03/26/2015 07:28 am ET Updated May 23, 2015

The Art of Book Signing 101

I've been doing book signings for quite a number of years now but I never get over the thrill of meeting people who enjoy reading my books and want an autographed copy of one. I've learned to relax, be myself, and enjoy the 'meet and greet.' I've mastered the author's Art of Book Signing 101.

Several years ago, at the end of the day of my very first signing, it was all I could do to keep myself from shouting, "You like me! You really like me!" the way Sally Field did when receiving her second Oscar. I was so thrilled that my book was selling! This was, of course after I had had a terrible panic attack on the way to the signing because I was afraid nobody would attend the 'author event.' And during the event, which included my reading selections from the book, No Woman Diets Alone: There's Always a Man Behind Her Eating a Doughnut, my mouth was so dry with fear, I was glad that I'd brought a couple of bottles of water with me.

But no worries; the event was successful and I looked forward to more book signings and meeting fans.

As I began to be invited to more literary events, I learned quite a bit from other authors. I learned that you, the author of the book, need to be a source of information for your readers; a good question and answer session about characters and plot is something most book buyers enjoy. I learned that all fans appreciate a few minutes of your time to chat, something that I very much enjoy doing, and which fans of your work deserve.

And I also learned how to turn the curiosity seekers and those who just happen to wander into the store, not knowing anything about the book on display or the author, into potential fans and book buyers. That's an important part of book signing 101.

My most recent book signing for For I Have Sinned took place at a Barnes and Noble in the New York City area. Appropriate enough since the thriller takes place in NYC. Besides fans of my work, those eager to meet at the author event and buy an autographed copy, I had the usual 'curious people' and the 'I just wandered in here' folks who had no idea who I was. Having been primed by seasoned authors at past events about the curious and the wanderers, and being a fairly well seasoned author myself, I was ready to make new fans and generate book sales.

"Your book's title? For I Have Sinned? Are you a Christian or what? I mean, do you even have a religion?" asked one well-dressed but stern-looking woman. I assured her that I did believe in "Someone Greater" and told her the story behind the title. "It's the first in a series about a NYC private investigator,"I said. I was charming and I smiled. A lot. She ended up buying two books one for herself and one for her mother who, she told me, "loves murder, mystery, mayhem, and justice'. "God bless you," I said as she walked away.

"Oh, murder of a priest! You bet I'll buy one. Is this an autobiography?" said a woman who had wandered in and read the book's jacket. She was with a friend, both wearing running outfits. I told her it was fiction and explained that the murder was just a part of the thriller. She looked a little disappointed but decided to buy it. Her friend bought one too. "Thank you both. Enjoy!" I waved at them as they left.

"Can I have your phone number?" asks a curious man with whom I would hesitate getting into an elevator.

"No." I smile sweetly and glance around for the events coordinator. "This is a book signing."

"How about if I buy your book? Give me your number then?"

"No, not even then."

He looks disappointed and I hold my breath. Then he hands me the book he's been holding close to his chest for my signature. "Yeah, well, okay, I guess I'll buy it anyway; maybe you'll change your mind about giving me your number?"

I smile, say nothing, and autograph my book. "Enjoy reading it. Excuse me, sir, there's someone behind you who wants my autograph." He moves away but not before leaving me a slip of paper with his number on it.

"You're a writer, huh? Maybe you can write about my life." This is from a pregnant woman who has five children in tow. "Let me tell you that my life is an interesting one. I'll give you my email address. Contact me, okay?" I sign, and smile at the youngest child who has taken a book off the table and begun to bite the cover. "She's adorable," I say gently extricating my book. "You think so?" says the mother. She gives me an exasperated look but she buys my book.

A man comes up, checks out the book and the price. "You're charging $17.95 for this book? It better be worth it." I sign, smile again, and direct him to the cashier.

"Excuse me miss; where's the children's section and the bathroom?" asks a couple with a little girl. I direct them to where they want to go then tell them I am doing a book signing and invite them to stop by on their way out. The woman comes back an hour later and buys a book. Success with the curious and the wanderers!

Six hours later, I had sold all the books Barnes and Noble had ordered for the signing and had made plans with the events coordinator for a two day author event for the soon-to-be-published second book in A Cate Harlow Private Investigation series. It was a good day and I was glad I had mastered the author's Art of Book Signing 101.

So what are the learning points of the Art of Book Signing 101? They're really very simple.

First and foremost, bring water; you'll spend a great deal of time talking.

Be upbeat and not easily discouraged if you don't sell 5 books within the first hour. No one comes into the store the minute it opens.

Remember that you can't be shy; you're selling yourself through your book and you need to be bold. Tell people who you are: "Hi I'm Kristen Houghton and I'm doing a book signing today. Come join me over by the book table for a chat."

Be ready to talk about plot, characters, and settings in your book. It's amazing how many authors, including yours truly, sometime forget crucial points about the novel they wrote.

People like to socialize. Be sociable and listen to what they have to say.

Be polite to everyone, not just to those who buy your book. The curious and the wanderers may be potential customers. And anyway, it costs you nothing to be nice, right?

Smile, smile, smile! You're an author; be happy with your accomplishment and enjoy the day!

Kristen Houghton is the author of 6 top-selling books including the PI series A Cate Harlow Private Investigation. The first in the series FOR I HAVE SINNED is available where all books are sold.
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