Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The pen is longer than the sword

(This post's title just made me realize the importance of proper space bar usage.)

(Wow, I've never started off a post with parentheses before. Not a good sign.)

(Hey, wouldn't The Space Bar be a great name for a writer's hangout?)

I spent most of this weekend researching methods of book marketing and promotion. There are so many opportunities, both online and offline, that it quickly became clear that I can't do everything. My schedule is crammed enough trying to write two books a year, so I'll have to make some careful decisions about how I spend my time, money, and energy.

One of my favorite authors, Margaret Atwood, has invented a gadget called the LongPen, which allows her to sign books remotely. This past weekend she held a video conference in London with fans at a bookstore in New York City.

It's great that authors like Atwood will now be able to "travel" anywhere to sign books (um, never mind the fact that the LongPen didn't actually work during its debut). But I fear that this bit of technology will do for authors what Blackberrys and cell phones have done to business people: keep them tethered to their work at all times.

If it costs Atwood nothing to appear at a booksigning in East Diddlysquat, then what's to stop her publicist from asking her to do a signing every single day, year in and year out? How will she justify turning down an appearance? She no longer has the excuse, "It's too far to travel." Yet even for a remote signing she must look and act her best, which is exhausting for even the most extroverted of writers.

Booksignings are important for authors, not because they result in a lot of direct sales, because usually they don't. The key reason for an author to do a signing is to build relationships with booksellers, those hard-working, intelligent, blindingly gorgeous people who hold a novel's success in their strong yet sensuous hands.

However, a crappy turnout at a formal signing makes booksellers feel bad. Another option is the "drive-by" or "stock" signing. Basically, the author drops in, autographs all of the store's copies of her book, and takes awhile getting to know the people who work there (who are invariably, in case I didn't mention it before, sharp as tacks and crawl-over-glass beautiful).

If the author is smart, she brings doughnuts. If the bookseller is smart, she places the autographed copies face-out with stickers that say "Signed by the Author." Everyone's happy.

So my current plan is to only do one or two "event" signings--one here in my hometown and one in my college town of Villanova (Go 'Cats!)--and then spend several days as a doughnut-pushing, autograph-scrawling, all-around friendly kinda gal, doing stock signings at every bookstore I can find.

At least, the ones who don't see me coming first.


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Jeri Smith-Ready is a Maryland author of books for teens and adults.

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