What I Learned From My First Book Signings

For any writer thrilled to (finally) share their work, a book signing should be an exciting time. Puppy dogs and ice cream. I’ve done two signings so far, and it was exciting to prepare to share the experiences with friends, family, and supporters. It took much more work than anyone had ever told me to set them up, and that, of course, is time and focus that wasn’t devoted to other writing, work, or play. And as many of us know, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. (An homage to James Howell and, most famously, Stephen King.)

I learned a lot and met some great people through the book signing experience. (The people at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, by the way, are fantastic. Both locations: San Diego and Redondo Beach. I imagine it could have been much more difficult to work with bookstores that found “un-famous” authors to be a nuisance.) Here is what I learned:

  • Always be prepared with more books (in your car, if necessary). You never know.
  • If you’re getting a cardboard poster of your book cover made to display, plan a month ahead. At least.
  • These people, humbly speaking, are there to see you, but respect their time. Multiple sources told me I should speak for 30-60 minutes. Surely, an author should provide their “fans” (should that be what we call them?) insight into the process behind the book, interesting details, etc. While 30-60 minutes works for some authors, I spoke for what I hope was an engaging 10-15, and that worked out well for everyone, especially those with kids. It is, after all, their time as well. (You can see the video from my very first book signing HERE.)
  • People will gobble up your promotional materials. Have them available.
  • It’s up to US, as writers, to promote just about everything with our work. Mysterious Galaxy included me in their social media, which was great, but we have to be our own promotional machines. There’s a lot to learn and do.
  • Your besties might not show up at your signings, for whatever reason. All good.
  • You’ll never forget the people who showed up for you. I’m pretty sure I never will.
  • No matter how many books you sell, it’s not about the money. Not once did I do any dollar calculation of books sold. (Mysterious Galaxy handled all the transactional details anyway.) For me, that was never the motivation to start a 5-year-plus writing project.
  • Black Sharpies are awesome signing instruments.
  • And the number one thing I learned: The book signings were fun, but the writing is considerably more fulfilling and necessary. An unexpected discovery that’s probably quite healthy. It’s about the work first . . . THEN the promotion. This is the beginning of everything else in the process of exposing the work.
  • What have YOU learned?

Now, it’s time for me to get back to work and play. So I don’t lose my mind.

My First Book – What Was I Thinking???

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When I first had the gumption to write my first novel, I never thought there would be so much work in the process of getting it off the ground. First, my arrogance that I could write a book. At all. Carrying around a healthy dose of self-confidence (ask anyone) is one thing, but the magnitude of sheer belief I had in embarking on the project was, looking back, quite astounding. Who did I think I was? And incidentally, now, with a couple book signings on the docket, who the hell do I think I am?

Writing The Silent Partner and getting it ready for public consumption has been the hardest task of my life, sans trying to get a re-fi loan for my last house. Truly, getting my bachelor’s degree was a cinch by comparison to writing this book, and that’s not a dig on the Cal State University system. (BTW, a shout out to my old writing professor, Alexis Krasilovsky. I still remember how you wouldn’t take a draft of mine because I was late turning it in . . . and how you said I’d never qualify for an “A” because of it. Oh, the memories.)

The amount of preparation it took me to write this book compared to what I surmise other writers have done–and haven’t needed to do–humbles me. It also calls into question my genetic deficiencies, as this is the first place I look upon such a revelation.

Writing courses, several writers conferences, multiple editors, hundreds of drafts . . . (“Oh, God, if they still hate it after all of this work, I should reconsider the next book’s desire to exist.”) Sleepless nights, lonely nights, overused playlists, an ill-practiced habit of daily designer-coffee, and the prices that go along with it . . . all adds up. (“You mean in the last 5 years I could have gotten not one, but two master’s degrees?”) Well, that’s just GREAT. Seriously, what was I thinking?

That moment I got my first book in the mail from the publisher. That crack of opening the cover for the first time, the chemicals and the paper and the ink and the glue . . . that smell of newness that I whiffed like when I first opened my first Motley Crue cassette (that’s right) in 1983 . . . and the story and characters that I created and evolved and improved and reshaped and reinvented . . . all is there. Every page.

That’s why.

I know, I know. You can’t smell it on the Kindle.

Preparing for the Book Signing

Though I had gotten good tools from my publisher for my first book signing, I searched online for assistance with a book signing involving a self-publishing house, and couldn’t find much. Having never done this before, I looked online for things like “preparing for a book signing,” and got some great advice. Clearly, self-published authors can face a rude awakening for their first book signing if they aren’t prepared from day one. Here is what I discovered beyond what I found online: dealing with the self-publishing house.

First, make sure you see the proof of the book before you put in a full order for them. Not an online proof, but the book itself. For my novel, The Silent Partner, I reviewed both the hardcover and softcover before I let the publisher send my copy order to print. If there’s anything you missed, this is the last time to change it, or discover something on the publisher’s end that went awry. Refuse to sign off on anything until you carefully review these.

Next, order enough books. No one wants to keep dozens of filled boxes of their work in their garage (I don’t even have one), so it’s easy to understand going easy on the book ordering. However, it would be equally as tragic to run out of books at a signing as it would be if no one showed up. Be prepared for “showtime.” If there are only crickets at the signing, there are always bookstores looking for good books, even on consignment. Plus, there’s always more signings . . . unless your first experience is so bad you decide to hang it up. (I’ve already prepared for this, and won’t hang anything up. I’ll have plenty of bourbon and red wine at home.)

Be prepared for the house to try to sell you EVERYTHING. From book listings to the services of a publicist and TV commercials, they have every desire possible to sell books, too. Books bought directly from the publisher (and not discounted on 3rd party sites like Amazon or B&N) have the highest profits for them, and the self-publishing houses seek authors who are anxious to get their books seen and purchased. There is no moral or ethical question about this, but it’s important to be prepared for it. You may need to put money aside for such extravagances.

If your book is to be posted on any 3rd party sites, confirm that the correct book description and “about the author” is used. (I had a number of instances where unapproved book descriptions were used and the “about the author” that I had supplied the publisher wasn’t used, but rather an outdated one from my blog (which has since been updated). Seriously, these details matter.

Next, make sure your books are ordered and on their way to your address before you solidify a book signing date. With all of the other preparations, who needs the stress?

If one of these steps helps another author, I’d be ecstatic. Learning along the way. I’ve never expected it any different. In the end, it’s all about the work being read how it was intended. And that time is almost near:

What: Book Signing Release Party: Terrence King’s The Silent Partner 

Where: Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore: 7051 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92111.

When: Saturday, August 4th, 2012. 2:30pm

The first 25 people receive a free softcover of the novel.

Cheers!

How to Avoid a Self-Pub Nightmare

When you’re self-publishing, all typos, errors, ineffective use of color on your book cover, any mistakes of any kind . . . are YOUR FAULT. With fiction, there are more choppy waters to navigate through and avoid, like superfluous characters, one-dimensional storytelling, and undeveloped or forgotten story arcs, among other common hazards for new writers. (Though it’s probably more common than we’d like to discover these mishaps with celebrated authors, with novels coming from big publishing houses. Here is someone taking issue with the number of errors in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.) As any fiction writer knows, there are many more writing hazards. Self-published fiction hazards can be brutal. Here are some ways I’ve discovered to avoid them:

  1. Use one, maybe two, professional editors. Your first editor will discover errors you missed and problems you never thought of, and will help you with the fundamentals. The second editor can help you with nuances, because you’ve (hopefully) remedied the problems caught by the first editor. You may think your untrained but critical eye is good enough. It’s not. And once your work is out there, it’s open for critique. Employing a professional editor is like insurance, you just get the immediate results and answers, before mayhem strikes. (Actual mayhem, not the Mayhem guy in those Allstate commercials) Many self-publishing houses provide an editor (or editing team) to you during the self-publishing process. I’d recommend using a professional editor first. By the time you’re submitting your work for print, it should be polished, not go through the first round of professional editing.
  2. Friends and family are awesome. And friends who care enough to read your work and provide insight and help you in any way are priceless. But, read number 1 again.
  3. Book cover: Do something simple, and try to stand out. You can be poetic or ironic, but few will catch this or even care. Review other book covers and find something that suits your taste or your genre. You don’t have to duplicate, but be aware of what’s out there that others have determined to be marketable, and make it your own.
  4. Take the book cover text seriously, including and particularly the book summary on the back cover (or front book jacket for a hardcover). I had used a summary for literary agent submissions as a place to start, and still found improvements that “sell” the story better.
  5. When working with your self-publishing house, review your and their work carefully. No one will (or should) care more about your work than you, and once you sign off on your book going to print, it’s done. Blind faith can be unforgiving.

Of course, you can try to blame your publisher for your errors. Probably won’t work.

When Writing Must Go: Hello, World!

There’s no one right way to publish a book. Everyone I’ve talked to––including literary agents, editors, and writers––has shared different tactics for the aspiring writer seeking to get published. It can be tough for some writers to endure stories of great work being self-published into obscurity while mediocre work is often mass-published for the discriminating book shoppers at Walmarts and Targets. While the latter may incense book snobs and writers alike, the most important thing is that scribe talents get their work read, regardless of how it arrives into the world.

For The Silent Partner, I’ve chosen to self-publish review copies for bloggers and reviewers before I have formal representation or ever try to sell the book. After all, I didn’t start to write nor continue to for the money. This may be considered both honorable and ridiculous (or just naive) by some, but money was never the motivator. Additionally, the unpublished novel stands on its own free of the stressful shackles of commerce. (Who said there’s no silver lining without a book deal?) The next step is to allow the work leave its maker, so commerce has to come into play eventually. The final touches are currently being made to the interior and exterior of the book so the work is represented in its most polished state, in preparation for the somewhat-noble desire of sharing a story, followed by the optimistic, non-altruistic pursuit of capitalism.

The book must soon leave the isolated comfort of the laptop and fly into the world and be exposed to the world’s dangers of book reviewers and particular readers. It must leave the nest.

 

The Pursuit of Editing Perfection

“I write, therefore I re-write.” This is a common position among writers, as we know that whatever brilliance we think we may have at one time put upon the page, that, now, we can do better. For me, it’s like looking at myself in pictures from the 90s and thinking, How did I think stone-washed jeans looked cool then?  My fashion sense has vastly improved.

We may tinker and toy with our work ad nauseam. We can over-think it, and sometimes destroy inspired work in the pursuit of editing perfection, which–I’ve realized–is impossible. Not impossible in paragraphs or pages. Not impossible with character, witty dialogue, or story structure. But in totality, probably, yes. Like “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence, the pursuit of the goal is preached, celebrated, and declared as all-important. Sadly, it’s not often achieved. Even the best writers and their agents or publishers employ editors, sometimes multiple ones, in an effort to improve the work beyond its absolute capacity for perfection. (A flawlessly edited book can still be a bore to read, too, which is a whole other Oprah.)

Facing perpetual editing is an awful burden. Relentless writers who seek perfection through editing, so to provide specific, intended impact to the reader, are tortured heroes. The editing process is an important one, where prose is sharpened, plot and character inconsistencies are remedied, and stories evolve for the better. Readers benefit greatly from it.

Eventually, though, there comes a time when the writer must be comfortable walking away from the work, so to let new juices emerge. It’s how we flourish as writers. I’m currently doing my last run-through edit of The Silent Partner–this time, approving changes by the publisher’s line-editing team, so it can be published and I can get started on the next project.

As long as The Silent Partner is perfectly edited, that is.

Fighting for Your Writing Focus

If your personal relationships and obligations aren’t obstacles to your storytelling mojo, and you’re still having problems focusing on your writing, it’s possible that extreme levels of media stimuli are the culprit. From experience, I’ve been the happy, intended victim of over-stimulation of all media–that is, music, film and TV, sporting events, news in any form, social media, books (Gasp! Yes, this can happen.), and advertising all around us–all of which can hamper the coveted discovery of fresh, purposeful prose. And, sans the advertising plate that has glared at me from the urinal (the front sports page is much more pleasurable), I’ve been content and accommodating in absorbing it all, as it got in my way.

No doubt, sometimes various media have contributed to or downright inspired compositions from many of us writers. A song ever inspire you? A news story? A bad movie? (“Oh, done right, this story could have rocked it!”) A great one? Social media helps us connect–and sometimes promote, the news informs, and other stories around us may provide us springboards for our inspiration to tell our own tales. So how do we turn it all off so we can focus? Aren’t reading books supposed to help us with our own writing? (Absolutely they do.) So with the bombardment of inspiration and distraction, how do you determine which media to embrace and which to turn off?

What’s worked for me: Simply, if there’s a story that demands to be told, and it needs you to tell it, and you’re on a roll, stick with reading books and news headlines, watch the relevant games only, and embrace the music that fuels your fire. Doing this for two years or more of a writing project is impossible for most of us, but for those days or weeks when you’re in the zone (when our best work emerges almost magically), managing your focus in storytelling is simply keeping new, emerging stories in your head from vying for your attention. Keep a clear head the best you can.

You can also avoid public restrooms. If appropriate.