In its simplest terms, a book signing is the act of the author of a particular book to ink their name on the title page of the publication and maybe offer up a dedication to the person about to purchase one of their works. They’re usually held at bookstores or libraries and besides the obvious benefit of marketing and a chance to promote themselves further, many authors benefit from taking the time to actually meet and greet their fans. Often times, a question and answer session is held in which the author will field questions from his or her readers about the book's contents or what their inspiration might have been and who their influences are.

As for the fans themselves, they benefit by actually meeting the author in person and by getting them to actually sign the book, the monetary value may increase over time depending on the book's and/author's popularity.

For me, the popularity begins at home…

At first, I was expecting last night to be just like any other night. You know, the same old routine of cooking dinner and settling down in front of the tube with one eye on the set and the other on whatever magazine came in the mail that day. But then I remembered, there was some kinda function at Anna’s school and I remembered in the back of my mind what it was.

Yes, the wee one and her classmates had gotten published and a ceremony was planned for that night. In short, their entry had been chosen as the Grand Prize Winner from over 2,500 others that were submitted and will be distributed in book fairs at schools all across the country.

I arrived at the gym that also serves as an auditorium and was greeted by about ten or twelve kids all dressed in their Sunday best. The boys that are usually some shade of filthy from their escapades in the schoolyard were now acting the gentlemen in their shirts and ties. Girls that were usually off in the corner giggling and pointing were now dressed like little ladies going to their first school dance. Us parents, the ones that usually pass each other by with hardly anything but a nod of our heads on our way to somewhere else now took the time to shake each others hands and compliment our respective offspring.

A makeshift stage was set up for the “dignitaries” and folding chairs and tables lined with refreshments were on hand for the parents to sit in and enjoy. The “dignitaries” included the mayor’s wife and the Columbus Superintendent of Schools as well as representatives of Scholastic Press, the sponsor of the contest. After the obligatory speeches were made by members of her school and the other assorted invitees an awards ceremony took place.

One by one, each kid was called to the stage where they received a gold medal of excellence that was draped around their necks and a Certificate of Achievement. Cameras flashed as each parent tried to capture the look of pure joy on the kids faces. After posing for a group photo, the real fun was ready to begin.

A long table had been set up and each kid took their assigned spot. Armed with nothing but Sharpies and smiles they dutifully signed their names in each of the books put before them. When all was said and done, I’m guessing that they had to do it over three or four hundred times.

They never once looked bored.

In this day and age, there seems to be a lot more emphasis on athletics than there is in art. Who cares what kind of grades you get or how creative you are as long as you can kick a soccer ball a mile long or sink that winning shot? For those of you old enough to remember College Bowl and when it actually aired on television on a weekly basis, you probably have a sense of what I’m talking about. It’s long been replaced by mind numbing situation comedies or worse yet, something that’s been dubbed “reality television”.

See, long after the dust settles from the playing fields and the cleats are hung up for the last time, these kids will have more than memories or trophies to hold onto.

They’ll have their words and pictures to last them a lifetime.

And that my friends, is just about as real as it gets.

Doing a book signing or sitting at an author's table at a convention or book store means you get to talk to a lot of new people and (hopefully) get your books into the hands of new readers who've been impressed by your approachability and charm. This can be a lot of fun, especially if you're an extrovert who gets energized by meeting new people.

But even for the most gregarious among us, working a book table is also likely to test your reserves.

The simple act of sitting behind a book table -- whether you're actually selling any of your books or are just there to sign copies -- trips a certain circuit in a certain type of narrow skull. Namely, it triggers the conviction that you, the author, are a mere sales clerk, and therefore not a real person this Rudy McRuderson needs to show any basic courtesy toward.

When I shared a book table with my husband, a guy in a suit came up, pointed at one of his Leisure titles, and said "Ooo, that looks like a spooooky book!" and wandered off making idiotic cartoon ghost noises. At a recent local book fair, a well-dressed soccer mom picked up my book Sparks and Shadows, read the back, then tossed it down on the table with the queenly disdainful announcement "I don't like short stories!"

More commonly, someone will shuffle up to your table, disinterestedly glance over the books you sweated blood to finish on deadline, and then say, "I've never heard of you."

And upon hearing this, your job, dear signing table author, is to give them your most dazzling smile and brightly reply, "Well, now you have! Would you like a bookmark?"

If you're lucky, they'll take a bookmark and there's that fraction of a percent chance they might decide to check out your work; if not, they'll probably yawn and ask if you know where the restrooms are. So, it helps to have bookmarks, candy, and other tchotchkes on hand at any signing.

Independent bookstores are frequently (but not always) enthusiastic about hosting author signings (especially for local authors) if they think the event will help bring in new customers. Therefore, if you're a relatively unknown author, it helps to recruit other authors and schedule a group signing. That way, the bookstore manager will feel better about the signing's chances and will be more willing to clear space on a prime evening and maybe chip in for punch and cookies.

Chain bookstores are much less likely to want to host an author signing, but this depends on the location. For instance, there are seven Barnes & Noble bookstores in the Columbus, Ohio area. Two will host book signings; the other five stores won't. How did we find out? We called around and asked to speak to their events manager. That's the only way to find out for sure.

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