Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Wordcraft – The most fun you’ve never had at a book signing

If North Texas author/teacher/runner/coach Harry Hall had his way, every book signing would be a party. A real party, with food and drink (“because everybody’s more sociable when they’ve got something in their hand”) and prize giveaways. And for every book sold, he’d expect word of mouth referrals to still more potential readers and buyers. So he was at the recent meeting of the Dallas Southwest Chapter of Mystery Writers to coach us on how, as he puts it, to “make your book signing a wow!”

He's learned how from hosting signing for his own books, including the latest on 19th century women endurance walkers, The Pedestriennes: America’s Forgotten Superstars.

Harry Hall
The  manuscript for Pedestriennes won an award in 2012 at the annual Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference and honors again at this year’s Mayborn and at the Independent Publisher Book Awards in New York City. It all came about because Hall, an avid runner, was looking for material on women runners, and stumbled on the world of professional women walkers.

“I got one of those invitations to a book signing recently,” he told his audience, “It had a picture of the cover, some basic information, but it didn’t even tell me how much it cost.” Nor, aside from the cover, what the book was about. And it came a week before the date of the signing.

He didn’t recommend giving invitees as much of a head’s up as for a wedding invitation. But in many ways, authors should give their signing the same loving attention they would in inviting guests to an event as special as a wedding. That means addressing the invitations by hand (“when you get something hand-addressed, you put that on top because it looks more personal”), mailing them (“you don’t send evites to a wedding!”), and enclosing response cards. In his case, response cards good for a free (soft) drink at the signing.

“Drinks cost about 99 cents, so paying for them set me back some,” he said. But the benefit (aside from an increase in guests’ sociability index) was giving him a way to gauge actual attendance).

And the invitations, sent out approximately four weeks in advance, should include, besides the basics of what, where, when and why, some idea of the atmosphere of the event. The first signing was at a local pizza parlor, a well-known and easy to find locale. A book signing in a pizza parlor? You know the atmosphere’s going to be casual and accessible.

His second signing was at a local university. (A slightly more staid atmosphere, think wine and cheese, no flip-flops.) Signings at schools tend to be a little more intimidating than those at pizza parlors, partly because people are less likely to know which building to enter, or where to park. So with the help of a friend, Hall made a video showing guests exactly how to get to the destination.

Hall also contacted businesses that catered to his potential audiences for the books, asking for small donations of merchandise to give as prizes during one of the signings (held every 15 minutes during the event) and talked it up to his friends in the media. Another contact led to a brief article in a local give-away paper, listing the donating merchants. He made copies of the article and sent them to the businesses with his handwritten thank you notes. (Think wedding!) Still another contact led to an article in The Dallas Morning News . Newspaper reviews of independently published books are notoriously hard to snag. But an article by a local sports writer, aimed at his target audience in the running community? That’s golden. Both articles made it into his press kits for the books.

“So many writers don’t even hold a book signing,” Hall said, “and that’s a mistake, because it’s a chance to showcase the writer’s personality, and a way to connect with people.”

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