Double Timing

By Louise Ure

We've all done it, sometimes on purpose and sometimes when we were forced to. And the results can be the stuff good dreams are made of or the basis for a really scary horror story.

I'm talking about double (or multiple) author signing events.

You know how it goes. Maybe you and a friend have books coming out about the same time. Maybe your publisher asked you if you'd share a book tour event with one of their new authors. More often than not, it's the bookseller who requests it if they have two authors in town the same day.

For the most part double signings are a good thing. Having more than one author there can increase the audience attendance for an event. It can introduce readers and fans of one author to another writer's work. And it can be a hell of a lot more fun to have somebody else to share that signing desk with if nobody shows up at all.

But then there's the flip side.

  • The egomaniacal fellow-signer who takes up fifty-five minutes of a one-hour event.
  • The cozy writer who goes all bug-eyed every time you use the word "damn."
  • The thrill-seeker who uses all the m*****f***** words over the microphone, right next to the childrens section.
  • The insecure writer who asks how much of an advance you got for the book and then, when you don't answer, tells that audience that his book is better than yours because he probably got paid more. 
  • The scantily-clad romantic suspense writer whose bra looks like a flying buttress, and whose reading includes acting out a particularly acrobatic sex scene.
  • The otherwise-perfectly-nice writer who, while answering an audience question, says he enjoyed your first book a great deal more than the new one.
  • Or, my particular horror, the self-published writer who spends the entire time telling the audience that any book published by one of the big New York houses is "derivative and uncreative."

With friends like these, who needs enemies? It's enough to make you want to go on a blog tour.

But there are some folks who do it right. One in particular, who did it more than right. And this is a love letter to him.

It's just that I'm a year too late in telling him.

Early last January when The Fault Tree was released, I was checking the booksellers' websites in preparation for my tour and saw that Chris Acevedo at Tucson's Clues Unlimited, had booked me with a debut author named Leighton Gage.

I checked him out online. Blood of the Wicked. An interesting sounding book, set in Brazil. Good blurbs and reviews. And we shared a common background of a life in international advertising. Okay. I can help build an audience for a new kid on tour.

Now you've got to understand. Tucson is home territory for me. My family there is almost four hundred strong. Everybody I ever went to school with still lives within the city limits. I've got my initials etched in sidewalks from the Catalina Mountains to the Rincons.

And Clues Unlimited is a teeny tiny place. Enough room for thirty to stand shoulder to shoulder, if they've all showered recently and nobody's wearing anything thicker than a t-shirt.

I wrote to Leighton and warned him what he'd be up against.

"We'll have a good crowd, but there's not a lot of room to sit so we don't want to keep them standing there waiting too long. After all, my mom's ninety-four. Maybe we each do a five to ten minute talk and then take questions?"

He agreed and said he'd go first.

On the night, the bookstore filled quickly. Maybe 75 people or so. All of them my family and high school graduating class. Leighton and I sat at two separate presentation tables like undermanned debate teams.

He stood and said, "None of you came here to see me this evening. You're here to see Louise. I've read her book and it's fabulous. Let's just hear what she has to say."

And he sat down.

I hadn't asked this of him. I hadn't expected this from him. I hadn't wanted this from him.

But rather than demur, I went on with my planned five-to-ten minute presentation, and then when the questions started, I made sure that we both answered them.

If one of my high school friends asked "How can you write about Tucson when you don't live here anymore?" I would give a short answer and then ask Leighton, "What about the Brazil you describe. Is it drawn from today's headlines or a memory of all the time you spent there?'

It turned into a real discussion instead of a presentation, and I think was a much better evening than any other way we could have done it.

And when it came time to sign books? My whole family lined up to buy Leighton's book instead of mine. (Naturally.)

Since then, Leighton and I have become closer friends. Close enough to keep in touch, and for me to offer an author comment (I hate the word blurb) for his next book, Buried Strangers .

"Leighton Gage is a breathtaking storyteller whose richly drawn characters
will haunt you long after you've finished his books.
Buried Strangers, his second novel, is pitch perfect in its description
of the poverty, corruption and violence of Brazil and the evil that men can do.
It's a book you can't afford to miss.
Don't be surprised if you find yourself dreaming in Portuguese."

Buried Strangers comes out next week. See? I'm only a year behind in thanking Leighton for his graciousness and generosity last January. But now I get the chance to recommend an absolutely terrific book for those of you who don't yet know Leighton Gage's work.

So, all you writers out there who want to know how to pull off the perfect double signing, just ask Leighton Gage. Share the limelight. Be kind to each other. Respect the other writer's skills and background and time allocation. Have fun. Their success will redound to you.

Especially if it comes from the heart.

So, Rati', as we get ready to tuck in for the holiday, want to share any horror stories (or successes) from double signings? You don't have to name names if you really don't want to.

26 thoughts on “Double Timing

  1. J.D. Rhoades

    No problem naming names, as I don’t have any horror stories to tell. I did a couple of events with Zoe in Wisconsin, and we had an absolute blast (at least I did; Z may remember it differently). We immediately fell into a rhythm, bouncing questions off each other, and it worked great. Stacey Cochran set up quite a few events in North Carolina in which Alex and I discussed how to get published, and yes, friends, she is just as gorgeous and gracious and smart and well-read as she appears here.

    I’m a big fan of dual signings, panels, and the like.

  2. Stephen D. Rogers

    I’m just always a little surprised when I buy copies of books by my co-signer(s) and they don’t do the same. Especially when I buy their hardcover and they don’t buy my paperback.

    But then maybe they already bought a copy. šŸ™‚

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Aww, I love you too, Rev, and those were a fun and synergistic series of panels- really great energy, and I felt like we were really doing some good – we seemed to cram more information into an hour than realistically fits in an hour.

    But gracious I am not when dealing with a panel hog. Or maybe what I’m not is passive. If some clueless or just plain selfish person won’t stop talking, I’ll just interrupt and talk over them if I have to to get them to stop, then make sure to lob the ball back to someone else on the panel to keep the thing balanced. I hated sports as a kid but I could play the hell out of a game if forced to play with an obvious bully.

    I guess I’m gracious enough not to name names, though.

    I love doing panels with my sister horror writers, Sarah Langan and Sarah Pinborough – considering what we write we are a laugh a minute when you throw us together.

    And in NC I’m really enjoying doing mini tours with my new tour buddy, paranormal author Jenna Black. We pile in her hybrid (I drive, she navigates) and race around NC and Virginia hitting eight to twelve stores in drive-bys during the day, then doing a formal signing at night – sometimes three sit-downs in a weekend.

    We both write supernatural but she’s sly and sexy and funny while I’m – you know – so we service a spectrum of readers while still covering a lot of the same ground. We get a hell of a lot more done together than we would possibly have the energy for on our own.

  4. Louise Ure

    J.D., I know from personal experience what a joy it is to be on a panel with you. Aside from Zoe and Alex’s excellent work, they make good panel-mates because you guys turned it into a conversation instead of a “speech.”

    Stephan, you’ve hit one of my hot buttons. I know we can’t buy every new book by our writing friends, but the purchase of a book by your signing mates is not only good for them, but rewards the bookstore for having you there!

  5. Louise Ure

    Authors are, by and large, nice people. Polite people. But when a panel hog sets ups shop, I’m sure glad that there are some ballsy writers among us like you, Alex. And I’m sure you’re very gracious about it.

  6. JT Ellison

    I was blessed to be able to do several events with Alex Kava in October. It was the same situation – hometown girl bringing along young interloper. We had an absolute blast, she was unbelievably gracious in sharing her audience with me. Instead of talking individually, we interviewed each other. The bookstore owners had to cut us off because we were so engrossed, talking about writing and research (if any of you know Alex, she’s very into her research, which is fascinating stuff). We clicked, and it worked. I hope to be able to do it again.

    In January, I’m going on the road with Laura Benedict, a dear friend, wonderful writer and all around cool chick. It’s so much easier if you can set these up yourself, pick people you know mesh well. I’ve heard some real horror stories about group signings where the authors didn’t click at all.

    Great topic, Louise, and Leighton is on my list. : )

  7. pari

    Louise,I’ve have had all kinds of experiences with signings and panels. To me, double signings are almost always a joy. Just as you describe, there’s a wonderful opportunity to help promote someone else. This works really well if you’ve read the other person’s work and can truly recommend it.

    But I feel differently about panels at bookstores — especially if the panels are large. I’ve found that no matter how well they go, no matter how much authors cross-sell each other’s works — the audience is overwhelmed.

    I usually do well enough in these types of panels but it’s not fun to see book buyers feel compelled to apologize because they can’t afford to buy five or seven books at a pop.

  8. Allison Brennan

    In the romance community, group signings are quite popular. I don’t do many signings, but I rarely do them alone (my best and my worst signings were solo events.) When you’re released in mass market, signings just don’t really have the impact as when you’re a major hardcover author.

    I’ve had fantastic group signings–obviously, the Levy Tour was one of the best. Last time we had 23 multi-genre authors and it was a blast, whether we sold 1 book or 20 books a stop. (with that many authors, it’s rare to sell more than a handful of books each stop, but there are other residual benefits.)

    My favorite group signings are when there are 3-5 authors where there is a brief panel that is mostly Q&A. I don’t like to read from my own books (hmm, I don’t think I ever have.)

    I’ve had a couple duds and there are some people I will never sign with again with unless I’m handcuffed to the chair and tortured, but for the most part they’ve been positive. I can’t share my worst signing because the woman is actually very nice and she’d know it was about her if I said what ticked me off, but suffice it to say, be careful what you say to potential readers as they pass your table . . .

  9. Louise Ure

    JT, so Alex Kava is equally impressive as her writing? Too cool.

    And Pari, I’m with you about multiple authors at bookstore signings. Our lives are busy and the time available at a bookstore signing is too short to really showcase more than a couple of writers.

    Allison, I can’t even picture 23 authors simultaneously in a bookstore setting. How on earth did this work? Was it everyone just milling around and chatting up readers who stopped by? And oh, I wish you could dish about that last line (“be careful what you say to potential readers as they pass your table…”)

  10. Zoƫ Sharp

    Hi Louise

    Great topic – and thank you and Dusty for the kind words. Yes, Dusty, it was a lot of fun, wasn’t it? Any time you want to go again, let me know … ;-]

    I love doing group or joint events, and have found it’s much easier to play them more as organic discussions rather than disconnected lectures.

    And yes, I have my horror stories of panel hogs. I came out of one event and was actually congratulated by an audience member for not thumping one of my fellow panelists. Can’t say I wasn’t tempted, though …

  11. Louise Ure

    ZoĆ«, since I first met you on a joint panel presentation, I can say how delightful it is to play off each other in a discussion. (Although in that particular panel, it was like pulling teeth to make it seem conversational, wasn’t it?)

    Shall we band together against panel hogs at conferences this year? A joint-effort thumping would probably be applauded.

  12. J.D. Rhoades

    Sister Louise, you can be on a panel with me, any time. Can I get a A-men?!

    Ah, panel hogs…worst I ever saw was an otherwise very nice lady at a book festival who was on a panel about historical fiction. My adopted little sister Tasha Alexander was also on the panel, so Caribbean mystery writer Bob Morris and I showed up to give support. This otherwise very nice lady began her presentation by reading from her book…for thirty minutes. After five minutes, everyone in the audience was looking at one another in horror. By ten, people had started to leave. The reader never noticed; she was head down in the book, droning on and on and on…Poor Tasha was looking like she wanted to sink through the floorboards, and Bob and I were simultaneously trying to look sympathetic and stifle our hoots of laughter at the absurdity of it all. It took a few drinks to get over that one…

  13. Louise Ure

    Reverend Rhoades! If only every panel had you as moderator! I nominate you to give the invocation at Obama’s inauguration.

    I saw a debut author (with a truly spectacular book) lose her audience with a twenty-five minute reading as well. Squirming and stealthy departures ensued. Really uncomfortable for all concerned.

  14. Zoƫ Sharp

    Overlong readings are just the worst. I only read if I’m asked to, and then usually no more than a page and a half. And something that *doesn’t* need almost as much time to explain the build-up to the scene, as the scene itself.

    Poor Tasha – still, we took her to the gun range in Baltimore, so now she has an alternative way of dealing with mic hogs … ;-]

  15. Karen Olson

    When Mary-Ann Tirone Smith’s memoir, Girls of Tender Age, came out about the same time as my Secondhand Smoke, we teamed up and traveled to a couple of bookstores together. Mary-Ann and I met in 1984, when her first novel The Book of Phoebe came out. I was a novice reporter for a weekly newspaper and I interviewed her for her very first newspaper story as an author. So we’ve got a history, and we’ve been friends since. So our double signings are nothing more than good fun and a lot of laughs. (Her new book, out now, is called Dirty Water and it’s a Red Sox mystery and is a blast to read. She teamed up with her son Jere to write it. I gave it an author comment…and Louise, I do like that better than “blurb”.)

  16. toni mcgee causey

    Great topic, Louise. So far, I’ve had really good fortune in that everyone on the panels I’ve been on have been gracious and fun. Nicest man–hands down, Don Bruns. (And then I discovered his books and loved them.) He took his time for his own introduction to say nice things about me and my book, and I had no clue he was going to do that. I was a little bit terrified since it was my first convention ever, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciated him. Don is one of the best, class acts.

    I had great fun at LCC in Denver with Jan Burke, Lori Armstrong, Karen Olson–and Christine Goff did a fantastic job moderating.

    The one with the most laughs? The Sex and the Single Title panel at RWA with Rocki (Roxanne St. Claire), CJ Lyons, Matthew Shear (publisher, St. Martins) and Jordan Dane moderating. If you can survive a first question like we had, you can do *anything*.

    I have always wanted to be on a panel with Dusty. (I am still stalking him.)

  17. Louise Ure

    Oh ZoĆ«, I’d forgotten about the set ups! Some authors go into such detail to set up a scene they’re going to read that you feel like you’ve married into their family.

    Karen, you’ve got a special relationship with Ms. Tirone Smith. And I’ll bet she prizes you as much for your author relationship as she did when you were “the reporter.”

    Don Bruns is a cutie, isn’t he, Toni? He’ll be at LCC Hawaii and says he’s bringing his guitar. I can’t wait! But I have to know … what was the first question for your Sex and the Single Title panel?

  18. Cornelia Read

    I dunno… I kind of like “blurb.” It’s just so ridiculous.

    One of my favorite dual signings ever was with you at Stacey’s, Louise. That can be a tough crowd, as a lot of the attendees seem to just want a chair so they can eat lunch. I completely clammed up the first time I was there–felt like I couldn’t breathe for about twenty minutes–but it was lovely doing it a second time with you.

  19. Allison Brennan

    The Levy tour is well-planned and not in traditional bookstores, but at mass merch–this year, we were at Meijer, which is like the mid-west version of Target. They have HUGE book sections–larger than the walmart and targets where I live. They set up tables usually down a center aisle, have our books and name tags, we start signing and hopefully sell a few books, too. We had romance, suspense, thriller, memoir, and inspirational books. A wide range of genre. Last time I went it was smaller (14 authors) and we were all romance writers.

    Some of the people I met I’ve stayed close friends with. There’s nothing like traveling through Michigan on a bus all day . . . though the Levy people do feed us well šŸ™‚

  20. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I saw that “Sex and the Single Title” panel, and Toni’s right. Believe me, LU, you don’t want to know the question. It wasn’t the question so much as the cluelessness that it would have been asked at all. Everyone in the room was deeply embarrassed. And the questioner just kept going… it was endless.

  21. Louise Ure

    Hmmm …. Maybe the questioner thought of it as performance art? I’ve been dumbfounded by audience questions, but so far not embarrassed by any. I’m sure that day will come.


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