On Tuesday night I attended a book signing — Out Of Oz by Gregory Maguire. Imagine doing a book tour of 15 cities in 15 days. This wasn’t my first time at a Gregory Maguire event. I am a bit of an OZ geek. I’ve got an autographed 1st edition Grimmerie at home as well as an original “Wicked” (musical) poster he signed somewhere around the house… Don’t look at me like that. No, I’m not listening to the Wicked soundtrack while I’m writing this either (mumbles something and switches tracks on iTunes).
It fascinates me seeing how other authors deal with the press and marketing and especially, engaging the audience. I found it curious that the demographics of his audience (last night) were about 90% caucasian and only a couple of people present were under 20. Mostly there were library donors who could schmooze with Mr. Maguire beforehand. From here on out, I’m going to refer to him here as ‘Boston’, a nickname someone in the audience dubbed him.
“Boston” has a gift for entertaining people. When he reads, people hold their breath and listen. I loved the vocal inflections he gave the characters. It’s my style of reading and he’s quite frankly, a great reader. He’s only improved (I think) since the last time I saw him in town. Although he mentioned he’s always seen himself as an artist, I’m curious whether his ability is from natural skill or extensive training. It could just be because he’s been doing it for so long, after all, Wicked was published 15 years ago.
During the Q&A session, there were a lot of questions that I’m sure he gets in many cities. Over time, it would make sense to have a pat answer to run with and then you begin to find some common ground. One thing I wondered and wish I’d had the chance to ask was a follow-up to a comment he made about the theme for Wicked. I’d like to know the challenges and difficulties he faced writing a book when he knew the theme already. Beginning a book with a theme in mind, as I’ve often read, can prove to be tricky since the work produced can lean towards becoming ‘preachy’. I’m also curious whether he had to secure any rights to do an adaptation/revisionist take on the original L. Frank Baum tale.
Something else authors don’t talk about from book signings is your hand/arm getting sore from signing hundreds of books. I walked out with a 1st edition copy of Out of Oz for a gift for a friend, but Boston had an iced up arm. Authors don’t tell you about the side-effects of fame, do they?
One other weird thing I walked away with was an unexpected encounter with a person I have not seen in over a decade. This person was involved with an incident that I defended in an editorial letter, which was published locally. It was the first thing I had ever had in print outside of my staff writing for a local homeschooling gazette.
As I’m sitting here writing this blog post (and yes, I turned back to my Wicked soundtrack after all…), I’ve been thinking about what I can glean from this experience and apply to my own writing. Perhaps more importantly, what can any writer take away from attending another author’s book signing? Shouldn’t I be at home, writing instead? Well, yes, probably. To answer my own question, I think the answer is observation. There’s a lot that can be learned from professional authors just by observation — how do they do what they do? These were some of the conclusions I came to based on the event:
- Book signings are never *just* about you,
- but they are always about your *audience*.
- They’re the ones buying your books after all.
- A smooth presentation is crucial to making it “look easy”.
- Brainstorming common questions that may come up and preparing answers ahead of time gives you an edge — you can keep refining the answers to make Q&A as entertaining as possible.
- Be grateful when an event’s been well-organized and be sure to thank the people (locally) who made it possible. Book signing lines go smoother, people show up early and when you need a bag of ice for your arm, someone makes it happen.
- When you’ve got people excited about your work, they go the extra mile to make the atmosphere “festive”. I saw one volunteer in a witch’s hat, and there was the Wicked soundtrack playing in the background. Great atmosphere!
- Always give something back to charity. It gives the person who introduces you something to talk about and more importantly, you’re able to use the platform you’ve built to help promote your causes (“Boston” is co-director of non-profit, Children’s Literature New England, Inc.).
- Everybody loves an author “meet and greet”. Libraries will adore you for this and the donors get a perk that makes them feel better about parting with their money to support the arts. Because hey, donating money just “because” isn’t good enough anymore.
- Try to relax.
I’d love to hear your thoughts (and criticisms) of my observations. What have been your experiences with attending (or being the author at) a book signing? Tell me about it.