I’ve been doing quite a few Saturday signings in Waterstones stores recently and I'm still learning the ropes. Unless you’re an author with celebrity status, these sessions amount to hand selling over a period of 4- 6 hours. Independent bookshops seem less keen on this active type of signing session – maybe because their floor space is smaller than that of most Waterstones shops and the author is rubbing shoulders with the bookseller, or maybe because they don’t want loyal customers upset by over zealous or inept selling. You tread a fine line between being intrusive and a nuisance and being unobtrusive and going unnoticed. With the gentlest of nudges and some eye catching artwork you have to be able to point a customer towards a book they weren’t originally looking for and convince them that it was just what they were looking for.
Six hours sounds an awfully long time but I find it passes quickly and there’s plenty to observe and learn about a bookshop when not actually signing. There’s an ebb and flow rhythm to the day; a flurry of customers entering the shop with all the book sellers at the tills, then a lull when books are replaced on shelves, stickers taken off past offers and time for a chat.
You have to bring something to eat discreetly in one of these lulls or you won't survive the day and as for the toilet - it's usually somewhere very inaccessible in the back area of the shop, up winding staircases, past store rooms and boxes that send a chill down an author’s spine: returns, on-going returns, confirmed returns.
I usually sell 30 copies in a day but occasionally events beyond my control upset this. On the Saturday of the great October heat wave I sold only half that number of books. Children just didn’t come into the shop and I spent most of the day shivering under a very efficient air conditioning vent, looking out at the wonderful heat wave and all the three and four year olds tripping past on their way, no doubt, to the paddling pool in the park.