Most authors share the fear of setting up signings or readings and having no one show up. Common fear. Common occurrence. So many signings where I stood there with my books while endless lines of excited readers queued up - for someone else. Lots of someone elses. How do you make it bearable?
You engage as much as humanly possible (without getting creepy.) My suggestions, which I do use and which have yet to result in a restraining order, are these:
1. Goodies - stock an endless pile of individually wrapped candies prominently on your signing table. Be assertive and friendly. Wave anyone and everyone over with "Please help yourself to the goodies! They cannot go home with me!" People will dart in, grab a candy and most of 'em will dart back out like you mean to carve them up for supper. BUT a few will take one of your cards/bookmarks/promo thingie as they do. Fewer still, will actually ask what you write and pick up your book to read the back cover. This is doubly effective if someone else's signing line snakes past your table. Those folks in line are BORED.
2. Talk to the people wandering by, not to the authors next to you. Focus out. Into the aisles. Not to yell 'come look at my stuff!' You're goal is to ask these people who they're here to see. What do they like to read. Who are they buying. That sort of thing. Chances are really good they don't read what you write, but let's say I hook someone with a 'what do you read' question and the answer is 'historical'. I immediately ask if they've read authors x, y, or z - especially if those authors are at the signing and I can direct said readers straight to them. Naturally, my preference is to send readers to authors I know and/or read, too. Thing is if I manage to turn someone on to a new-to-them author, they usually take note of what I do and say 'oh hey, my boyfriends' cousin thrice removed reads SFR!' There goes another one of my promo bits.
3. Stand up. No looming. No towering. You're standing up, at your ease, talking to the readers who stop, if not at your table, at the table next to you, complimenting the jacket, the bag, the whoa where did you find those shoes - whatever it is. The point is to be interested and involved and to look like you're having fun even if you're dying a tiny bit inside because no one is buying your books. Or asking you to sign anything.
4. Take the pressure off. A book signing needn't be about selling books - make it about being accessible. Make it about getting out of your imaginary worlds for two hours or so and looking at the rest of humanity with a compassionate eye. You can retreat to your ivory tower after. And will likely need to - but for the duration of the signing, you are engaged in character study. Not in a sales pitch.
Signings and readings are lovely stuff, but for me to survive them without wanting to drown myself in my tea, it has to be about doing something for readers - not for me. If I make these events about me, then it's about how many widgets sold. Ego gets tangled up with that. Self-valuation becomes contingent on how many books went out the door - and you know - there are just going to be days when no one is in a buying mood. We've all been there, eating 10 for a buck ramen until the next payday. So the final point is:
5. Make it fun. If that means a costume, go for it. Silly hats? Beautiful. Only you know what will make a signing/reading fun for you. Just don't get arrested.
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