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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lessons From Nancy Turner's Book Signing

I went to a book signing tonight. It was for Nancy Turner’s book, These Is My Words. These Is My Words was selected Arizona OneBook 2008. Arizona OneBook Project began in 2002 and is operated via the Arizona State Library Association. Each year, they select one book that features Arizona in some way and promote it throughout the state.

April is the kick-off month for OneBook 2008 and Ms. Turner has spent the month appearing all over Arizona speaking and signing books. By my count, 31 appearances in one month all over the state – sometimes with 3 events a day (which makes me tired just thinking about it!)

But fortunately for me, one of those events was tonight close to home, and I had the privilege of attending. I attended for two reasons - #1, I absolutely LOVE this book – it’s one of the very few I’ve read in recent years that was so good it shut down my internal editor right off the bat and kept it shut down for the entirety of the novel. But I also went as a writer still aspiring to that grand day that I publish – to see what I could be in for one day. 8-)

So from the writer’s perspective, here’s my take home value and observations on what I learned:

Prior to this, all an author book signing meant to me was a lonely looking author sitting at a small metal table at Borders Books, smiling till their face hurt and entertaining maybe 5-10 mild to moderately interested souls while the rest pass by just looking at him/her like a passing oddity.

Tonight the lobby of this museum where the event was held was jam packed with people. I’m not a good crowd estimator, but I’m guessing there were between 75-100 people there. The chairs were packed so close together I couldn’t get an elbow free to whip out a notebook and take notes, so I fear several things I learned I will have forgotten by the time I finish this note.

And that brings me to the first thing I learned – think outside the box for possible speaking locations. This one was held at the Arizona Museum of Natural History – to be honest I would never have thought about hosting a book event at a location like that. When I think of a natural history museum, I think of dinosaurs and mammoth skeletons (in fact behind her as she spoke WAS a mammoth skeleton). BUT this museum also is about Arizona history AND has a very nice museum store where Ms. Turner’s book, among others, is sold.

She appeared in period dress based on the time period in which her final book of the series ended – I think about 1907ish; a dress from the Eduardian period (I don’t remember more details then that – I’m sure the historical fashion aficionados can conjure up instantly what the dress was like). What I learned from this is that if I have to sew in order to promote my books, I’m going to be in DEEP trouble. 8-)

I’m sure throughout the month she had varying numbers turn out. In this case, she had a crowded room full of people and it was hard to hear her – even after they gave her a mike. So I learned to come prepared and make sure either my host facility has the means to project my voice or I better have the means myself. I can imagine if you are coming to the end of a 30-day book tour it must get harder and harder to keep your voice strong.

She also didn’t skimp on her speaking time. I thought maybe she’d speak for about 15 minutes or so, but she gave it a good hour or more and had people entertained the whole time. And then took questions.

The next thing I learned was a reaffirmation of what you hear from other authors – sometimes the control a publishing house has over your work at varying stages can be difficult, but it can also be a very good thing. In this case, specifically she talked about not getting married to the titles you have chosen, because they will invariably be changed.

Using These Is My Words as an example, she said the title she had chosen for it originally was “Straight to the Heart” based on a scene in the book. When she said that, my first thought was “Oh my! I’m glad the committee at the publisher’s had it their way!” Straight to the Heart is a very ambiguous sort of title, whereas These Is My Words speaks volumes about the book. Learning more about how the title stuff works with publishers is a relief to me because I HATE choosing titles for my books and am never happy with what I settle on because, like “Straight to the Heart” I tend to land on ambiguous titles that are not distinctive.

Conversely, she speaks about the title of the third and final book of the series, which they wanted to call “Sarah’s Satchel,” which Ms. Turner didn’t like (and there wasn’t even a satchel in the story). Long story shorter, she put together a Star Garden quilt pattern (relates to the book) and shipped it off to the publisher at the last minute and they changed the title to HER choice. Not only that, but the pattern she sent them also became the cover art for the book.

The other thing I learned is that, at least for those who write historical, if you hold a book event like this, the natural enthusiasm of the readers will lend to the atmosphere, because a handful of people who attended also dressed in period costume – really added to the flavor of the evening.

I was so exhausted today I almost gave in to temptation and didn’t attend this book event. But I’m so glad I did because it was great for me both as a reader and as a writer. Gives me lots to think about. And it was just a plain ole good shot in the arm to keep me pushing forward.

And maybe, if it’s God’s will, one day one of my Arizona based books will be featured by the State Library Association. Ya just never know. And our state centennial anniversary IS coming up in 2012. 8-)

If you’d like to read more about Nancy Turner or her books, you can visit her website at

You can read more about Arizona OneBook project at:

1 comment:

Rita L. Betti said...

I loved this Brenda. Lots of insight there. You should polish this and submit it to Writer's Digest. Honest!!