It’s been almost a year since the release of Skrik op die Lyf, an Afrikaans horror anthology featuring 46 authors of which I was lucky enough to be one. Whether put together by yourself or arranged by your publisher, a book release or signing is a milestone occasion for any author. Simply put, it’s understandable if you’re nervous as hell.
Here are some of my tips for taking the edge off.
Arrive Early and Check Out the Scene
During my days as a guitarist I used to scope out the venue before the gig: It takes the bite out of the fear of the unknown. Arriving early tells you what to expect, how much room you’ll have to move around, where you will be in relation to the audience, whether they have speakers and a mic set up. All these things are better learned beforehand.
What’s Your Sign?
If someone handed you a pen right now and told you to sign this here book, would you know what to write?
Prepare and practice your signature. Make it different to the one you’d sign on a cheque. Keep in mind that your hand might get tired, or you might have to sign at very weird angles.
Most readers will appreciate a special message, but make sure you know who you’re making the book out to first. A polite way is automatically asking, “Who should I make this out to?” Of course, also ask them to spell that. For example, Niamh (a popular Irish name), is in fact pronounced knee-ov—who knew?
The Pen is Mighty
Get the right pen for the job. If you’re sentimental, like me, you might like to have a special pen just for signing. My wife bought me a sleek, pitch black Parker pen which I’ve been using ever since exclusively to sign books, articles, magazines and other things with my name on them.
Choose a pen that fits comfortably in your hand in terms of circumference and weight. Test how it draws and writes. Pressure, line width, all similar details begin to matter if you have to sign a bunch of books in quick succession. And remember to take an extra pen or refills along—you might need it!
Make Lifelong Fans
You're going to meet a lot of people, and these people turn into your constant readers. Come prepared to keep in touch with them: Even though I didn't think of it at the time, it pays to have professional business cards printed (with your name, website and contact details). I collect business cards, and it's a great way to break the ice: "Hey, here's my card." Have the back blank so you can jot down quick personal messages.
Voice training is often underestimated, even though it’s extremely useful in public speaking. Learn to use your diaphragm: place your hand on your stomach, just under your ribs, and feel it expand and contract as you breathe. Learn to speak and breathe with your diaphragm. Over time it becomes automatic, and it’s an immeasurably useful tool.
You’ll want to speak clearly and coherently, so keep a drink of water close by to ward off a dry mouth while you’re speaking. If you’re tired or have a cold, warm tea with honey will soothe your voice.
If you’re going to be reading from your book, make sure you know in advance which part—you can have it bookmarked or photocopied. Take some time practicing these passages before the day of the book signing. Record your efforts so you know where to improve.
Connecting with Readers
Don’t forget to connect with your readers and fans after the event! If you have a website or Facebook page, share your experience of how it went. Don’t be afraid to answer questions or ask questions of your own, and to connect with people. The connections you create with your readers can last a lifetime, stretching over all your books.
Jodi Picoult, an award-winning author of 23 novels, offers up this piece of advice for authors:
“I think the most important thing nowadays is to engage with readers on social media to make sure they know a new book is coming and then immediately after to engage them in responses about it. Word of mouth is the best advertising!”
Be who you’d like to meet at a book release. Be relaxed, be cool, be yourself, and you should be completely fine!