Promoting Your Prose: Creating a Memorable Personality

By Mary Emma Allen

Do you recede into the background when people meet you or do you present a memorable appearance? We’re told it takes 30 seconds to make a first impression. How do you want to be perceived as an author?

This often is something we writers don’t think about. As writers who strive for recognition, we often never think of what could set us apart from others or what might set writers we admire apart, in addition to their writing.

“Develop your own style, your signature,” a children’s author and workshop teacher told us when she discussed doing book signings or giving school presentations. She mentioned the importance of dress and told us she decided to create an image for herself . . . one when she appeared at functions attended by adults or met with editors and another when she appeared in schools to talk with children.

Leaving an Impression

A variety of factors will be involved when you create an impression… favorable or unfavorable . . . that will cause readers to remember you.

“Why should this matter?” you ask, when readers will be buying and reading our books without our being there . . . and when most editors will buy my work without ever seeing me.

Everything we can do to create a favorable impression with readers and editors, when we do have an opportunity to meet them, certainly helps. A favorable impression, one that they remember when our name is mentioned, helps even more.

Developing Your Signature

This author at the workshop wore colorful flowing dresses and chunky jewelry. She’d dressed the way she does when giving presentations for children in schools and libraries. She said children enjoy bright colors and appealing jewelry.

Another of her suggestions was dressing like one of your characters when giving a presentation, reading or signing book. This certainly calls attention when you’re doing readings or book signings in book stores where you want to catch the interest of customers and draw them to your area.

Appearance Depends on Occasion

Your appearance also depends on the occasion and the type of writing you do. I recently attended a health fair where I set up a display about my book on Alzheimer’s, When We Become the Parent to Our Parents I wanted to look professional, someone knowledgeable about my topic.

To me this meant giving attention to my appearance and not looking scruffy. Once I used to wear clothes and colors that made me recede into the background. However, I’ve found the “secret me’ enjoys wearing the colorful clothing I enjoyed as a child.

This doesn’t mean wearing gaudy clothing, but something well coordinated and comfortable, something that makes me feel good about myself. Then I can feel good when talking with others about my book and my work as an encourager to caregivers.

If one is at an outdoor craft fair or function, where weather might be a consideration, dress according to that occasion. Jeans and similar clothing could be appropriate. If your book is about the out-of-doors or connected with sports, then dressing in clothing associated with those occasions would be more in keeping than skirt and panty hose and heels or suit and tie.

Dress Depends on Age

Dress often depends on the age of the audience or the editor you’re meeting. Those of an older generation have a different idea of appropriateness than someone who is comfortable with “dress down Friday.”

Keep in mind that the way you dress at a book event or meeting with an editor can have an effect on how you’re received. It might be worthwhile to give some thought to developing a characteristic type of dressing that it associated with you.

I’d enjoy hearing from writers who have had success in developing a signature style of dressing.

© 2002 Mary Emma Allen

Mary Emma Allen writers for children and adults, fiction and non-fiction. She’s also a columnist and travel writer, as well as speaker and teacher. She blogs at Mary Emma’s Potpourri of Writing.

The “Do It Yourself” Book Tour

By Aliza Sherman

Everything I know about booking a book tour, I learned while in the music business. Sometimes, I joke that as an author I’m like a small rock band. I’ve been signed by a major label, given some money in advance to make my album, fed a lot of exciting promises about marketing and promotions, and then I’m on my own. It is entirely up to me whether my record succeeds or fails. If I work really hard and there is a blip in record sales somewhere, maybe, just maybe, my record label will put a little money toward promotions or do a little public relations for me.

Does this scenario sound familiar? As a currently non-best-selling author, I’ve learned that my publisher is the ideal distributor for a product — my book — but that I’m really the marketing and PR machine. Once I accepted my role, I took advantage of an extended road trip I was taking across the country to promote my second book, Cybergrrl @ Work. I ended up stopping in more than 50 cities in 2001 to support my book.

How did I do it? Based on what I learned while working in the music business — at booking agencies and music managements companies in the early 90s — I mapped out several months of tour dates. I also enlisted a friend — Alison Berke of bworks.com – to help me book the dates, something she was happy to do on the side while running a home-based Internet marketing business. Then I hit the road.

Here are some basic concepts of booking tours that work well whether you are an aspiring rock band or up-and-coming author.

Routing the Tour

The act of “routing a tour” simply means to map out the entire trip, specifying the cities you’ll cover, noting the mileage and drive time, then using it as a framework for actually booking the tour.

Your publisher will tell you that there are only a handful of major markets that they really care about. My publisher mentioned New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and maybe Seattle since my book was Internet related and at the time, Seattle was an Internet mecca along with Silicon Valley. Traveling between those cities can be unrealistic if you cannot afford the airfare. If you can take the time off, try routing a driving tour to hit as many major markets as possible or stick to a regional area around a single major market.

You can even book a tour within a driveable radius around your own hometown or fly to a major market, rent a car and create a tour in that region. The best market, of course, would be New York City and the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut) plus Pennsylvania and Washington DC and even as far north as Massachusetts. Amtrak has good deals between these cities if you don’t like to drive.

To route my tour, I used these essential tools:

A Rand McNally road atlas to help me visualize the driving routes.

Mapquest.com’s Driving Directions section so I could check approximate mileage and driving times.

A good map of the entire United States to get a perspective of the overall territory. I found that the Rand McNally road atlas only had a small map of the country without much detail.

Maps of each state where I would be traveling. My local AAA office furnished me with every map I needed.

For the first leg of my tour, I began in South Florida with a plan to end a month later in New York City. I knew that I wanted to hit Atlanta, GA, and Charlotte, NC, so I couldn’t stick to driving north on I-95. I had to consider the drive time to each city and keep in mind that most bookstores preferred evening appearances on the weekdays and afternoons on weekends.

The first few weeks of my skeletal routing looked like this:

JAN
Jan 8 Mon Miami
Jan 9 Tue Ft. Lauderdale
Jan 10 Wed Pompano Beach
Jan 11 Thu Speaking engagement (already booked) – Ft. Lauderdale
Jan 12 Fri West Palm or Melbourne?
Jan 13 Sat OFF
Jan 14 Sun OFF
Jan 15 Mon Tampa
Jan 16 Tue Orlando
Jan 17 Wed OFF
Jan 18 Thu Jacksonville
Jan 19 Fri OFF
Jan 20 Sat OFF
Jan 21 Sun OFF
Jan 22 Mon Atlanta
Jan 23 Tue OFF
Jan 24 Wed Charlotte

I emailed the above routing to Alison. We received suggestions of bookstores in each city either by emailing friends and acquaintances in the area or by researching on the Internet.

Here is what the actual tour for those weeks ended up looking like:

Tue, Jan 9 Ft. Lauderdale, FL – 8:00 pm – Archives Bookcafe
Wed, Jan 10 Miami Beach, FL – 8:00 pm – Books & Books
Thu, Jan 11 Ft. Lauderdale, FL – Speaking engagement
Fri, Jan 12 DRIVE
Sat, Jan 13 Tampa, FL – OFF
Sun, Jan 14 Clearwater, FL – 1:00 pm – Barnes and Noble
Mon, Jan 15 Orlando, FL – 3:00 pm – Books A Million
7:30pm – Borders Books Music & Cafe
Tue, Jan 16 DRIVE
Wed, Jan 17 Atlanta, GA – 7:00 pm – Chapter 11
Thu, Jan 18 Atlanta, GA – OFF
Fri, Jan 19 DRIVE
Sat, Jan 20 Charlotte, NC – OFF
Sun, Jan 21 Charlotte, NC – 7:00 pm – Borders bookstore

The changes from my tentative routing to the final schedule happened mostly because of the available dates and times at each bookstore. I skipped certain cities because they didn’t fit into the schedule as it developed, and they weren’t big enough markets to warrant rearranging the schedule.

Submitting a Rider

Every rock band has a rider — an addendum to their contract that states what the band would like in the dressing room to make their appearances more comfortable. Whether it was M&Ms without the green ones for Van Halen or an enormous bowl of boiled shrimp for Def Leppard, I witnessed rockers getting almost anything their hearts desired at each concert.

As an author, you only get what you ask for. I created a rider that Alison sent in advance to all of the bookstores that requested things such as:

  1. How to obtain copies of my book and who to contact if there is any delay. I wanted to make sure they had my books at each signing. This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many authors show up for signings only to find their books aren’t there.
  2. Request for the exact store location, contact information and driving directions to be emailed to Alison. I wanted everything in advance so I didn’t get lost.
  3. Request for specific event details. Would I be doing a signing only or did they want me to speak as well? Or were they going to set me up behind a table with my books at the front of their store?
  4. Request for Audio/Visual inventory. If they want me to speak, what would be the setup? Microphone? Podium and lectern? If they wanted me to speak, I did request a microphone and amplifier because I found that it attracted more attention storewide.
  5. Request for several bottles of spring water without ice. This was my luxury request.
  6. Request for local media contacts. If they provided Alison with these contacts in advance, she could help pursue media coverage of the event.

The rider worked out well for everyone, and I always had my bottles of water when I needed them!

Advancing the Dates

In the music business, to “advance a date” means to call a few days ahead of time to make sure everything is in order. Alison contacted each store within a week before my appearance to make sure everything was set, to go over the rider point by point, and to get answers to any last minute questions.

Advancing dates is not foolproof, but it is helpful. After over 50 tour dates, I had only had one mix up when we got a date wrong, and no one realized it until I missed my appearance. The store generously let me set up the following evening, although I didn’t have the benefit of promotions.

Promotional Tools

After many appearances at bookstores, I’ve learned that as an author, you can’t have enough promotional tools. Here are a few tools that have come in handy:

  1. Promotional Blurbs. Prepare a few, very short promotional blurbs about the book and about you that the bookstore can have in advance to include in their newsletter or give to the media. You can only imagine the erroneous and irrelevant blurbs I’ve seen about my book. Getting a consistent message out there is key to marketing your book.
  2. Pre-Prepared In-Store Announcements. Write out and give bookstores several options for storewide intercom announcements to avoid them reading blandly from your book jacket. Make sure you clearly specify how to pronounce your name. I can’t tell you how many times I’m announced as “Eliza” or “Aleesha” instead of the proper way — Uh-LEE-zuh. If you can, get permission to do the announcements right before your appearance if you are comfortable on a microphone.
  3. Book Blowups. Get several blowups of your book mounted on foam core. When you arrive in a town, go directly to the bookstore even if a few days in advance. Check the signage about your signing, and offer the blowups to put in their window or near their checkout counter with the date and time of your appearance taped to it. I was lucky enough to be given 3 blowups of my book by a New York City bookstore who had them made for my local appearance. The posters were so eye-catching that the store sold over 40 books the week before my appearance.
  4. Flyers. I made fliers at Kinkos with my photo, a graphic of my bookcover and the text: “Meet the Author — Tonite!” and “Aliza Sherman — “Cybergrrl @ Work.” I left blanks for Date, Time and Location. I made several copies of the master flyer and used a Sharpie pen to insert the appropriate information. I made copies on bright yellow paper to attract attention, and then canvassed neighboring businesses near the bookstore and asked permission to hang up the flyer in their windows. They almost always said “yes.”

Booking your own book tour can be time consuming and being on the road can be grueling, but as you begin to see book sales increasing in the markets you’ve visited, you’ll realize how effective a grassroots tour can be. Happy trails!

Aliza Sherman is an international keynote speaker, author of 11 books including Social Media Engagement for Dummies and The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit, and a digital strategist since 1992. Aliza Sherman has a Website.

How to Make the Most of Book Signings

By Karyn Langhorne

Back in October, a friend of mine suggested I try to set up a book signing in a bookstore near where he works. It’s a great location for book signings: a heavily trafficked mall surrounded by federal office buildings and built above a subway station. I talked with the store manager, a nice but somewhat harried young man named Richard, and made my case. We set a date for an event for December . . . and I nearly forgot about it. Until this week, when Richard called to remind me that I was “on,” scheduled for Tuesday between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. — the heart of the noon-time break. He suggested I arrive early to “set up.” When I arrived, I understood a little better what he meant.

There was a long table set at the store’s entrance, loaded with about 30 of my books, arranged in neat stacks that made the table look far too long and empty. There was a little blackboard on which the words “Appearing today: Karyn Langhorne” were written in colorful letters. And that was it.

“Basically, the way this works is you snag people as they come in and tell them about your book. Or you can step out into the mall concourse and encourage them to step into the store and buy,” Richard told me. “That’s pretty much it. Good luck!”

I stared at the too-long table, the thirty books, the busy mall concourse just outside the store entrance and the please-don’t-approach me looks on the faces of the book browsers already in the store. My stomach sank. I’m a writer, not a saleswoman. Could I really do this?

Book signings for established and well-recognized authors can mean lines of excited fans, ready to purchase, and eager for the author’s John Hancock. But for the rest of us, “book signings” is a misnomer. The mission we’re on is a “book selling.” And book selling in this context means the same things it always does, whether you’re looking for an agent, a publisher or a reader: know your audience, refine your pitch to appeal to that audience, and ask for the sale.

Although I hadn’t been told exactly what to expect for this signing, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have a line of fans stretched out the door. So, I’d made some efforts. I sent out e-mails to friends and family, telling them about the book signing and asking them to forward the announcement to anyone they knew who worked in the area. I made my pitch to these friendly sources a little personal — and, I confess, slightly pathetic. “Please drop by if you can,” I wrote. “I’d hate to be sitting in a bookstore with a stack of unsold books . . . Sad and lonely and all by myself!”

Cover of Karyn Langhorne's A Personal MatterThen I gave some thought to how I wanted to present myself for the book signings. With the holidays around the corner, I decided a holiday sweater and a Santa hat might be festive and attention-getting. And since it is holiday time, I figured that would make a good pitch: an inexpensive present for a friend or co-worker, made personal and special by an author autograph. To bolster the feeling of holiday spirit I invested in festive container and filled it with mini-candy canes — sweets I hoped would attract people to pause a moment. And I brought my little stand-alone foam board of the book’s cover. This I set up on that long empty table, facing the mall entrance. I grabbed my roll of the glittering gold “Autographed by author” stickers I’d ordered from Wax Creative months before A Personal Matter was even released and my good “signing” pen, then took a deep breath. Show time.

The first fifteen minutes were awful. I sat at the table and greeted every customer that came into the store . . . most were polite, but not interested. Finally, antsy with the fear of abject failure, I abandoned the seat behind the little table and paced the store’s entrance, smiling encouragingly at passersby. Again, most were polite . . . but they felt like I probably would have felt: uncertain about being talked into anything by a little brown woman in a Santa hat.

My strategy, good as it had seemed before my arrival, wasn’t working. Suddenly thirty books seemed an impossible number, way too many for me to possibly sell during the hour allotted to me. Just how was I supposed to do this? That was a critical moment there when I almost became discouraged and gave up — until I remembered what salespeople everywhere know all to well: Every no is one step closer to yes.

I stopped a nice-looking man rolling a cart full of trash with the words “Are you looking for an inexpensive gift for a special lady?”

He laughed. “I’m the janitor. I ain’t got no lady!”

“Sure you do,” I continued, observing him carefully. This guy was way too handsome to spend his evenings with the remote control. And he carried himself with a certain cockiness . . . like he knew how pretty he was. “I bet you have two or three!”

He liked that. He blinked his long, dark eyelashes at me and asked, “What you got?” then listened to the whole pitch about my book, about how an autographed copy would be a perfect stocking stuffer for whichever of his two ladies was a reader — or both of them, if he’d like. I certainly wasn’t going to tell on him.

He liked that, too. And he bought two books. I signed one for “Felecia” and another for “Jeannette” and asked no questions. He came back five minutes later, with three other guys from the maintenance staff. They each bought a book for their lady friends — and I signed them all.

I stopped two ladies as they passed the bookstore and gave them the spiel. This time, I emphasized that it was great gift for a friend or co-worker. I told them that I was a local writer, that A Personal Matter was my first book, and that I would really appreciate their support, since that was a pretty big stack of books on the table, and it would be pretty embarrassing to have them all still sitting there when my hour was up. Lady One looked at Lady Two, said, “Merry Christmas,” and came inside to buy her friend (and herself) signed copies. This approach ended up working very well — I stopped three more sets of ladies with it, and all of them bought copies for themselves and friends. Then a couple of my friends who got my e-mail dropped by . . . and eight more copies went away. The commotion at the signing table started to attract people into the store without me saying a word. When I finished a whirlwind of signing and chatting and things got quiet long enough for me to look up, there were only five copies left. These sold easily enough, partly because I felt confident and partly because the hour had taught me what worked.

At 12:45, there were no more books. None. All thirty, gone. So were the candy canes. In fact, two people I’d stopped earlier came back to buy books and there weren’t any left. And I had learned several important lessons, some of which might be helpful to any of you with book signings in your future:

Book Signings: Tips for Success

  1. Don’t sit behind the table. Things improved as soon as I stood up, walked around, and started reaching out to approach people.
  2. Have different pitches for different types of buyers. I thought the one-sized fits all “holiday gift” approach would work . . . but it turned out different arguments worked better with men than women. When I appealed to men to buy the book as a thoughtful present for the women in their lives, it worked. When I appealed to women to buy the book for their co-workers and good girlfriends, it worked.
  3. Make the personal connection with people. My janitor friend taught me to use all those “writer-ly” powers of observation to my advantage. When I started paying attention to people, they listened to me.
  4. Don’t let “nos” scare you. Easy to say, hard to do, it’s true. But the salespeople are right: keep plugging until you get to “yes.”
  5. Ask for people’s support. I know several people bought books because they could relate to how tough it would be to stand there for the full hour and not sell anything!

Always invite everyone to everything. A lady showed up after the books were all gone and introduced herself as a friend of a friend of a friend — who had been forwarded my e-mail begging not to be left alone and lonely. She said she worked in the area, and was curious. The books were all gone at that point, but she ordered a copy — which made Richard, the manager, even happier than he was before.

Happy holidays — and happy book signings!

Karyn Langhorne Folan is a “recovering” lawyer and a long time writer, with over 25 books so far. She’s  written for the groundbreaking educational novel series, Bluford High as well as an exciting line of post-apocalyptic fiction called Ashes, Ashes. Karyn Langhorne Folan has a Website.

Author Appearances: Top Ten Tips

By C. Hope Clark

Cover of C. Hope Clark's book The Shy WriterYour heart races, banging against your ribs, your chest, your throat. Fingers grip a pen to disguise the shake. The other hand flattens on your leg, your side, and your leg again drying the moisture that never disappears. You did not bargain for exhibition when you entered the world of writing. What started as a reclusive haven for your creative muse evolved into a public forum to sell your work. Good work should sell itself, you say, you wish. But nonetheless, there are invitations for author appearances.

Stepping before people, forcing yourself to say a few words, and pretending to enjoy the experience is the hive-causing, palm-sweating, mouth-drying bane of many an author. If the trauma of public appearances makes you question your chosen profession, stop and ponder ways to improve the experience and mitigate the stress.

Ten Tips for Author Appearances

  1. Take an assistant with you. Author appearances at book signings, book fairs and conferences are great places for an author’s “assistant.” The gregarious son, the extroverted spouse, or the effervescent niece can do what you cannot in many ways. While you sign books, your assistant can work the crowd and attract the customers. They charm the folks and lead them to the celebrity author (you), where you busily smile and sign books. Makes you look professional to have hired “staff.”
  2. Pretend you are famous. This is an age-old trick of actors and comedians, many of which who are painfully shy. Take a moment and paint on the persona of someone confident, energized and famous. The people feel it, and your confidence rises. Makes your voice a little louder, too.
  3. Hold a pacifier. Well, not literally, but holding something in your hands tends to settle a few jittery nerves. Jane Pauley fingers a paperclip when she makes author appearances. An author holding a pen is quite expected. Put a token of affection in your pocket to remind you to chill. A handkerchief in your pocket gives you something to fiddle with as well as wipe off sweaty palms.
  4. Share the spotlight. There are so many ways to do this. Sit on a panel instead of speaking alone. Have your assistant speak talk about you, introduce you, and close a function with you only saying thanks for coming. Share a booth with an outgoing author or other salesperson who draws people. Partner with a speaker who shares your topic’s expertise, and split commissions to have him incorporate your book in his presentation.
  5. Gimmicks speak alone. Branding yourself is common advice, but did you know that brands speak on your behalf? If someone recognizes FundsforWriters instead of C. Hope Clark, that’s fine because the connection is made either way. Without you saying a word, your image, logo, color scheme, or design says, “Here she is!” So hone that gimmick.
  6. Dress the part. As a “famous” author, you need to present yourself as polished at your author appearances. Hate pantyhose? Dressy slacks give a cool representation these days. Dressing like a gypsy does not speak professionally unless your book is in tune with that costume. If you dress casually, you tell customers you are casual in all ways, including the writing and marketing of your work. The sharp image attracts customers and lends an air of trust.
  7. Label yourself. Permanent nametags introduce you to others. Wearing your branded self on a professionally designed legible lapel pin is just like walking up to a person and saying, “Hello, I’m Jane Doe, the author.” You will find more people initiate the connection and relieve you of the icebreaking task when you wear a conspicuous form of identification.
  8. Visually dodge the group. Look at only one person at a time. Imagine a bookstore with hordes of people wandering around while you do a reading. Envision 200 people at a sit-down banquet. Think about a writers’ group of two dozen members. The numbers do not matter. Pick one person and communicate a thought. Move to another one and communicate your next thought. Keep the connection singular, and you tune out the sea of eyes and reduce it to a one-on-one coffee chat.
  9. Toss it back. Putting the spotlight on the other person takes it off of you. When meeting a stranger, compliment him, ask him questions, and keep tossing the conversation back to him. People love personal attention, and it relieves you of the same. In a group, ask for people to give examples or explain their experiences, releasing you of the entire speaking obligation. Not only do you release your own pressure, but also you become so special in their eyes. Oprah Winfrey is known for this talent, and everyone loves her.
  10. Preparation is everything. Memorize pat answers to questions like: What made you write this book; Why are you a writer; Where do you get your ideas; Are your characters taken from real people; and so on. You know the ones. Recite them at home and be prepared. You sound crisp and on cue when you do. For a speaking engagement, write the speech or lesson ahead of time in great depth — every word. Something about writing the words implants them on your brain. Reread your own book, if you need to make the words fresh in your mind. Preparation removes the stress from impromptu. You may know your work, but review never hurts.

The writing world is not the island of words it once was centuries ago. Electronics and media phenomena now place authors in front of their readers making them accountable. Fans want to see and hear their idols, plus, there is something about seeing an author that makes you real and credible. You might hate public author appearances, but options do exist to make it more palatable. By getting creative, you reduce the stress-factor while still giving your readers what they want.

C. Hope Clark is the author of The Shy Writer, and several mysteries. She is also the editor of FundsforWriters.com, and she blogs at TheShyWriter.com. You can find her personal Website at chopeclark.com.