by | Jun 5, 2024 | Tracy Clark, The Writer's Life | 10 comments

By Tracy Clark

Writing books is fun, mostly. Going out in the world and trying to persuade readers to buy your book, or even pick it up from the library, can be terrifying.

Grand opening view, a look from chair to door, not a soul in sight

Picture yourself at a signing table. One table. One chair. Your books stacked there waiting for someone to care. You’re selling yourself; you’re selling your work. You’ve got 10 seconds tops to make your pitch to a potential reader. Go. Sweating yet? I am, and I’m sitting here at my desk just writing about the whole thing.

So, there I am sitting in a bookstore recently, not browsing, or buying, unfortunately, but sitting at a signing table on opening day for the new business watching a parade of smiling readers, excited about the opening, but not giving two beans about my stuff, slip past me headed toward historical fiction, the cookbooks or whatever. I’d have had an easier time if I’d been hawking dill pickles or book-shaped cookies.

Ah, but there’s a way to make these opportunities, and make no mistake they are opportunities, fun.

Buddy up!

Don’t sit at that table alone, my friends. Grab a writer pal. Double up, triple up. Gather a gang around ya! I was at the bookstore because my friend, the wonderful writer Lori Rader-Day, invited me to buddy up. (She didn’t want to sit at a lonely table either. Who does?) There’s no better way to get through a tough gig than by sharing it.

Picture it. Our books piled up in front of us, Sharpies at the ready, just two local authors ready to meet and greet, talk about our work, and move some units.

A pile of Tracy Clark's Hide at a recent bookstore event

Tabling Grand Openings is the best time to find a promo buddy

Readers streamed in by the twos and threes. They came with dogs on leashes and babies in strollers. There were balloons and streamers and all the books in the store smelled new. Our table faced the open door and the sunny day outside. Our names were written on the promo board.

A handful of people stopped by to see what we were up to, and we had pleasant conversations with them. We each sold a few copies, but the fun of the day for me was being in the store, watching readers get excited about books, and shooting the breeze with my table mate. We solved the world’s problems at that table. We even encountered a new writer who wasn’t sure how to get started, and we latched onto her like she was the last hotdog at the church cookout, quickly steered her toward our writing community and extolling the virtues of MWA and SinC membership.

Promoting with a buddy at the Wine Tasting event on the 1st

A job well done.

It was a nice afternoon. Two mystery writers sitting there directing people toward the travel books, watching puppies trot in. It would have been a long two hours alone; it was a fun two hours with a buddy.

So, that’s my advice to writers facing their next, or first, lonely signing table (unless, of course, you’re Stephen King. King is never gonna be lonely no matter where he goes). Consider not doing it alone. Grab a fellow writer. 

Since it’s always tough talking up your own books, talk up theirs instead, and they will do the same for yours. It’s much more fun that way, and it’s win-win. You’re an author. Your book’s on the table. You’re with a friend. You’ve sold a few copies and christened that Sharpie. The bookstore’s happy. Where’s the downside?

Tracy Clark and her promotion buddies!

Buddy-ups are wonderful.

In fact, I just had another event in a wine shop where they matched wine to the theme of my book Hide. The owners chose a wine cordial that blended ginger and strawberries, since the bad guy in the book targets redheads. Now, that took some serious thought. The store took the same care and focus with the books of several fab writers, and we all had a cool time.

Wine. Books. Writers. Readers. Sharpies. Ah, what a business, huh? Now if I could just sell a book event held in a doughnut shop, I’d be onto something phenomenal.

Tracy Clark, author of the Cass Raines Chicago Mystery series, the Det. Harriet Foster series, and this blog: Wrangler or Tosser?

Tracy Clark, a native Chicagoan, is the author of the Cass Raines Chicago Mystery series and the Det. Harriet Foster series. A multi-nominated Anthony, Lefty, Edgar, Macavity, and Shamus Award finalist, Tracy is also the 2020 and 2022 winner of the G.P. Putnam’s Sons Sue Grafton Memorial Award. She is a member of Crime Writers of Color, Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

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  1. Jay

    Going to a signing for a single author is always fun for me. I mean, if I’m going to a signing clearly, I have an interest in meeting that single author.

    But the idea of authors doing the buddy up thing is great because it doubles up the chance to meet writers. It could be someone I’ve already been reading and want to meet, or it could be the way to introduce me to an author I’ve never read before with a signed copy.

    Do I like meeting authors face-to-face? HELL YEAH I do! The chance to have signed copies and conversations with the people who write the books I like to read is always a thrill so I definitely try to do it as much as possible.

    • Tracy Clark

      Yay, Jay! See you at the next book signing.

  2. Karna Small Bodman

    I can certainly identify with this signing-at-a-bookstore situation. Recently, when sitting at a front table at Barnes & Noble, trying to smile and encourage shoppers to pay attention to my books, the first ones in asked, “Does this store have a cafe?” Next question, “Where’s the rest room?” And then, “Where would I find the Hispanic section?” I did, however, have some success because I printed up a little fact sheet about the story and handed it out to people coming by, saying “I’m signing my new book – take this with you. I’ll be here for two hours.” Many then did come back!

    • Tracy Clark

      Karna, I like that fact sheet idea. Maybe I’ll try that next time. Or maybe I’ll just mosey back to the thriller section and grab one of your books off the shelf and read that while I’m sitting there not signing anything. LOL.

  3. Jenny Milchman

    Having spent 15 months total divided between 4 book tours, I relate! In my case having my family there for three of the tours made every stop fun. Congrats on HIDE! The cordial sounds beyond fun, and delish.

    • Tracy Clark

      Family. Hmm. Can I borrow yours next time, Jenny? LOL

  4. Lisa Black

    That is a fabulous idea, especially in my area! But I also have to say, the doughnut shop idea is totally doable. I’ve done a number of signings at a local restaurant. I stand in the lobby with my books but also a stack of booklets, which had the first page of my last few books, my bio etc in them, and a flyer explaining that I’m in the lobby, the price of the books, and that they make great Christmas/birthday gifts. I watch when the waiters reset a fresh table and I put a booklet, a flyer and my card on each table (this way I’m not creating any extra work for the staff). The patrons can look it over or not while they’re waiting for their order. I’m not disturbing them in any way, it’s a relaxed low-key way to market, and with alcohol being the key to sales, I usually sell a few right off to the bar patrons!

  5. Alex Kava

    Buddying up does help. And Tracy, I love your idea of a doughnut shop! I’ve done grocery stores, Costcos, Walmarts, even a deli in Connecticut (had to…they named a sandwich after me!) PLUS way too many bookstores to remember. I love meeting readers, but after seventeen years of book tours it felt like I was spending more time in airports and hotels than I was meeting readers. Several years ago I started inviting readers to come to Omaha to have lunch with me. The last one we had 165 readers from 14 states. Our next one in October is almost sold out already. Honestly, I’m always amazed. Some come for the entire weekend. Omaha does have the #1 zoo in the U.S. according to USA Today. Plus we are a top restaurant city. Yes, it is more reasonable to me that they come for the zoo.

    • Tracy Clark

      Alex, Costco DOES sell a good hotdog. You may have hit on the genius move, though, having readers come to you. I’m filing that away. Maybe I can get a crowd to come to Chicago. I can take them on a tour of all the spots I’ve dropped fictional bodies. We could do it at midnight when the rats are out. Hmmm. maybe not. Might have to tweak that. LOL.

  6. Karen

    I have never been to an authors book singing. How I found out about the book Hide by Tracy Clark is through Tosca Lee the writer of The Long March Home ( a really good book to also read), on Facebook. When I stared reading Hide, I could not put it down. It was one of the best crime writing book that I have read in a long time. I would recommend this book to everyone that likes a good crime book.

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