Most of us know by now that an author's success is part skill, part determination, and part luck. The mystique of the published author rarely translates in real life to major celebrity and glamour. Consequently, my book signings at Borders are very different from, say, Carly Phillips.' Because I'm not a household name -- yet -- I don't have an entourage ushering me to a skirted table with stacks of books, bottled water, and extra Sharpies. Well, actually, that's not true; I did experience that kind of luxury during autograph sessions at Book Expo America: water, Sharpies, and my very own flunky to keep the books coming and opened to the proper page for signing. And these were heady experiences (complete with long lines of people waiting for me) that I hope to repeat often in the years and books to come.
For now, book signings are more grit than glamour, marathon "hand-selling." A scheduled bookstore signing means long hours on your feet (sitting down is a no-no), greeting people who often make a wide berth around you to avoid the Suck Zone, that fearsome periphery by the author's table believed to ensnare passers-by who pretend not to see you. It means delicately balancing the right amounts of small talk with soft sell. An author shouldn't appear flagrantly cocky nor whiningly desperate. Personally, I never liked the kind of smarmy, false gregariousness so often used by various salespeople. I like to think that my smiles are genuine. If they are returned, I may go on to ask how that customer's day is going, or what she likes to read. If I am ignored (usually by Suck Zone avoiders who have braved the limits of safety by actually entering the store), I keep smiling and rejoice that I didn't employ specious personality that becomes embarrassing when rejected. I answer dozens of questions from customers who think I'm a store employee, always remembering to invite them back to my table after their rest room visit.
The real hardship of book signings lies in communicating my author identity without the benefit of a bull horn and carnival barker. Browsers seem to lose their observation skills, as they never realize that the person standing at the author's table, alongside the sign that says Meet the Author, and behind the candy jar that says Compliments of Author Cynthia Polansky, is the author. I have not one but two posters of my novels, both with my photo, displayed prominently. I wear a nametag that says "Cynthia Polansky" on the badge, under which hangs a satiny ribbon that vertically proclaims "Author." And still I am asked, "Do you know the author?" "Are you connected with this book?" Or, after talking with me for a few minutes, "Oh, are you the author?"
These people obviously did not spend enough time with Where's Waldo?
Glibness aside, I enjoy the people I meet at book signings, whether they buy my books or not. There's always interesting conversation, a few laughs, maybe a shy glance from an awestruck child who is too young to know that I'm technically not in the "awesome" category of writers (but it's all subjective, right?) And I'm able to share my books in a personal way that simply can't be accomplished in a back cover blurb. I guess that's what hand-selling is all about: a passion for the work you've created, and a desire to share it. There will always be those who fear the Suck Zone, but I do my best to lure them into a false sense of security. All you signing authors out there, take note: chocolate works better than cleavage.
I'll be luring innocent travelers into the Borders in Terminal A of the Baltimore-Washington International Airport on April 24 from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm.
Causes Cynthia Polansky Supports
- Food Animal Concerns Trust
- Farm Sanctuary
- The New England Anti-Vivisection Society
- Physicians'Committee for Responsible...