Saturday, June 28, 2014

Signing Your Book, and What It Really Means

I’ve just had the pleasure of experiencing a book signing for my first published novel, and the event was so exhilarating that I need to follow up with a few comments.  It occurred at the In Your Write Mind Workshop, run by the alumni of the MFA in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University.  The novel was The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes, and I was thrilled that the publisher, Dog Star Books (a branch of Raw Dog Screaming Press) sold out of the large batch of copies that they brought—and I believe we could have sold half as many more.  This fact alone was enough to make me feel great, but a host of other feelings came as well. 
Before I go any further, however, let me make one very important statement:  a hearty and sincere “thank you” to all the people who purchased the novel—I hope your kindness and generosity are fully rewarded by an entertaining and stimulating read.
At times the line was long at my table and I wrote frantically in the books to keep up.  I wanted to write a truly individualized message to each person, since I knew most of the buyers as students or alumni, faculty of the program, or family and close friends.  (An unexpected family reunion occurred behind my table, which I wish I could have participated in more.)  My writing of messages was happening so fast that I got concerned over whether the statements made any sense—I certainly didn’t get a chance to proof-read them.  And it was important to me that I at least try to indicate how much I appreciated each person’s contribution, and that each of them would feel unique and special.  But in the heat and pace of the moment, I doubt if I accomplished the task effectively.  So this blog post is an attempt—if a general one—to make up for that. 

For example, I was furious at myself when I couldn’t remember a person’s name.  I’m sure this is common at all book signings, but I don’t have a good memory for names anyway, and since I was on medical leave all semester I’ve been more than “out of touch.”  I didn’t want to ask a person’s name but I do apologize when I had to (especially to my recent undergrad student who knew my bad memory already since every week I asked her for the current date).  Since I’ve blaimed my medical condition this semester for just about everything, I’ll put this set of “brain freezes” down to that term-long Ice Age too.
To all the following groups of people I hope I expressed just the right gratitude I wanted to show.  The students and alumni in the Writing Popular Fiction program (a program co-founded by myself and Dr. Lee McClain, which I am exceedingly proud of) are always remarkable for their devotion, support, interest, and enthusiasm for all things related to writing.  After all, it was the alumni of the program who started the book-signing in the first place.  And I hope all of the students and ex-students know just how much I value them, and that I wish them the best for their own projects and manuscripts.  We’re a community of writers, and I’m touched that I’ve contributed to it and that I’m a part of it.  Ultimately, I’m not surprised they buy so many books—they realize what it means to write them. 
And I want all members of the WPF faculty to know how much I am grateful for their help, their camaraderie, their wonderful conversation, and their sharing of their own writing experience.  I feel I’ve been mentored by the best, and the oh-so helpful professional advice of Michael Arnzen, Lee McClain, and Nicole Peeler has been wonderful, as well as the gems of information provided by our adjunct mentors, all professional writers themselves.  (No wonder the group of them have produced an award-winning anthology of advice for writers—Many Genres, One Craft.  We in the program don’t need to go far to find experts—we’re surrounded by them).  Just getting to know them and listen to them has been as helpful to me as it is to the students. 
And I also want to thank my two administrative “bosses” for both attending the book-signing and for being so supportive of my work, Provost and Dean Mary Ann Gawelek and Associate Provost Terrance DePasquale, who never fail to be wise, dependable, and excellent guideposts for us Directors.  And they’ve been especially understanding during this medically troubled semester for me.  I am so grateful to both of them. 
Finally, I want to mention my family and friends.  I’m glad my own circle of “Al supporters” was a sizable group of “outsiders” at the signing, and that they contributed to the interaction, activity, and business at other tables.  The statements I wrote in their copies were the most personal, which means they probably missed-the-mark most or simply sounded confusing.  So:  to my sisters, I love and treasure you (and each one of you is my “favorite”), to my sisters’ children I cherish the memories of you growing up and the wonderful people you’ve become (and I’m so happy that with one of you I get to share my interest in photography), to my sister-in-law’s daughter I am forever grateful for your kindness and the family you brought into my life—all of you are a constant delight—and to my sister-in-law’s son I am utterly grateful for your generous help and know-how (we also share a fascination with western landscapes).  To all others, like my wife’s cousin’s daughter who is so friendly and close, and to all those who couldn’t attend (my sister-in-law, niece, various aunts, cousins, neighbors) I am warmed by you all.  And for my wife, who not only was there but had to be my chauffer because of my medical issues, I am indebted for not only help, but for life itself, and the joy that fills it. 
A book signing is maybe too often seen as just a business event, a means simply to sell books.  But of course it’s more than that.  The authors’ direct contact with the readers provides a chance for more personal interaction, for a one-on-one participation.  All of which allows a writer and reader to come closer together, and to be seen as “human” again and not just a voice. 
But there’s another advantage too, the one I speak of here.  A book-signing provides the chance for a writer to “give back,” to show the appreciation for the people who have helped, guided, and sustained the writer’s own quest in reaching the end of the book.  During this event we get that chance—even if hurried, garbled, and seldom proof-read—to show how important are the people who might never feel they had anything to do with holding the pen or pushing the keys that actually produced the book.  But they too matter.  And this is our chance to remind them of their value, and what they mean to us. 
Long may we do so!

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