Book signings are always a gamble -- you take time out of your life hoping that you'll sell enough books or make enough connections to make the time and effort worthwhile. The same can be said of going to conventions. These are public moments, and public moments take energy, risking one of the writer's important internal power sources -- ego. On the other hand, there's always the chance that you can turn commercial opportunity into community.
Young writers -- which is to say young at the business and not necessarily young in age -- may have a harder time than people who've been at it awhile, since they're often pushing to sell! sell! sell! and aren't sure what works. That means they sometimes over promise, over sell, smile too brightly ... .sigh.
And that means writers like that can't relax into the moment, where real personality gets a chance to come to the fore and where long term connections can be made.
When we were first offered a chance to be professional Guests Of Honor at an SF convention we asked more experienced hands for advice. Several congratulated us on being offered the chance, one complained that they were being ignored by fans and thus would return the favor and avoid fans, others said simply "do it!"
One well-known author boiled it down to this for us: Have a good time, eat well, and sell the book. Travel light, talk to people, sell the book. Enjoy your moment in the sun, sell yourself, sell the book."
Saturday was not a convention day for us, but it was a book signing day at Barnes & Noble in Augusta, Maine. Unlike panels at conventions, where there's often leeway in how much selling you do, book signings do tend to aim at that "sell the book" goal. But, but, but ... this was probably our dozenth signing at that particular store, and we were both relatively mellow about the goal since it was beautiful Saturday and we both knew that most of the people coming into B&N already had a goal in mind -- and we were not it.
We arrived early, found the set up in place, and had fun. I wrote a note, aimed in our direction, to sit on the table. It was a reminder for us. It said "Goshwow!"
Some of the folks coming in the door cold were great about talking to us, some ignored us, forging straight ahead, eyes averted, as if we held unwanted religious tract in their direction. One young lady told us she was "all about sci-fi" but amended that to say, "No, I mean real sci-fi, like dystopia. Not into space at all." I guess we should have told her Carousel Tides was dystopic, to make a sale, but we didn't, and they all sold anyway.
On the other hand we had several previously only electron-connected FB friends motor on by -- and the first person in the door at 1:00:01 was a gentleman from Augusta who'd been reading our work for years and never knew we were local. His wife had pointed to our photo in the window several weeks before -- and they came, we signed his book (an already purchased The Gathering Edge) and sold him another one or two, and they grabbed a photo of the gentleman standing between us, as if we were celebrities or something.
Yeah, we had a number of goshwow moments, or at least shared them. Two were women who heard us when we were doing variations of our "Get your fresh hot Sci-fi and fantasy!" chants. One, looked at the Carousel Tides cover and just about gave Sharon 10 seconds to talk about it before grabbing the book up, holding it to her chest like a treasure, and then demanding a signature. Another heard Sharon say "haunted carousel" while she was talking to someone else, and stood staring at the three Carousel books before demanding, "Which one's first?" and then enthusing to the world -- "You had me at 'haunted carousel'! She also stood between us for a photo.
Then there was the young man who stood over the Liaden side of the table patiently as I told someone else about my time as a university library Curator of SF -- needing a book for a friend -- and after we signed that for him he grabbed another one and said -- "I probably need one too, if you'll sign it."
So we had fun, we sold the book multiple times. We shared goshwow. We shared community with inline friends and we started into community with some new readers.
Me? I think it a shame that new writers think that the number they need to take away from their first signing or two is "How many did you sell?" rather than "How many did you meet?" Over the years meeting people has worked better for us than simply pushing books. We like it that way. Goshwow!