Use Your Table Manners: Book Signing Etiquette
(Getting a Seat at the Table: Book Signing Basics Part Three)
When my sister and I were just tiny tots, our family joined some visiting relatives at a popular restaurant here in town. Our cousin, sitting in her high chair, was more than merely boisterous for a two-year-old, doing her best to be a distraction to those around her and, instead of eating her food, she dumped it onto the tray of her high chair and started playing with it, tossing much of it onto the floor. At times, unsatisfied with what was left on her plate, she'd screech at her family to give her their food until they surrendered just to try to silence her tantrum. It was an embarrassing nightmare, to say the least. When we were finally able to escape, my sister, who was the same age as our cousin, looked at my mom and said, "Mommy, I don't want to go out to eat with her again. She doesn't know how to behave in a restaurant." Our cousin's manners were missing and, because of that, the entire dining experience was ruined. Our goal this week is not to allow the same thing to be said of you, the author, after you've participated in an event.
Believe it or not, there are things to do and not to do at a book signing. Every activity you participate in has a proper form of behavior attached to it and an author event is no different. What we want to examine today are some of the things you as an author should make sure not to do in order to always look professional. You want to be seen as someone others wish to have return to an event. Always remember you are being watched: by readers, by other authors, by the event host, and by bloggers. How you handle yourself speaks volumes to those around you and either leaves them with a fond memory or a bitter taste in their mouth. You determine which it is they receive.
The first rule of thumb happens before you even leave your house. The majority of events now have Facebook event pages as well as author groups for behind the scenes interaction of those participating in the event. The hosts are almost always excellent at making sure you have the information you need and that it's posted in the group. Now, here's a very simple thing you can do to ensure you always look professional and not lazy. Before you ask your question, scroll the group page and make sure it hasn’t already been discussed. Or better yet, use the search tool in the groups for your subject. It makes you look unprofessional when you ask a question that’s already been asked and chatted about a few posts down. Compare it to research you're conducting for a book and dig a little before making another post about the same topic. If after scrolling the group you don’t find your question talked about, then by all means ask it. Hosts are always eager to help out. They just don’t want to answer the same question fifty different times.
Furthermore, make sure you’re posting in the right Facebook groups. Usually, there are two groups: one for authors and their assistants to communicate about the event and one for everyone else who is interested in attending, so they can get to know the authors who will be there. Make sure you don’t pimp yourself to the author group and don’t spam the attendee group constantly. Interact with the readers, communicate, and share others. The more you help others, the more others will help you, and readers will see this generous spirit in you and want to get to know you better. Besides, you don’t want to keep annoying your host by having them tell you “wrong group” all the time and deleting your post. Be observant as to what is happening and you’ll look professional.
Another tidbit about the groups is to never whine and complain in the attendees group; it makes you appear as if you're not in control or prepared to the readers and bloggers attending. You should always strive to make the best impression possible to the attendees, because you want them to see you as someone who knows what they're doing and has it all put together. If you need to vent some of your frustrations, do it in the author group where your peers and colleagues can offer encouragement and possible answers. More than likely, they are going through some of the same things as you and could use your encouragement as well.
When you're finally ready to load the car and head out, you need to make sure you leave your ego at home. I don’t care how popular you are or think you are, no one wants to deal with someone who is hard to work with because they think they’re a prima donna. I know you grew up with your mom telling you that you were the best around, but Mom isn’t here and you’re not getting a participation ribbon for just showing up. Writing is a business and you need to treat it as such and be professional at all times. Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t cut loose and have fun. These events are always an explosion of laughter and good times. Some of the best contacts and stories I have made happened after the event and in the hotel bar where people were relaxed and open. However, the person who has their nose up in the air thinking they've finally arrived and now the party can get started will be the one people talk about--and none of the conversation will be good. Be open, humble, and friendly and you will get further in this business than the person who thinks they are doing everyone else a favor just by showing up.
Something else that seems to be good manners that people have forgotten about these days is being where you say you’re going to be and on time, no matter what other offers come along. Again, this goes to focusing on your writing as a business. It’s also a matter of your word and being someone that the host and other authors can count on. If you say you’re going to do a panel or participate in an activity for readers, then make sure you arrive on time and ready to go. Don’t blow it off simply because someone else called and asked you to go grab a bite or a drink or because you discovered a werewolf exhibit down the street and want to go check it out. Empty chairs are discouraging to those who were expecting your participation, especially if you're the author they came to see. You may think it’s no big deal, that you’re the one who paid for the event so you should be able to participate or not. After all, what should it matter, right? The host has their money. Yet, word will get around about your level of commitment and follow through and soon you’ll stop getting the invitations. Hosts want people they know will be there to fill their spots, not authors they have to fret about when they don't show up. Plan your vacation time around the event, not during it.
Another thing, show up on time to set up your table. This doesn’t mean you walk in five minutes before the doors open to do it. Don’t wait until the last minute to wander in, half asleep or mostly hungover, to suddenly try and get your display up five minutes before the signing event begins. It doesn’t matter that it only takes fifteen minutes to set up your table. Be there early, get it put together, and then you’re free to roam around looking at everyone else’s display, shaking hands, taking some pictures, asking questions; in other words, networking. Make the most of every opportunity. And then, add in time for Murphy’s law. If something breaks or spills, you want time to replace it or fix it before readers come in and see your catastrophe. Being early allows you time in case those crazy last minute mishaps pop up – and they will pop up, trust me.
Furthermore, just as you need to be there early, you also need to stay to the very end. I have been flabbergasted at some events where authors packed up early and just left. This is completely unprofessional and, to be honest, rude. It’s also unfair. It’s unfair to the host who you made the commitment to for being there a certain amount of time, it’s unfair to the other authors when you leave an empty table for readers to see, and it’s unfair to the readers who show up after you’ve left expecting you to be there like you said you would. When you break down and pack up early, you’ve just broken your word. When you signed up for the event, you agreed to be there during the entire thing. It doesn’t matter that a reader walks in five minutes before it’s over; they should still see you sitting at your table ready to greet them. So, arrive early and stay until the end. I guarantee, you are going to be the author the host remembers and wants back next year.
If you want to meet readers, then stay at your table. I understand that emergencies happen, but to the best of your ability, stay where the readers can find you and don’t wander around. This is one reason you need an assistant. They can get you water or collect swag and signatures for you from other authors. People shouldn’t have to chase you down, especially readers. If you’re not at your table, then you’re not able to sell books, shake hands and put your information in reader’s hands. This isn’t what your assistant is for, because readers want to meet the author, not their assistant.
Be interactive with everyone. This is not the time to be stand-offish or distant. People want positive and you need to give it to them. Smile. Be happy and warm. Inviting. Whether people buy your books or not, this will be what they walk away remembering, and when they get on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, they’ll look you up. That’s what you’re hoping to have happen more than having a sell at the event. Don’t think or act for the immediate. Always make your goals for the long term benefits.
Follow these steps and you’ll always be someone others want to work with. You’ll get invited back and people won’t groan when they see your name on the interest form. You want people to smile when they think of you or hear your name and then you’ll always have a table waiting for you. The sales will follow because people will want to read your books due to the positive interactions they’ve had with you. You are your brand, make sure it’s a positive one.
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Until next time, keep chasing your fantasies!