Life on the other side of the fence by Ava Manello

I recently attended a book signing in Oxford from the other side of the fence, as a reader rather than an author. I now have a whole new appreciation for my readers. I thought it was a tiring day standing in front of my table talking to readers, but life on the other side of the fence is pretty gruelling, although massively entertaining.  

The signing took place in Oxford Town Hall, a grand setting, but perhaps a little too small for the number of readers who attended which meant that many signing authors had to be ticketed, and those that weren't still had queues.  

The camaraderie that was evident amongst readers was infectious, from friends made in the registration queue outside the venue that began a couple of hours before the doors were due to open to friends made whilst bumping into each other inside. This was only the second signing I'd attended as a reader, a good four years after my first one, and I'd thought I'd planned pretty well. I hadn't.  

Apparently, a book signing on this scale should be approached with military precision - colour coded table plans that can be marked off as pre-orders are collected, scrapbooks are signed, or books purchased. I confess, with trying to find the shortest queue I may have lost track of where I'd been and who had signed what, despite there being just under 30 authors to meet. Only having less than a handful of items to be signed I'd taken a large shopper which was discarded before the event started. Instead, I carried everything in my left arm, and as the pile of items grew, so did the dents in my skin. There wasn't time to faff around putting books and canvas totes back in the bag to get them out again at the next table. Partway around the room another author asked me to get some things signed for them as well, queue me not remembering where I'd been with what. I felt like a total amateur!  

Surrounded by readers with trolley crates overflowing with pre-purchased books and colour coded charts I felt out of my depth. Two ladies who were attending this as their first signing even had drag along truck crates that made a pushchair look small. At the start of the event they were pretty much empty, by the end they were overflowing with more books than would fit an average bookcase. I was in awe of their determination and dedication.  

I'd bought my tickets a year previously when my unicorn author was announced, this was her first visit to the UK and probably the only chance I would have to meet her. If you've never heard the phrase unicorn author it's your absolute must meet, favourite author ever. I wasn't the only reader who'd had the same idea, over a quarter of the tickets sold queued up, some practically all day, just for that moment with her. Outside of the book world I'm not sure how to explain this phenomenon to someone, other than imagine an opportunity to meet your favourite rockstar, have a photo with them and a quick chat. It's a priceless moment you will remember forever.  

Before I started blogging and reviewing I hadn't even realised there were book signings like this, then as an author I decided to run one of my own. The amount of work that goes into them is unbelievable, hence me only running mine every two or three years. Not all signings have to be on a grand scale and I'm looking forward to attending a more intimate signing as an author late next year to see how that goes.  

The romance community embraces signings, and over the last four years we've gone from having only one a year to multiple signing opportunities throughout the country. Imagine a room filled with forty plus authors and several hundred readers. It's one of those experiences you really should try at least once. Authors are just ordinary people, and all the authors I know love getting together with readers and talking books. You get to know certain faces that seem to pop up at events regularly, and they become firm friends. You also make new friends as no one ever seems to be alone, they may arrive that way but by the end they've been adopted by fellow book lovers and become part of this wonderful book community.  

So, if you see a signing come up near you, do consider attending. You'll find authors you may not have known about before and make new friends who'll happily recommend their favourite books to you. 


Griselda Heppel said…
Wait a minute, I've never heard of this phenomenon. A book signing... with 30 authors? Not a literary festival in which the authors give talks in different venues and sign their books afterwards, or an Authors Corner event as part of a charity sale, or a bookshop signing (usually only one author at a time, promoting their latest book) - but one huge signing event where all authors have to do is sit and sign books for readers who actually have to buy tickets for this? Ye gods, tell me how to book my author place at one of these!
Oh. Ah. No, I'm not a unicorn as such. Something tells me I don't quite have the qualifications here... heigh ho.
Sounds very exciting, if stressful, but worth it for the rare chance to meet a particular author you admire. I'm just amazed I didn't even know it was going on! Thanks for opening my eyes.
julia jones said…
Fantastic -- but long to know who the 'unicorn' is

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