Mike Kincaid: Where's the bathroom?

Looking up from scribbling in a copy of Alaska Justice, I notice a somewhat memorable face patiently waiting her turn in the line. I can’t quite place her, but the freckles are unique.

It’s a good evening for a book signing in the small town of Rathdrum, Idaho. The store owners are excellent hosts and have laid out a nice selection of treats, enticing shoppers to hang around and purchase books. Self-publishing requires self-promotion to sell books and book signings are a big part of that for me. Sometimes they go wonderfully, like this evening promises. Sometimes signings can be a bust. With either outcome, the experience alone is often worth the effort and I’ve met some very interesting people.

“Hi, do you remember me?” The smiling 50-something lady asks, handing me a book to sign. I admit she looks familiar. She surprises me with her next statement: “You arrested my husband in Glennallen, back in the 80’s.”

Mumbling somewhat of an apology, I search my mental Rolodex, trying to place her and her law-breaking husband.

“It’s okay, he deserved it,” the freckle-faced lady says with a smile, then adds: “He was a real jerk. Here, I’d like you to meet my new husband.”

“Freckles” and her friendly husband buy a couple of books and we have an enjoyable discussion about Alaska, the way it was, way back when.

No matter in what part of the country, I often find an Alaska connection at book signings. It can be as simple as the book-purchaser having toured Alaska’s road system, a lady whose daughter teaches in the village of Tuluksak, or from a recent signing in Wisconsin, a Kotzebue resident comparing stories about renegades in the Bush. Occasionally, the connection is much more intense, like the man in Reno last winter who mentioned while I was signing his book that he had owned a couple of Helio Courier airplanes like the ones portrayed in Alaska Justice. It got weird when he relayed that the last one he owned was sold to a pilot in Alaska and it had crashed near Fairbanks. We both were somewhat shell-shocked when we found that, as a trooper, I’d pulled the buyer from the smoldering wreckage and the poor guy died in my arms. Small world, indeed.

As an unknown author, for me successful book-signings aren’t just a matter of showing up with boxes of books. Good days involve happy shoppers buying lots of books, but it doesn’t always go that way—like on one dark, raining night in Spokane, Washington. I’d accepted a short-notice to sign books on a Tuesday evening, without the chance for advance promotion. The room the bookstore assigned me had just been used by a group whose tastes were way on the other end of the spectrum from those who might enjoy reading an Alaskan adventure. The scenario was the perfect formula for a lonely night, terminating in hauling boxes of books back into the drizzle. The highlight of the event was helping an old-timer find the eyeglasses he’d lost when rushing into the store to escape the nasty weather. He thanked me for the help, shared a book’s worth of stories about his life as a young man in Alaska, and left without buying a book.

I’ve signed books at small and large bookstores, after giving presentations to groups about Alaska and at special events—airshows are my specialty (my books include lots of flying and I also write non-fiction aviation material). Although the number of books sold varies greatly per event, rather than regret the bad signings, I kick myself for turning one down. I was offered two free tickets on an Inside Passage cruise with the only obligation of giving two talks a day and signing books. It was a dumb move to pass on that and I still cringe whenever I see a commercial with smiley tourists dining on King Crab while nearby glaciers calve into the sea.

Preparation is the key for successful book signings and the media has usually obliged me when I’ve requested interviews in advance of an event. I’ve also experimented with give-aways—from caps to a drawing for a seaplane flight—and, although pricey, they get folks in the buying mood and the buzz passed about my books. For example, the first person who sends me an email after reading this blog, requesting a copy of Alaska & Beyond, gets it free and signed! (Email: mdkincaid@adventurousbooks.com).

Imagine a Friends of Animals member dropping in on an Alaskan hunting camp to convince hunters not to shoot those cute moose with the really big antlers—that’s what I think of a book signing without advance promo. Once, after a great story in the local paper and posters plastered in the front windows, the results of my book signing prompted a Borders store manager to gush that it was their most successful signing in their then two-year history. (Maybe it was their first?) I tried my luck again, this time without properly notifying the local citizenry. My thinking was I couldn’t lose, since it was during the Christmas rush and I was given a front-and-center table. Shoppers must have thought I was operating an informational kiosk, as not only were the book sales terrible, but the most common question was, “Where’s the bathroom?”

Here are a few tips I’ve developed in my still-rookie writing career for book signings: (1) don’t bother having a book signing without advance promo; (2) find your audience–if your book has theme of interest to special groups (mine are Alaskans, pilots, law-enforcement, and Alaska tourists), give talks to those folks, then sell books; (3) don’t turn a down a free cruise; (4) know where the bathroom is located.

Mike Kincaid was a city boy from the Lower 48 who accidently spent a 26-year vacation in Alaska, residing in Denali Park, Girdwood, King Salmon, Copper Center, Fairbanks, Bethel, Palmer and somewhere near Talkeetna. He survived an exciting career with the Alaska Department of Public Safety as a Trooper/Pilot with the majority of his time in the Bush. Mike now operates a seasonal seaplane business in which he is an instructor and Designated FAA Examiner. Mike writes for IDAHO Magazine and various aviation publications and continues the tell the story of the Alaska State Trooper in his Jack Blake adventure series.

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