Shameless: How to Fail a Book Signing (but Not the Writing Life)

“Art is born out of humiliation.”  W.H. Auden

I had a fantastically unsuccessful book signing in a big box store not long ago. (Yes, signings still occur, despite the takeover of social media.) Afterwards, licking my wounds, I turned to a book on my own shelves, Mortification: Writers’ Stories of Their Public Shame. In it, Margaret Atwood, Rick Moody, Billy Collins and a constellation of such literary brights offer up the most companionable ignominies and embarrassments. (Fittingly, I bought the book used, online, for a penny.) My own parade of humiliations that night were paltry next to theirs. Still, couldn’t I do better?

Two weeks later, an Internet search on “book signings” confirmed my suspicions. According to several book signing experts, I did indeed do everything wrong. First, I missed the Webinar on “The Seven Steps to Turn Yourself into a Celebrity.” In another  article, I violated nearly every one of thirteen steps, beginning with, “Decide, in advance, what sort of clothing you want to be seen wearing by your reading public.”  (Did I do this? No.) Step #6 advised bringing along a printout of your manuscript for fascinated readers. (Really?)  My most egregious error was the last step: my failure to inform the store managers that I would be the bookstore’s official greeter while I was there. Nor did I walk around with several copies of my book introducing myself to everyone in the store, as he advised, pressing my own books and bookmarks into their astonished hands.

I would rather demonstrate the wonders of Balinese kitchen knives through the Christmas season at Walmart than resort to such tactics.

We all know we need to successfully promote our own work. But when we sacrifice leisure, sleep, money, and most costly of all, time with our families so that we can write, none of us makes these difficult choices to be stalkers or hawkers with a leer and a bookmark. We write because we believe in our deepest-down spirit that God has called us to keep naming the world. We write to serve a meal to the famished, to dress the wounds of the betrayed and lonely. We write to offer hope and a story to the depressed. We write to offer clear thinking in a muddled marketplace. We write in humility, in insecurity, in desperate prayer.

And when our book releases, shall we then don our best barracuda suit, polish our teeth, slick back our hair and begin the hard, shiny sell, suctioning ourselves to every unfortunate person who innocently wanders into a bookstore? Did any of us sign up for this?

Let’s take a breath. We don’t need to sell. We don’t have to sell out or sell ourselves short, or sell our own snake oil. We need to offer. We’ve just spent two to three years composing, listening for God; we do indeed have something to offer. We offer our work, and, more importantly, we offer ourselves. In all of our promotion, we need to think, how may I serve others? How may I serve my readers? We might end up giving books away—a lot of books. We might do some speaking gratis. We might end up on the short end of the accounting sheet. We might end up praying with a stranger. But at the end of the day, the year, the decade, we’ll count it differently:

We got to give. We got to give more than we knew we possessed. We got to be part of a global conversation. We got to know new readers, who taught us more than we knew. We got to pray for strangers who became friends.

Don’t listen to “sell-a-ton-of-books” schemes when they violate who you are and what you’re to be doing in this world. Go ahead and “fail” a book signing if you must. Be a real writer, without shame.

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To Market We Go. . .But Why?

I admit, I’m a bit of a marketing geek. I find trends and patterns fascinating. Behind every great or dastardly marketing campaign lies a motivation—a why. And I want to know it, understand it, and pick it apart.

Why did it work? Why didn’t it work?

Some campaigns are obvious from the get go. Take Netflix’s recent adventure of separating streaming video from disc. We witnessed their invention (or misguided intention) of Qwikster. The name didn’t work, nor did there seem to be any reasonable point for separation. Their “why” just didn’t make sense. Thankfully they abandoned the idea before they got neck deep. In fact, I give them kudos for having the courage to admit to their customers that it would have made things more difficult.

Here’s an example of my latest fascination. Honestly, I stood in the mall laughing at this one.

I freely confess that I’m an Apple geek as well. Microsoft’s obvious attempt to copy Apple could be taken as a compliment, but I could only wonder, is it effective? How effective does our marketing become when we’re simply copying what the other guy is doing?

Yes, we’re talking about similar products and thus overlapping markets. Not identical markets though. And then I’m curious as to how the everyday consumer perceives such a clear attempt to piggyback on another company’s successful model?

Of course, there’s the other side of the argument. Why reinvent the wheel? It worked for them, why not do the same? That’s fine to a point—to use a successful model as a launching point. But don’t we still have to come back to the beginning? Back to the “why?”

I find this especially amusing because of this:

The Apple store is directly opposite this soon-to-be Microsoft store and has been there for years. Their Genius Bar and staff have been serving people for many a season with their gadgets in hand and uniformed colored shirts and badges. (Uh hem. . .)

It’s all about service and Apple makes an art of it. Never been in one? Take a field trip one day and check it out. We can learn a lot from Apple’s successful model of creative marketing. To them, it’s not just about the product. It’s about the costumer and how they’ll use it, right down to the feel and experience. It’s all about the “why.”

I wonder if Microsoft thought through their campaign beyond the “well it works for them” to their customers and who they’re trying to connect to. Or are their customers just potential collateral gain or damage in the race to be number one?

So this brings me to my point (yes, I do have one other than finding this Microsoft imitation so very amusing). Do we think about why we are marketing our books or do we just do what everyone else is doing?

And finally, does it work? Now there’s the real question. What do you think?

Energize Your Marketing Strategies

On  August 1st I wrote a marketing blog, Marketing Can Be Fun, Really! to coincide with Rachelle Gardner’s Blog, How To Market Your Book, that week. What I want to do today is encourage you as you look for ways to market your product. Yes, our books are products and they are very important for our life’s work.

We need to think like business folks as well as authors. This may not come naturally and then again maybe you’re good at this particular aspect of the business. It’s grown on me.  I met a guy at Mt.Hermon a few years ago. Some of you may know him, Jim Rubart. Listening to Jim made me think a bit harder about my natural instinct to market though I didn’t have much experience because up until I’d sold my novel there hadn’t been a need.

I counsel and teach nursing students at my day job. One of the problems some of them encounter in the college is test anxiety. I start my lectures with the words, “Have courage.” That’s what I want you to do when it comes to marketing your novels, have courage.

I want you to brainstorm marketing ideas with someone you trust. Just sit down and rattle off anything you can think of and then pick three that you really like that will energize you as well as your marketing plan. Think out of the box. I’m going to share three of my ideas that I’ve really liked exploring and working on to promote and market my  first book to it’s best advantage.

  •  Find the biggest book marketing opportunity in your area

          I mentioned Books by the Banks (that’s the riverbanks of Cincinnati), in the blog post on my personal blog. Since Secrets of the Heart was chosen for this opportunity some really cool things have happened. (1) I informed my publisher, Realms/Charisma, about signing at Books by the Banks. They kindly offered to send me 1,200 postcards to use for that day and to help promote my book at the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Conference later this month. That’s awesome! The postcards have my book cover on one side and a nice blurb on the opposite side with my website and the publisher’s website. (2) Dennis Lehane and Judy Collins are now promoting and signing their books at the same event. This will draw an even bigger crowd than expected and last year there were approximately 3,600 attendees.Opportunity galore!

  • Hospital Gift Shops

          I work in a large hospital in Cincinnati,Ohio. I asked the woman who runs our gift shop if she would carry my book. She said YES! Also, a dear friend of ours is the coordinator of volunteer services at the hospital where my husband works. She suggested I talk to the woman who runs the gift shop at there. I did and now they carry my book as well. My husband is an awesome publicist at his hospital and has been wonderful in talking up my book at his hospital. I also have the postcards at the register at both hospitals now. And I’m not stopping there. As time allows I’m asking the other hospital gift shops in the area.

  • Christian Bookstore Week

          When Cara Putman announced information about Christian Bookstore Week on our ACFW loop I got to work and now have a signing at a Kentucky Bookstore the week of the celebration and I’m going to ask one more store near me in Cincinnati if they are interested in having me come sign. So don’t waste time. Get on-line and get on your phone and market your novels.

This is just the tip of the iceberg related to opportunity and marketing savvy. Next month on October 24th, I will report back on what my experience was like at Books by the Banks on October 22nd.

Remember, even if you don’t have a book contract yet, if you’re serious about your writing you need to have an on-line presence, your home on the web. Though it’s hard to draw an audience it’s a good thing to get practice in on how to formulate blog posts, etc. 

What are you doing to energize your marketing plan?

Post Author: Jillian Kent

 Jillian Kent is more than enthusiastic about the release of her first novel, Secrets of the Heart, The Ravensmoore Chronicles, Book One. She’s a full-time counselor for nursing students and holds a masters degree in social work. She’s fascinated with human behavior and thought it would be interesting to explore what might have happened in a lunatic asylum during England’s Regency era, her favorite time period. Jillian hopes you will escape into the past with her and find faith for the future.