Thursday, May 28, 2015

So you want to do a reading

By Steve Weddle

A thousand years ago, when Country Hardball first hit the shelves, I had a calendar loaded with readings and signings. People were very nice, those who invited me into their places of business and those who took time out of their Thursday night to drive into the city to see me talk about me for 45 minutes at Fountain Bookstore. the Mysterious Bookshop, One More Page Books, and elsewhere.

I screwed up a few things, of course, but I also had people who were kind enough to warn me of some potential problems. Here are a few tips and tricks I hope are helpful to you new authors.

1) Don't bring books to readings to give away.

Giving away a copy of your book at your reading seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? You’ll want to turn the brain back on for a second, though, and consider what would help the venue most. Are you having the reading at a bookstore? Maybe you’ll want to pony up for a gift certificate to the store. When I launched, I gave away a cap and a t-shirt and some other goodies. I knew, for a true fact for serious, that most folks that night would be buying my book, so I wasn’t too worried.

Steve Weddle and Ben LeRoy at Fountain Bookstore
I’ve been to readings where not too many folks buy my book, and I’ve been to readings where the author doesn’t sell any books. So book sales aren’t always guaranteed.

Eventually, I realized that I wanted to give away a copy of a book by someone not me at events. So, I tried to do that when I remembered. Gift cards are great, too. You can always talk to the bookstore owner or manager and ask what would be a cool giveaway.

If you’re holding the reading in a bar, maybe give away a booze gift certificate or a bar t-shirt. Bowling alleys, brothels, hardware stores – gift cards make good giveaways. Support the folks who support you.

2) Get sticky notes for the books you sign.

Someone with you (the store manager or your spouse or a random Lithuanian ventriloquist from the neighborhood deli) needs to place sticky notes on the title page of the books to be signed with the person’s name right there. FOR SHERRI. FOR MATT. Whatevs.

I was signing books one night for some folks and I just kept blanking. I’d look up at people and couldn’t remember names. I mean, for Cliff’s sake, it’s a stressful time.

Me: So who should I make this out to?
Her: Just to me. I’m so proud of you.
Me: Um, so your name here?
Her: Yes. I can’t wait to tell everyone.
Me: Yeah, so, uh, like the spelling? I want to get it right.
Her: Oh, just the normal spelling.

This went on for seven minutes, this back and forth. Seven minutes doesn’t sound like much, but good gracious it was. Eventually, my Aunt Edna realized what was going on, but it was painful for us both.

3) Send signed copies to your blurbers, you goofball.

I nearly screwed this up, but I think I ended up OK. A couple of folks who blurbed my book came to a reading and bought the book there, and I wasn’t sure what to do at that point. Send a thank you note? It’s probably what Joelle would do. Instead, I just bought extra copies of their books for giveaways here at DSD and elsewhere.

But, for the most part, once I got the hardbacks in, I wrote a ‘thanks’ in the copies and mailed it off to the folks who were kind enough to take the time out of their lives and say nice things about my book.

Honestly, blurbing can be quite a favor. You’re saying to someone, “Hey, would you take time away from your family and your job and your own writing and spend some time, not just reading my book, but coming up with something nice and clever to say in order to help me out? Kthxbye.” Really, it’s asking quite a bit of people, and the least you can do – the very friggin least you can do – is send them a copy of the book with something nice scrawled in there with your signature.

4) Give some people two copies

You’re going to send copies of your book to people. And, yeah, you’re probably going to reach high for a few copies.  As Bob Browning wrote: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?"  You’ll write “Dear Mr. King” on the title page or “To Ms. Evanovich.” (You’ll likely be so nervous you’ll screw up a copy or two before you get one you feel OK sending off. (Or so I’ve heard.))  That’s cool. Take your shots.

That said, you’ll have some people – mentors, professors, friends, magazine columnists you met once at a party, ministers – who you want to send a copy to. You might think about sending an extra signed copy with a sticky note inside suggesting they give it to someone who might like it. Essentially, you’ve just created a small army of hand-sellers. (It’s a cool trick I stole from someone on the Internet.)

Anyway, do what you want, of course. Read from the book. Don’t read from the book. Plant people in the audience to ask questions you want to answer. Hire a streaker. Give out chocolates. Whatever.

Basically, what I’m saying is that you want to be nice about it and make things easier for folks. These things can get pretty painful in your soul, can cause you to sweat right through your fancy $89 new sport coat from Kohl’s and spend the rest of the night hoping no one notices that you’re not lifting your arms.

Relax. Plan a little. And, of course, don’t try to do any of this without substantial pharmaceutical help.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Boy, just in time. How long do you talk at a reading? How much do you read? Do you talk about yourself or just the book? I have been to a lot of these and everyone is different. Megan is off stage in fifteen minutes but the woman who wrote Orphan Train went on for well over an hour. I am really befuddled, not being used to speaking in front of a group anyway.

Steve Weddle said...

Seems to me, if I came to your reading, then I probably already plan to buy the book, you know? Also, if your book is in English, I can read it myself.
Of course, I've read from my book when it seems appropriate, but listeners can often zone out after 10 minutes or less.
I like going to readings in which the author talks about the "inside" story of publishing the book or gives some background on the characters or stories.

I think my favorite readings have been when I've connected with the author, not the book.

Kristi said...

Great post, Weddle. Such good stuff. I blew it on sending copies to my blurbers and just tried to make up for it recently. And then the question was do I send copies to everyone who read arcs and did reviews, even if the reviews just went on amazon instead of on the book itself, etc.
So much to learn as a new writer.
And I should've done the post it notes last weekend. I was brain dead on remembering names and I hate that because I don't want the person to think I don't care about their name enough to hear it the first time ... and sending two books - brilliant.
PS My rule of thumb is do anything and everything Joelle suggests or does.

Al Tucher said...

Brothels. Definitely.

Steve Weddle said...

Yeah, I got a WWJD bracelet to remind me to ask myself, "WHAT WOULD JOELLE DO?"

Kristopher said...

Kristi, you most definitely don't need to send finished copies to the folks who reviewed the books.