Monday, August 17, 2009

Book Signings Are Boring And Stuff

One of the topics Karin suggested for this go-round is "Book Signings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly". My thoughts? Really, how UGLY can a book signing get? There was an episode of the beloved MTV high school drama My So-Called Life where the character of Claire Danes makes the statement “asking ‘how was school?’ is like asking ‘how was the drive-by shooting?’ You don’t really care how it was, you’re just lucky you survived.” (I’m probably misquoting here, but you get the point.) It’s always shocked me how similar an approach many authors I know take to booksignings. The disdain goes beyond fear, beyond hate, to a point of disgust that circles back around to fear and then, ultimately, to some sort of weird fight-or-flight response that causes cold sweats and nausea.

I’ve never understood this. At all. I mean, for every instance like those recounted in Mortification, there’s an instance like the release party for Kate Christensen’s awesome summer read Trouble that I attended a few months back, where it’s basically a drunken love-in. In fact, in this economy (aren’t you tired of hearing that cliché?), in these times (aren’t you tired of that one, too?), it would seem any book store still choosing to be brave enough to host readings and signings will also, in fact, throw their neck/back out in an attempt to create a fun, or at least successful, event.

Because, I mean, let’s get to the real nitty-gritty of it: at the core? Book signings are pretty damn boring, aren’t they? I’m not talking about ye olde sit-and-signs, where an author is plopped at a picnic table and told “SIT!” for 45 min/an hour/e-freaking-ternity and then left to hawk books like they were bootleg tickets outside a concert venue. No, we won’t talk about those because, for the love of god, who still does that? It’s embarrassing for everyone-the author, the staff of the book store, the poor people approached by Lady Jane St Stevens, whose new book Jenny Pink and Her Fabulous Friends is sure to crack the Times, sure it is, and you should just gobble it up and read it right now and won’t you buy two copies to give to a friend and who should she personalize it to?

Yeah. Desperation smells bad, but on an author, all wild-eyed and sell-crazy, it smells worse.

But no, I mean the actual author event, reading/speaking/q&a/signings-they’re all actually sort of boring, sort of self-gratifying, really, when they’re fairly cut and dry. Because, honestly, it’s you, Mr/Ms AuthorPerson, talking for like an hour about “craft” and “meaning” and all the other stuff when actually you want a drink, the audience wants a drink, you want to shut up, and the audience wants you to shut up.

As such, I’ve compiled a brief list of 10 ways to spice up your next book signing. I am also not accountable for anything resulting from trying these:

1)Show up early. Really, really early. Take the stage, if there is one. Take the mic, if there is one. If not, just stand. Begin reading from page one of your book. Don’t stop til you’ve finished. Ignore any and all conversational attempts made during this time period. Should you finish your book, close it, look up, say “thank you “ and leave, regardless of time.

2)Put a live squirrel in a paper bag. Set it next to you as the bookstore’s event coordinator introduces you. Before you begin, say “oh, my squirrel!” Release it from the bag. Don’t acknowledge it again.

3)To every book event you ever do, ever, carry a copy of Apocalypse South, the single worst book ever written. Read from it lieu of anything else.

4)Show up drunk. (I think we’ve all seen this one done. It actually works better if you bring the booze for all to share. I, personally, only do deal with book events drunk. I mean, uh...)

5)(This one requires some pre-arrangement, and honestly, hun, if you’re only famous in your own head it won’t be funny) You introduce the store’s event coordinator. The event coordinator reads from your work, takes your q&a and, if you’re really gutsy? Signs books in your stead. Watch the collectors lose their minds…in a bad way.

6)Call your family during your reading. Like, literally stop everything to do it. I have seen this done ONCE, and by a very, very famous fantasy author, and he was actually charming enough to pull it off.

7)Constantly refer to things your “friend Ernest…oh you know, Hemingway?” would tell you.

8)Constantly refer to things your “friend Ernest…you know, Goes To Camp?” would tell you.

9)Announce on-stage you’re quitting “the literary rat race” to “focus on cooking”. Produce a tube of raw cookie dough. Eat it entirely. Leave the store.

10)Stage a fist-fight with a friend planted in the audience. This actually reminds me of a story Jennifer Finney-Boylan has in Love Is A 4 Letter Word, so obviously it works.

BONUS: 11) Run into the store 25 minutes late, completely naked other than blackberry jam on your chest (regardless of your gender), screaming “SORRY I’M LATE I WAS FIXING MY CAR.”

To any bookstore lit event coordinators out there who take issue with my suggesting authors try these things, please email all complaints to Complaints will be addressed in the order they’re received.

Russ Marshalek is a freelance book publicist and lit event coordinator, operating as RussCommunications, in Astoria, New York. His fledgling personal website is here, and his neglected blog is here. He really likes you!


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

This is hilarious! But...I may just have to try some of these tips. I even bore myself at book signings. :)

Mystery Writing is Murder

Randy Susan Meyers said...

My head was down, frantically making lists of book promotion ideas. Friend forwarded this. Laughed. Took myself in hand. Stopped taking myself so seriously.

Karin Gillespie said...

I'm definitely going to get myself a squirrel for the next signing!

Loved this.

Leona said...

Very funny! Thanks for brightening my day.

Jim said...

Outa sight! I don't think I ever realized how twisted you could be if you try. I thought they were great!

M. R. Sellars said...

Can you use a Capuchin Monkey in place of the squirrel?



Timothy Hallinan said...

I was with you until you said raspberry jam, and at that moment your credibility vanished. Everyone knows it should be strawberry, and preferably organic.