Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Author readings vs signings

Just recently I did both a reading and a bookstore signing of my book, Roll Up the Streets. I’ve been giving it some thought as to which is better for an author to do.
I think most people would assume, and I always have, that a reading is better than a signing. You get to sit down with a group of interested listeners, read a couple of chapters—I did a bit of acting with props and a squeaky voice I worked on, don’t ask why I gave my villain a squeaky voice—interact with the audience and actually see and hear their reaction to your story.
My reading at the Tinman Too bookstore went very well and I got to hear the laughs in person. That’s always rewarding for any writer used to working in isolation. I also spoke with a couple of 11-year olds, my core audience, both of whom wanted to be writers. So as well as being entertaining, I could also encourage future writers. I also managed to sell a few books. All in all it was as good of an experience as I expected.

The signing was a bit different, and I was uncertain what to expect. Like everyone I’d heard stories, and actually seen, authors sitting alone behind a pile of their unsold books, looking bored, while shoppers walked by desperately avoiding eye contact. The bookstore I signed at, Aunties in Spokane, Washington, even put my signing table in front of the psychology section in case I needed to consult books on coping with depression.

But I was pleasantly surprised. The signing went for two hours, and although there were lulls, none were so long as to make me feel like I’d been abandoned. My table was placed in a spot everyone who entered the store passed by, without being directly in the entrance. It was also Librarian and Teacher appreciation day, and I talked to a number of librarians who promised to put Roll Up the Streets into their middle school libraries. Without this special event the signing probably would not have gone as well. But for this first experience of both a reading and a signing I sold out the bookstores’ supply of Roll Up the Streets, so I have to consider both a success.

As I was about to close up shop at the signing, I met a man who spends his retirement years photographing artists and writers for free. While he took my picture, he talked about how he thought signings were actually better for getting to talk to people because you get to spend some one-on-one time with each person who asks for an autograph. And as he put it, while you’re writing that dedication and your name, you’re thinking only of that for the moment, and leaving a record of it behind. That’s a nice thought.

I suppose if you’re doing a reading to a big audience the one-on-one interaction might be hard to work in. But my experience reading was with a small group of people who asked questions and with whom I spoke individually. So for me, at least this time, the reading was more fun, but the signing was a pretty close second.