Saturday, August 15, 2009

To Stay, Perchance to Sing

Doing book signings, going on tour, uttering a humble dramatic reading when coaxed, waxing poetic about your particular Muse--these are the usual success fantasies of the wannabe novelist. You picture lines of adoring fans, all gushing compliments, talking about the brilliance of your words and, naturally, buying copies for every member of their extended families.

The reality more often turns out to be a lonely table, little or no publicity (unless you do it yourself), and only a handful of potential buyers, most of whom only wanted to ask you where the restrooms are. One sympathy sale, if you're lucky.

Writers, be frank--while waiting for your public to show up at a signing, do you

a) play with your pen?
b) read someone else's book?
c) paint your fingernails?
d) memorize Wyoming's tax code?

When potential customers walk into the store (or at a convention, within spitball distance), do you

a) play hard to get, shyly averting your gaze?
b) continue to read someone else's book?
c) look hopeful?
d) grasp their collars, push your book in front of their noses, give them your rehearsed 5 minute spiel, and afterwards wonder why they called security?

At convention signings (where a groups of authors are seated in one room for maybe an hour at a time), I've actually seen writers pack up and leave their posts early. Not me. I always stay to the end. Someone has to entertain all those people in Lisa Scottoline's line.

The point is, once we convince bookstore managers, convention organizers, and librarians to actually give us a little stage and possibly an audience for an hour or two, what do we do with it? Being writers (whose idea of a good time is hours spent in front of a computer each day), we tend to sit there and look pretty darn boring. Worse yet, sometimes we're asked to speak or read. Given all that time at the PC, what social skills do you expect us to have? Really, it's a wonder no one asks us to leave early.

What we need is motivation for better entertainment. I propose signing performance awards similar to the Tonys. Some possible categories:

Best Costume
Best Choreography
Best Special Effects
Best Dramatic Use of Pen
Best Comic Use of Food Projectiles
Best Reenactment of Book's Murder Scene
Best Country Song About Signing At Walmart
Best "Performance Art" Using Book and Two Cats

I'm sure we can come up with more categories. Come on, mystery fans, what would bring you out for a signing?

Elena (who only leaves store signings when they turn out the lights and who is currently rehearsing eighteenth century tavern songs for her next book tour sing-a-long)

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