Buy Into Reading: 12 Steps to the Perfect Book Signing Event

This resource was covered in my presentation “Buy Into Reading: 6 Bookstore Tactics to Create Lifelong Readers” for the Writing for Your Life 2020 Online Christian Children’s Books Conference, but I’m going to leave this list here because it is worth re-visiting.

Step 1 | Set Up the Details

Ideally, author events should be scheduled at least two months in advance. This allows the venue time to create posters, flyers, and social media graphics to advertise it properly. If a venue is too small to create their own marketing materials, authors can step in and create their own. With websites out there like, creating quality graphics is pretty easy and most of the time it’s free.

Step 2 | Tell Someone!

Tell your friends, fans and family about the event! Most authors are their own marketing machines. Even big name authors are expected to make some efforts to connect to their readers. If an event is happening, tell someone!

Step 3 | Show Up Early

On the day of the book signing event, show up at least 15 minutes before the event is scheduled to begin. 30 minutes might even be better. The goal of getting there early is to familiarize yourself with the space, use the restroom, and meet the people working the event. If parents come early, you can enjoy a bit of extra time with them before things start. Imagine how cool it would be if you got to hang out with a rock star before they played their concert. Now realize that you are the rock star.

Step 4 | Come Prepared

Technically, this should probably be step zero, but it’s too late for that now. Make sure you have a stack of your own books to sign. Occasionally, organizations run into trouble with the ordering process (the books weren’t ordered or didn’t ship on time), so it’s a good idea to have your own back up supplies on hand to sell on consignment. If you have bookmarks or activity sheets based on your books, bring them! You can always ask the venue to make copies for you.

Step 5 | Enter-to-Win Basket

Put out an enter-to-win basket to capture names and email addresses of attendees so you can add them to your email newsletter list. Make sure they know this will happen if they enter to win. Your book makes an excellent giveaway item, but you could give away other stuff too. The venue may also be willing to add something like a gift card to your giveaway too.

Step 6 | Sing a Song with Motions

As people start to trickle in, a good way to start the story time is by singing a song with motions. Obviously, this is best done for younger audiences. If you are writing a drama about a teenage protest leader with cancer whose parents mysteriously disappeared, song time may be a weird addition. But if you are writing a picture book, opening with a song is a great way to go. Author Glenys Nellist did this a number of times at Baker Book House and the audience always loved it. She would pick a familiar tune, then rewrite the lyrics to match the theme or message of her newest book. She’d always do songs with motions because it helps little ones get their wiggles out. Also, by opening with song time, you make it less awkward for parents who didn’t show up on time (and parents of young children are rarely able to show up on time). They can easily slip in while you are singing some songs.

Step 7 | Read the book

If you have more than one book, read a few. If you only have the one, read yours along with a couple of books you love or that influenced you in some way. Tell people why you love them or how they influenced you.

Step 8 | Do a Craft or Snack

This is an added bonus for families. Usually, the venue would be happy to supply this part of the event, but I’ve seen authors bring their own materials as well. This part of a book signing event is not necessary, but it makes it more memorable for the kids who showed up.

Step 9 | Draw the Winner

Draw the winner of the enter-to-win drawing you had people sign up for. This way, the people who didn’t win are encouraged to go buy your book instead.

Step 10 | Sign Some Books

Make sure you have some fine tip Sharpie markers or a good gel pen handy in case one is not provided for you by the venue. Ask parents how names are spelled. Maybe have a few stock phrases in mind ahead of time to write when you sign your name.

Step 11 | Sign Extra Copies

After the book signing is finished, ask if the venue would like you to sign a few copies to leave on the shelf. This makes it possible for parents who couldn’t make it to the event to still get a signed copy, even if it isn’t able to be personalized. Thank your venue hosts for the opportunity to come out, even if no one showed up to the event.

*Special side comment. I’ve hosted a few author events where, for whatever reason, no one came. The author and I would chat about writing and life and book sales, waiting for someone to come, but they never did. Was this a waste of time? No! If the author had a good attitude about it, it was a great experience because I was then able to tell shoppers how cool they were and any backstory stuff about their lives that would help me sell their books.

Step 12 | Send a Thank-You Note

Send a thank you note to the store. It’s a simple gesture, but a classy one.


Movies from My Childhood Are Not Okay for My Kids

I did it. I signed up for the free trial of Disney Plus.

Life looks a lot different for my family today than it did a month ago. Schools are closed for the season. Going to work became working from home. Working from home became collecting unemployment. Still, I am grateful for the opportunity to spend time together as a family and to pursue some of the writing tasks I was putting off until I had some time.

So why did I sign up for Disney Plus? Well, this is supposed to be Spring Break week for my kids, so we’re being a bit looser with the schedule than we might otherwise be. Since we can’t go anywhere (aside from bike rides and walks, which we are doing almost daily), we can tour other worlds through movies.

The catalog of movies and shows available through Disney Plus is impressive. Not only does it have brand new films that should otherwise be in theaters like Onward, but it has movies that were part of my childhood: Flight of the Navigator, The Rocketeer, and others.

Wanting to share a piece of my childhood with my children, I suggested that we watched The Rocketeer. It was rated PG, and I remembered fondly an adventurous tale of man with a rocket strapped to his back.

I didn’t remember the foul language.

Less than ten minutes in—and after exchanging some meaningful looks with my wife—we paused the movie to address the language being used in the film. We told our kids how we will often hear words in the real world we choose not to use ourselves, and that even though other people use them, that doesn’t make it okay.

I didn’t remember the inappropriate sexual scenes.

After an hour into the movie, there’s a scene where the buxom female love interest is at dinner with the bad guy and a joke is made where her breasts are the punchline. Shortly after that, she is drugged and wakes up in a locked room where her captor suggests she change into a see-through outfit.

We stopped the movie and had a family discussion about the fact that no one is allowed to do the things the bad guy was doing. Our bodies are our own and it is not okay for anyone to take advantage of us, threaten us, or use us for their own pleasure.

My kids are both under ten years old. I sincerely regret watching the movie with them. I’m glad we had a chance to address some topics that we need to address as parents, but I didn’t mean to blindside them with things they may not have been ready to see or hear.

Parents, use my mistake as a cautionary tale. Before you try to share a movie with your kids from your own childhood, preview it yourself. It doesn’t matter if it is rated PG or G or whatever. Times have changed since you were a kid. Stuff that was okay then isn’t okay now. Then if you decide to watch it anyway, be willing to stop the movie and talk through the things that aren’t okay with your kids.

On the bright side, my kids didn’t seem to be overly bothered by the things we talked about. The thing they were bothered by was the giant man with the wax-like face who killed people with his bare hands and with guns. That guy eclipsed all the other scary bits and inappropriate bits in the film for them.

Yeah, I forgot about that guy too.

Have there been movies from your childhood that you won’t show your kids? What are they and why won’t you show them?

A Book I Wrote was Published. How Did That Happen?

It happened when I wasn’t looking for it. I got published.

My first book, 3-Minute Prayers for Boys, is not the result of months or years of manuscript shopping. In fact, it got through the system with nary a rejection. How?

I was in the right place at the right time with the right connections and the right publication history. Here’s the story, for anyone curious to read it.

For years, I have been a member of a writers group called The Weaklings. When we formed, we were simply a group of guys interested in being published someday. We wrote fantasy, sci-fi, flash fiction, and bizarre children’s books that were actually meant for college students (that was me). We participated in writing events like the 3-Day Novel Contest and NaNoWriMo. We attended and started to speak at writers conferences.

Then we launched our own writers conference, The Jot Conference, a one-night, free event for writers like us who were short on time and cash, but wanted to make connections with others in the industry. We invited speakers who understood that we couldn’t pay them, and they came anyway. The connections paid off. Within a few years, two of the Weaklings were working for a publishing house. My friend Andy was an editor. I worked in marketing.

Now that I understood how the publishing world worked, I started professionalizing my manuscripts. I submitted my work to agents. I wrote articles and stories for magazines and places where I had natural connections. I built my bibliography. And I received rejection after rejection for the books that I most wanted to be published.

And then I lost my marketing job at the publishing house. I understood rejection on a new level. I returned to the bookstore and applied my experience to the store in general and the children’s department specifically. I stopped submitting my work to agents and focused on building the best children’s department I could.

Then I got a call.

One of my editor friends from my former employee had found new employment at a different publishing house and he had a writing project for me if I was interested. I was floored. I had stopped trying to be published. Now an editor was giving me a book contract.

Thus did 3-Minute Prayers for Boys come to be. My editor gave me a chance–as well as the confidence–to write children’s non-fiction (not a genre I’ve ever written before), because he had read the side projects I wrote while I was trying to get published.

And now that I’ve been published, new doors are opening. So for anyone who is afraid to get started or discouraged to continue trying, keep going. Write the next sentence. Submit the next piece. Surround yourself with other dreamers. Their success is your success. And then one day, it may happen for you.

It does happen.

On the Origin of Spitting Image

It was my wife’s turn to read a chapter of Andrew Peterson‘s On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness to our kids when she was stopped by a comment from our eldest daughter.

“Not nice!” said our eldest.

“What?” asked my wife.

“It isn’t nice to spit,” said our eldest.

“That’s true,” supported my wife, “but the thing I just read means something different from that. The phrase ‘spitting image’ means that someone looks just like someone else.”

“Oh,” said our eldest. “Okay.”

spitting-water-1550479The exchange got me curious about that phrase. Where did “spitting image” come from? How did it come to mean what it does?

Here’s what I found.

While some people think that “spitting image” is a deviation from “split image” or “spirit and image” or something like that, all evidence points to a salivary origin. In fact, the older mentions of the phrase use “spit and image” instead of “spitting.”

The idea behind the phrase is that a person is so like another that the original “spit” the copy out of their mouth. According to, examples of likeness and being spit out of someone’s mouth date back to at least the 17th century. To back up the fact that the “spit” in question is definitely of the salivary type, the same phrase with the same meaning is attested in both French and Norwegian (though the Norwegians suggest that a person is not spit out of the mouth, but blown out of the nose).

I still can’t say that I completely understand the phrase, since I’ve never looked at something I’ve spit out and thought that it bore a striking resemblance to myself. Other people may think that I look like a bit of phlegm, but I’ve never thought it personally. Oh well, I guess I’d rather have a truth that I don’t fully understand than a lie (like “split image” or “spirit and image”) that makes complete sense.

So next time someone asks you where we got “spitting image” from, you can spit some truth at them.

I am getting into artwork.

There are a few things that my wife and I just can’t seem to do: Take pictures with our camera (to be honest, I don’t even know where our camera is at the moment), enjoy seafood, or hang pictures or artwork on the wall. In the decade that we’ve been married, we just haven’t developed the knack for these things.

But on our recent trip to Chicago, we conquered two-thirds of them in one fell swoop. No, we didn’t enjoy any lake trout.* We visited The Art of Dr. Seuss Gallery at Water Tower Place on the Magnificent Mile.

Not only did they let us take photos (we borrowed a camera for the trip because–as mentioned previously–we don’t know where ours is now), but we found things that we would actually want to hang on the walls of our home.

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There are only two obstacles to actually solving the “hanging pictures on the walls of our house” problem with these magnificent pieces.

  1. We are between permanent residences at the moment and the painting wouldn’t fit with our current decor.
  2. These paintings and art prints are crazy expensive and it would be difficult to justify the expense since they don’t serve a practical purpose in the same way that kitchen tools or clothing might.

In the meantime, now I know that this art gallery exists. And vicariously (if you didn’t already), now you do too.

Check out their website here.

*There is no amount of cajoling that you can do to convince me to enjoy fish. There have been people in the past who insist that the way that they prepare the scaly devils will somehow make them taste less like fish. To that argument, I offer this rebuttal: There are many things that are not fish that already taste less like fish; I will save you the trouble and eat them instead.

I am my own barber.

_DSC0086I shave my head. Maybe you should too.

After all, bald is beautiful.

Reasons why:

  1. No hat hair. Ever.
  2. It is stylish. Some examples: Bruce Willis, Verne Troyer, Ving Rhames, Stanley Tucci, Andre Agassi, Michael Chiklis, Voldemort, and so on.
  3. Save money at the barbershop or salon. And you never have to worry about how much to tip yourself when you cut your own hair. Seriously, what’s an appropriate tip in those situations.

“But,” you start to say before I cut you off. I know you have objections. That’s where the next section comes in handy.

Overcoming objections:

  1. I’ll be cold. Not if you wear a winter hat. And if you get warm, you take it off (see reason 1 above).
  2. I’ll look silly. No you won’t. (see reason 2 above)
  3. I look good with hair. As good as these people? (see reason 2 above)

“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” you say. “I’ll just run out and buy a razor now.”

Okay, let’s not get crazy. After all, there are a few (just a few, though) reasons why you might not want to abandon your top-mop.

Valid reasons not to shave your head:

  1. You have an oddly shaped head. Some people have perfectly shaped domes that need no covering to enhance their natural beauty. But some heads are made to be hidden. Feel your noggin. Are there strange divots or lumps? Maybe you should keep those to yourself.
  2. You have severe hand tremors. If so, maybe you should have someone else shave your head for you. Don’t attempt it on your own. I don’t want anyone going Van Gogh on me. If you can’t hold a sharp thing confidently against your head without drawing blood or slicing off bits, don’t.
  3. You only have access to rusty, tetanus-riddled steak knives. I don’t know why I’m warning you about this. Use some common sense.

That’s about it! If you don’t fall into one of the categories above, unleash your cue ball’s inner (outer?) beauty. It doesn’t matter to me if you are male or female. You are going to look awesome!

Not Making Plans Is Still Making Plans

I didn’t make time to write a blog today. Fortunately, my good friend Bob Evenhouse wrote one that is as apt for me to share as it is for me to read. Also, if you aren’t familiar with Bob’s blog, you should read a few of his posts. They are all great.


Last week I made no plans to write, I just knew I was going to do it.

You know what I did, don’t you?Television

I watched three NHL games, a documentary on Oak Island (seriously cool), and one on Native American giants. Of course I didn’t watch all of these in one sitting, but the fact is I didn’t make plans to write, so that is exactly what I did. I squandered my free time. It was out there in some nebulous, free flowing time slot which was never filled and I felt miserable for it.

If you’ve wanted to complete a project around your house and just have not gotten around to it, I am sure you can relate. If we don’t make plans, whatever it is we long to do or need to do won’t happen.

Today? I made a mental note. I was going to write before…

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