Your Reading Life

How I Learned To Do a Book Signing and Not Fear Public Shaming

Like many readers, I love to write. I have been fortunate enough to publish two cookbooks – The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook and The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook – and am currently at work on one to two novels, depending on the time of year. In other words, I’m a reader and I’m a writer.

Recently I was asked by the lovely Judy Yaras, Director of Museum Shop Operations over at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandise, to sign copies of The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook as part of their Emmy exhibit for nominated costume designs, where many Downton Abbey costumes were displayed.

After I recovered from the shock of being asked to do something so cool, I was immediately overcome by nerves. A book signing?! I had only done one event before, as part of my local PBS affiliate’s Dowton Abbey premier party, and had been more of a background happening than the main event. For this FIDM affair, my photographed was plastered all over the advertisements. I was flattered. I was terrified. (And I quickly realized I needed to find myself a professional photographer so I could provide a professional photograph where the top of my head wasn’t cut off.)

Now, we’re all readers. We’ve all been to book readings. They’re relatively standard—the writer reads to a crowd, then they sign their books. I have many signed copies of novels, mostly with a scribbled phrase—”Thanks for reading!” or “Enjoy!” and the author’s name. I always said that if I did a signing, I’d write more than some standard phrase. Of course, this necessitated actually having people who wanted to read my books.

As my incredibly supportive boyfriend accompanied me to FIDM, I mulled the likelihood that absolutely no one would show up. How awkward would it be if we just sat there making small talk with one another, piles of my un-bought cookbooks surrounding us?

That’d be far worse than finding my writing in the discount bin of Barnes & Noble. I knew we’d power through, but it was not an attractive picture. It’d be a public shaming. Proof that while I liked to pretend I had “made it” as a published writer, I still had a long, long way to go. Thank goodness there were plenty of bars within walking distance. (You can bet your book collection I researched that on Yelp.)

Much to my surprise, the event was downright busy. Woman after woman (with the casual husband or son in tow) approached me, asking about my writing process or wanting to discuss the latest Crawley family tragedy. (I won’t give away any spoilers, but let me just say, the finale left me rather irate.) I finally fulfilled my dream of writing more than a casual phrase to each of the women wanting to buy my book—I wrote multiple sentences, trying to personalize each and every signing for the person.

Yet, by the twentieth signature and 90 minutes in to the event, I realized why most writers only write a short phrase. My hand was cramping, my mind becoming numb, and my smile for photographs was slowly becoming more and more strained. I. Was. Exhausted.

I’m not ungrateful. I realize only too well how lucky I am that anyone would ask me to autograph their book. (Much less try my cooking.) But I learned a lesson—if I’m going to be “on” for two hours straight, bring snacks. Also, Diet Coke. By the end of the event, I was happy, yet drained—and simultaneously hungry for more. When I had my drink, it wasn’t accompanied by my sobs—but rather the smiles of me and my boyfriend as we basked in my good fortune.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get to do another signing. After all, cookbook readings aren’t really done—no one needs to hear me read “two tablespoons sugar” or “one cup flour”—so any event I’m part of would have to be in conjunction with something else. But let me tell you, this was an experience I wouldn’t miss for thousands of dollars or a meeting with President Obama.

Getting to meet people who share my interests—reading, Downton Abbey, cooking—and who are so supportive of my work—was a high I am still riding. I can only hope all writers have signings half as fulfilling, and that I can give my writing heroes the same support the Downton Abbey fans gave me.

About the Author

EMILY ANSARA BAINES is the author of The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook and The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook. Her short stories have appeared inNarrative literary magazine and AngeLingo. She graduated with honors from USC, where she studied creative writing under Aimee Bender and T.C. Boyle. One day Emily will live in Paris and speak French while wearing a beret, but these days she makes do with hiding out in the bookstores of Los Angeles. Her favorite word is murmur. Visit Emily online on Twitter @LiteraryQueen.

  • http://www.thispicturebooklife.com/ Danielle

    Lovely. And congratulations! Yes, definitely bring snacks next time! :)

    • Emily Ansara Baines

      Thanks, Danielle! I appreciate it. (And don’t worry, I will. I have two book signings coming up Thanksgiving weekend and will come loaded with snacks and caffeine.)