Sunday, January 17, 2010

Morgan's Mystery Author Guest, Penny Warner, Tells Us How to Survive a Book Store Event When Nobody's Heard of You

I'm happy to relinquish my spot today to feature the talented Mystery Author, Penny Warner. Her latest release sounds delightful, plus she has some great, fun tips about surviving a book store event. - Morgan Mandel

Things to know about Penny -
Penny Warner has published over 50 books, both fiction and non-fiction, for adults and children, including over a dozen party books. Her books have won national awards, garnered excellent reviews, and have been printed in 14 countries. Her first mystery, DEAD BODY LANGUAGE, in her Connor Westphal series featuring a deaf reporter in the California Gold Country, won a Macavity Award for Best First Mystery and was nominated for an Agatha Award. Her non-fiction book, THE OFFICIAL NANCY DREW HANDBOOK, was nominated for an Agatha Award. Warner writes for party sites such as,,, and, and with her husband Tom creates interactive murder mystery fundraisers for libraries across the country. She can be reached at

Don’t let murder crash your party…
HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY - A Party Planning Mystery
Party Planning Tips Included
By Penny Warner National Bestselling Author

Mixing fun and fundraising for charities seemed like the perfect job for Presley Parker when she’s suddenly downsized from her position teaching abnormal psychological at the university. Pres is psyched about her first big gig—hosting a “surprise” wedding for the San Francisco Mayor at notorious Alcatraz prison.

But the party’s over when the bride bolts faster than an escaping prisoner, and is later found dead floating in the bay, a victim of poisoned chocolates. When Presley becomes prime suspect, she looks to her quirky Treasure Island co-workers for help, but it’s the attractive, mysterious crime scene cleaner Brad Matthews who helps tidy up her tarnished reputation. If she doesn’t solve this mystery, she’ll be exchanging her party dress for prison stripes.

HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY is the first in the series featuring reluctant party planner, Presley Parker and set on Alcatraz, Treasure Island and other locations in the San Francisco Bay Area. The book offers party tips throughout, and a complete party plan at the back of the book. A second book in the series, HOW TO CRASH A KILLER BASH, set at the de Young Museum, will be published in August, followed by HOW TO SURVIVE A KILLER S√ČANCE, set at the Winchester Mystery House

Penny Warner has published over 50, including more than a dozen party books. Her books have won national awards, garnered excellent reviews, and been printed in 14 countries. Known as the “Queen of Parties,” she’s planned over 500 parties, including interactive murder mystery fundraisers for libraries across the country. Visit her at

And Now, Let's Hear What Penny Has to Say About Surviving The Dreaded Book Store Event -


By Penny Warner

Ah, the glamorous life of a writer. I’m “on tour” with my latest book, which means I’m signing at some bookstores, “chatting” on a few weblogs, speaking at a handful of writers’ conferences, and spending all my advance money making cute little bookmarks as bribes for potential readers.

If you haven’t done a book signing recently, here’s how they typically go: You cold-call booksellers, ask if they’ll host a signing for your upcoming “bestseller,” and show up at the appointed time to sign autographs for your adoring fans. At least, that’s the idea. Here’s what really happens:

You email the booksellers asking for a signing because there’s not enough alcohol in your wine cellar to provide the courage you need to actually speak to them, certain they will laugh in your face at this ludicrous idea. When a bookseller surprises you by asking when you’d like to come in for an event, you blurt out a date, which has already been booked by JD Salinger or JK Rowling. He counters with only date he has left this year and you gratefully accept, only later realizing that it’s the same time as the Super Bowl, the last episode of “American Idol,” or Christmas.

You send out handcrafted invitations to 200 of your closest friends, including the grocery clerk, the five-year-old boy next door, and the new neighbors you haven’t even met yet. You email the rest of your fans, creating an eye-catching flyer that doesn’t convert on anyone else’s computer and reads: “*^$&((%##& *&$^#*&^($($*(!”

You bribe your future readers to the event by promising them an all-you-can-eat dessert buffet and free bookmarks, then search the knock-off stores for a “literary outfit” that makes you look like Sue Grafton. You realize after you purchase it you look more like Barbara Cartland so you change into a T-shirt featuring an ironed-on copy of your book cover, pull on a pair of black jeans to hide your less-than-literary fat, and skip the fake glasses.

When it’s “book-signing time,” you arrive at the bookstore to stage your themed display. You find yourself at the kiddy-sized table in the back, next to the Books That Never Sell. You sit down and try to look busy by constantly rearranging your book stack, while shoppers give you a wide berth and never make eye contact. Finally someone approaches your table, smiles, and you get your Mont Blanc pen ready to sign a heartfelt passage, personalized to the reader. That’s when she asks you where the restrooms are located and you point with your outrageously expensive pen. Suddenly you’re flooded with table-visitors, all asking questions like, “Do you have any books on bird-watching?” “Have I ever heard of you?” and “What’s Stephen King really like?”

Between “customers” you browse the bookstore shelves and end up buying more books than you sell. You wonder why you bother to write books that nobody reads, and ask the bookseller if he needs any part-time help, since it’s time you got a “real job.” Just as you’re packing up, someone approaches and asks if your latest book is out. You smile proudly, point to the stack of unsold books on the table, and give her your well-practiced pitch: “It’s a kind of a Sherlock Holmes meets ‘Girls Gone Wild’ set on Alcatraz, featuring a love story between a feisty party planner and a muscle-bound crime scene cleaner, who overcome misunderstood, socio-pathological murderers, barely escape death by poisoned chocolates made in the shape of handcuffs, and achieve happiness as the new Bickersons.” She puts your book down, says she only reads chick-lit cookbooks, and heads for the free snacks.

Hey, don’t feel sorry for me. I love every minute of it. In fact, you’re all invited to my gala publishing party on February 8 at the Peasant and the Pear restaurant in Danville, California. That’s when I’ll be launching my new mystery series, HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY, featuring—don’t laugh—a party planner/sleuth.

There will be free snacks...

Penny Warner

Please leave a comment below to welcome Penny, or, maybe you'd like to share one of your own experiences at a book store event.


Morgan Mandel said...

Welcome to Make Mine Mystery, Penny. I hope you have a great time here. I love the concept of your book.

Morgan Mandel

Bill Kirton said...

Sounds like a fun book, Penny. And your run-down of the typical signing event is deadly accurate, both in the USA and here in the UK, it seems. My one signing visit to the US sold enough books to pay for some newspapers and eminently disposable keepsakes at the airport. But it was certainly different to sit in the shade outside a bookshop in Florida and tell my only questioner that, yes, since my novel was about murder, there were some rude words in it and that my advice was that she shouldn't buy it.

Maureen Lang said...

What a fun post! Next time a newly published author tells me how much they're looking forward to their first book signing, I'm sending them to this link. :-)

Simply Stacie said...

This sounds like it would be a fun book to read! I am definitely interested in checking it out.

Penny said...

Hi Morgan,
It's great to be here!
I love your blog!
Thanks for letting me share some space.

Penny said...

Hi Bill,
Yep, sounds like you've been there and done that. At least you made enough to buy airport keychain...
Keep those rude words coming...

Penny said...

Hi Maureen,
Maybe they'll learn from my experience and bring along a few friends and relatives to chat with.
Still, it's nice to get out of the house and away from the computer for a few hours...

Penny said...

Hi Stacie,
You sound like a party girl to me.
Hope you enjoy the book - and party tips included.
Thanks for your note.

carl brookins said...

Hey, Penny,
long time. fun comments, but I know you're having better signing than the one you describe. Can't make it to Danville this time, maybe later.

Penny said...

Great to hear from you, Carl.
When's the next Love is Murder/Dark and Stormy Conference coming?

Msmstry said...

Well, I've certainly heard of you—and I look forward to reading HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY! In fact, I'm taking it with me on on overnight trip tomorrow.

Wish I could be at the conference signing, but I'll see you at Malice or B'Con for sure!


Adele said...

Hahaha. I feel sorry for authors at quiet signings but I do think bookstores often fail on the advertising.

Helen Ginger said...

Penny, that was so funny. Loved it.

A friend of mine, Barbara Burnett Smith, once did a signing at a B&N for her first book. They didn't have copies, but they did have plenty of a title very similar to hers by a different author. Luckily, another friend, Jan Grape had a mystery bookstore then and drove all they way back (to a nearby town), gathered all her copies of Barbara's book and brought them for her to sell.

Straight From Hel

Penny said...

Hi Molly!
Hope the book keeps you up all night.
And wish you could be here for the pub party too. But I'll see you at both conferences! And dropping by your blog soon...

Penny said...

Hi Hagelrat,
I once did a signing where NO ONE came to the store, and I ended up buying four books just to have something to do...Needless to say, I lost money on that one--but I still had fun chatting with the bookseller.

Penny said...

Hi Helen,

Barbara was a friend of mine and taught me so much about speaking at booksignings. I miss her terribly.
Jan Grape is a saint! Thanks for sharing your story.


Ann Parker said...

Ah Penny -- Re your post: It's funny, and it's true and it's happened to me more times than I can count. But there'll be plenty of fans (moi included) at your signings! See you at the Peasant and the Pear... wouldn't miss it for anything.
And I love, love *love* your new series!

Deb Larson said...

Great Post, Penny! My first book signing was at a B&N -- I was placed in the cookbook section. No one wanted to talk to me either - could have been the tomahawk at my table that matched the one on the cover of my book! I think a few actually thought I was selling hatchets as a kitchen utencil!
DL Larson

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Sounds like a great book. Been too long since I've seen or read anything about you.

I only do one or two bookstores these days, much prefer other places for launches and signing.


J.W. Nicklaus said...

What a fun post! My first book signing wasn't quite as bad, but I think that's due in part to having been set up within three yards of the restrooms. It was a great experience though, and I certainly hope to do it again.

Thanks for such a delightful excursion, Morgan and Penny :^)

Cheryl said...

Excellent post, Penny. Loved it. Nothing wrong in making fun of reality.

I occasionally hosted murder mystery parties, when I was much younger and less busy. I bet this new series would be right up my alley.

If you're looking for reviewers, please let me know. You can find my email address in my profile.

Best of luck in 2010!


Morgan Mandel said...

If nothing else, book signings make you seem like you know what you're doing. I frequently get people asking me how to get published, as if I can share one big secret that will work for them.

Morgan Mandel

Dana Mentink said...

Well I always enjoy your book signings, Penny. You have the best little "party favors." I am excited about your new book series. Can't wait!

Penny said...

Hey Anne!
Thanks for the kind words.
Love your latest book in the Leadville series and can't wait for the next one!

Penny said...

Hi Deb,
Your booksigning story is hilarious!
Perhaps if you threatened them with the tomahawk next time...

Katie Hines said...

Great interview! I had to laugh all the way through it, and hope she isn't spot on as I'm looking forward to doing some book signings when my book is released in the next few weeks.

Either way, I'm going to have to bring snacks, either for "my readers" or for me to snack on as comfort food when nobody buys a book!

Penny said...

Hi Marilyn,

It's been a long time! Hope to see you at a future conference. I must say, going on a virtual book tour and dropping by blogs is much more fun!

Penny said...

Hi JW,

Sounds like your experience was much better. There's nothing like a room full of fans how actually came to get YOUR book! I'm always amazed that anyone shows up..

Penny said...

Hi Cheryl,

Thanks - I'd love for you to review the book -- and anyone else who's interested. I'll send you a note.
I do murder mystery parties too, mostly for libraries--and it's great fun.


Penny said...

Thanks, Dana.
I have to bribe people to come and party favors fit right in!
I can't wait to read your new book, Endless Night! I hear it just came out!

Penny said...

Hi Katie,
I may have exaggerated a little--it's more of a compilation of all my signings.
But yours will be great, I'm sure.
Wish I could be there!
I love snacks!

Kathleen Ernst said...

Great post. I've been there. Nice to be reminded such things happen to other people!

CE Webster said...

Very funny post. You make book signings sound like so much fun!

Penny said...

Hi Kathleen,
Glad I'm not alone!
Hope to show up at one of yours.

Penny said...

Hi CE,
Glad you enjoyed it.
Booksignings CAN be fun,
depending on how much wine
you serve...

Unknown said...

As usual, you make me laugh. I particularly like the part about the posters that nobody can open on their computer. I will see you at the Peasant and the Pear to buy your book and pick up the freebies! Elaine

Morgan St. James said...

What a fun, but true, article Penny. You hit so many of the things right on, and yet we continue to seek and do signings. Why? Because in some recess of our minds we either like doing it or know we should.

I've done many panel and solo presentations but very few straight booksignings. It seems like actual programs afford the opportunity to introduce yourself to the readers and let them see who you are. I think you also have a better chance of having them leave with your book in their hand, unless you have the fame of Janet Evanovich or Stephen King.

But then there are the occasions where either no one shows up, or there are more people on the stage than in the audience. I had one at a library where not one person came...even after the librarian announced it on the loudspeaker. She and I alternated between chatting and staring at each other for aabout half an hour. We finally agreed this was a total bust, and both went home.

Keep writing those articles. I love your style.


cindy luck said...

Penny, I'll be at your booksigning ... but I know you have too much fun at them adn they're a blast ... I attended your last one, too!!! Can't wait to see you and congrats on completing another great book:-)cindy

Maryannwrites said...

What a delightful post. I guess if all our signings were hugely successful, we wouldn't have these funny stories to tell.

Penny said...

Hi Elaine,
I hope you're not going experiencing any of these booksigning foibles with your new Greek cookbook! See you at the event. Everyone is welcome!

Penny said...

Hi Morgan,
Nice to know a few other authors have been through this too.
Thanks for sharing your story.

Penny said...

Hi Cindy,
So glad you're coming. I'll try to make it fun...Will chocolate work?

Penny said...

Hi MaryAnn,
That's the truth. And we need those funny stories at our booksignings...

Morgan Mandel said...

Hi Penny,
Thanks for being our guest for Monday at Make Mine Mystery. I hope you had a good time.

Morgan Mandel

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Penny,
Greetings from Australia. I loved your post. I know it would be a little tongue in check for a writer of your status, but I am sure every writer can relate to some of the points you made, I certainly can.

Pauline said...

I don't do bookstore signings either, unless I'm part of an event with an author group, and I still don't like them.

My worst (and first) was at a B&N in New Orleans. The President arrived, shutting down all major freeways, so very few people could get to the store. Then they put me on this 1 foot square table at the bottom of this HUGE escalator. It was like a big arrow pointing to a dot. And yes, only questions I got asked where directions to places not me. LOL!

The other reason to avoid bookstores is that I make less money per book there.

Pauline Baird Jones
A Box of Texas Chocolates Anthology
The Key
Girl Gone Nova, 4/2010

Penny said...

Hi Morgan,
What a blast! I love your site and blog and was thrilled to be a part of it! Thanks so much - what great comments I received. Hope I got to them all. And hope to do this again some time! It was so much fun!

Penny said...

Hi Margaret
Thanks for your comments. Sure, it's somewhat of a compilation of my experiences at bookstore signings,
but they're all true. I like to entertain while writing - makes it more fun, don't you think?

Penny said...

Hi Pauline,
Wow, that tops mine! I've certainly chosen some poor dates for my events--during Super Bowl, etc.--but so far I haven't had any competition from the President!
I do prefer doing book events with other writers so we can play off each other--and keep each other company when no one is there...

Pauline said...

I like to do events with other authors, too, because at least someone will be there. LOL!
Yeah, the president was tough to compete with.

One thing I realized, what you are thinking is as important as preplanning. by the end of that signing, i felt about two inches tall. I was at a big booksigning at RWA and authors on either side of me were selling and I wasn't. I felt myself shrinking and decided, no way. Not going to happen. started thinking positive thoughts and ended up selling all the books I'd brought with me. You really project what you're thinking more than you realize.

April said...

What a great post!!! This book looks and sounds amazing, I am going to check it out!! I have never had the opportunity to go to a book signing - living in the middle of nowhere, we don't get exciting things like that, though I wish!! I hold out hope that someday... lol

Pamela K. Kinney said...

Loved the post! Luckily, my first signing went well, but this shows you not to get arrogant, for thisn happens ton all authors. :)