Sunday, July 31, 2016

Learning the Ropes: Book Signings, Talks and Readings

When my book Legends and Lore of Cape Cod officially came out on May 23, I had a full schedule of events from book signings, talks and readings lined up. The last two months have been busy ones. In the months leading up to my pub date, my History Press rep, Mercedes, e-mailed me daily with invites to book signings at local bookstores and talks at local libraries. The only problem was that as the author of two poetry books, I had only done a handful of signings and had never given a talk about my newly published book. I was in panic mode!

As a poet, I have taken part in many readings. These range from open mics where the poet is limited to one poem or five minutes. Other times, I have participated as part of a group and usually given more time to read. Sometimes there is a theme. When our Steeple Street poets went to Salem in the spring of 2015 to attend the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, our poems were chosen to explore the theme of a “sense of place.” Sometimes I have been the featured poet and given fifteen minutes to read my poems. My favorite reading was the book launch for my first book, Dream of the Antique Dealer's Daughter. I read poems from my book and also heard from fellow poets who read a favorite poem they had chosen from my book. It was a wonderful experience!

Now I am doing something that is quite different – giving talks about my book of historical non-fiction. My first talk was scheduled for May 31 at the Osterville Library. To prep for this event, I attended a talk by fellow writer Barbara Eppich Struna, author of The Old Cape House. She gave a power point presentation with photos and text that related to her research of a famous pirate, “Black Sam” Bellamy, the famed captain of the doomed ship Whydah. She seemed very comfortable at the podium and I was impressed with her talk. However, I was going to have to wing my talk as I didn't have a visual component to my event.

On the afternoon of my talk, I dressed in what I hoped were stylish but comfortable clothes. My husband came to give me moral support and my sister-in-law, Karen, showed up, too. A fellow poet, Judy Askew, also was in attendance. It helped to have some familiar faces in the audience. I had decided to break my talk into several parts. First, I would give colorful anecdotes from my childhood growing up in an old house in East Orleans to show my early interest in Cape Cod history. Next, I would talk about my years working as the newsroom librarian at the Cape Cod Times and starting my Cape history blog, “Cape Rewind.” I also wanted to cover the months of research and writing my book and some of the pitfalls of publishing. For example, the manuscript I initially submitted was too short and I had to add 19,000 words. The finished text was much richer for adding new material. I would end with a Q & A session.

I had some stage fright as I approached the podium. My years of teaching helped calm my nerves since I am used to getting up to speak in front of a classroom. I had brought old newspapers that covered big events: the assassination of John F. Kennedy, coverage of Hurricane Bob, etc. My husband later told me these were distracting to my talk, so I didn't bring them with me for later talks. The talk was very well received and I even sold a few books. All in all, it was a good time.

Book signings are a whole different experience. It is important to arrive early and make contact with the bookstore owner or manager. I bring promotional materials: bookmarks, business cards and postcards featuring my book's cover to catch the public's interest as they walk by my table. When I gave a signing at Titcomb's Books in Sandwich, I discovered that I was expected to give a talk as well as sign my books. There was a mob of people in the store, so I was encouraged by all the interest. I was also the invited author guest for a local book club in Chatham. The members had all read my book and peppered me with questions. The meeting took place in a large house overlooking Harding's Beach. It was heavenly to sip wine, talk about my book and take in the beautiful view. The dinner party consisted of foods inspired by Cape Cod: stuffed clams, clam pie, clam chowder finished by strawberry-rhubarb pie.

I guess my take-away is to be flexible. Every event is different and the writer has to adapt to each unique situation. In the coming weeks, I will be giving talks at the Hyannis Library and the Orleans Historical Society, as well as signings at Eight Cousins and Market Street Books in Mashpee. I will bring a good pen, a willing heart, and a smile. As Judy Blume said, “I meet people on the street or at book signings and they tend to treat me as if they know me, as if we're connected. It's great.”

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