated to purchase anything, either)! We know, and it’s all part of this gig—I have three little ones, and cookies are cause for excitement here too! I just always think it’s funny when the parents stay way back and refuse to make eye contact like I’m going to clobber them with a book pitch or something. 🙂

  21. I’ve gone to book signings for years and always enjoy the experience. I must admit I selfishly prefer the book signings where I am one of the very few people there so I can chat with the authors more. But I’m also thrilled for the author when there is a huge crowd to hear them speak. More book sales for them mean more books for me. (See, a huge crowd is selfish for me, too.)

    1. Mark, sometimes those can be the most fun, like the one Edith talked about today!

      And ha! Nothing wrong with being happy for yourself either way. 🙂

  22. Great post. Would love to get a hardcopy of Front Page Fatality to read. Have yet to read this author and hope this will be a beginning. Congrats on your upcoming release. Been awhile since I have been to a book signing. One in particular, we ended up in a long discussion. And not about books. I had mentioned how much I liked the book. Mentioned a couple of particular scenes, then complimented her on her blouse. She pointed to my tote. We exchanged comments about them, ended up in a lively conversation about needle works. We both embroider. Crochet, etc. But. Books are our passion.

    1. I love hearing stories like this! Thanks so much for stopping by, and good luck in the drawing!

  23. Thank you for being on the blog today LynDee! For my launch party of JUST KILLING TIME I was solo, but there was a great crowd there. Since then, I will admit, so far I don’t venture out on my own for book events–I travel in a pack so I have someone to talk to!

    1. Thanks for having me, Julie! That first launch going well sets such a good foundation—and I love group events, too! Hanging out with writer friends and getting to meet readers=WIN. 🙂

    2. I love group events! Getting to hang out with writer friends + meet readers=WIN. 🙂

    1. Thank you for reading! And for the high high compliment—that’s lofty company! 🙂

    1. I so wish I lived close enough to go to Kate’s events! She is the queen of the themed book party—I live vicariously through her photos. 🙂

  24. I’ve been to multiple book signings/author events & always have a great time.

  25. Hi Wicked Ladies & LynDee! I’ve been to only one (gasp!) book signing event. Many years ago Carolyn Hart was signing at a local book store. We chatted for quite sometime. She’s a sweetheart & wonderful author. Thank you for a chance to win your debut book LynDee.

    1. ADORE Carolyn! How lovely that you got to meet her! Thanks so much for coming by today, and good luck in the drawing!

  26. I’m looking forward to the next book signing and seeing what color high heeled shoe cookies I’ll be baking! 🙂 I promise to wait in the long line, no matter how long it takes!

    1. Way to make me look forward to the next event, Samantha! Those cookies were on point—and you are just the sweetest! Looking forward to seeing you again soon. <3

  27. Thanks for sharing all your interesting experiences! Life is for sure a roll of the dice.

  28. What a fun post. I enjoyed getting to hear about a book signing from that side of the table. 😉 I have been to the Barbara Vey Luncheon once before, but that’s my only book signing event. Small town life = not any authors coming through lol.

  29. I haven’t been to a book signing in years. There aren’t many in my area . It would be nice if we had some local bookstores in the area instead of just the chain stores.

  30. At Bouchercon in Raleigh, I was the one seated next to Charles Todd. The only signing I did was someone’s program. 🙂

    I once did a library event (as part of a county-wide local author promotion series) that wound up being the librarian and me.

    It happens.

  31. A very enjoyable post. Just goes to show that some days are great, some not so much. You’ve had such success. For a woman to drive 100 miles….that would be worth being there for her alone.
    I actually haven’t been to a book signing that I can remember. For whatever reason the authors I love don’t tend to visit my city. After reading your post though, I will be on the lookout for events in the future.

  32. I love reading all of these stories about the realities of being a writer. It’s a risk but a risk well worth it, no matter how many people show at launches!

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