Be gentle, it’s my first time

I’m cruising into Edina tonight to give my first ever reading and signing as an author — at 7:00 PM I’ll be at the Barnes & Noble in the GalleriaShopping Center, 3225 W 69th, Edina.

I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve pulled out a couple of short pieces from the book, I’ve got a general introduction to what it’s all about, but I don’t know how long I should sing and dance to entertain — I’m erring on the side of brevity right now, and know I can fill out any span of time by opening up to questions. Maybe some Catholics will show up! Or dudebros! Or maybe it will all be warm and welcoming. I can’t lose!

If anyone has suggestions about what not to do or can tell me about horrible experiences with authors, feel free to spin a yarn here.


  1. raymoscow says

    Congrats on your new book. It’s not out in the UK or on ebook yet, so I’ll have to wait.

    My wife does a lot of readings from her novels. I think the best advice is, ‘Less is more.’ Keep the readings short. Read some good bits, but leave the listeners wanting more.

    Also, leave some time for Q&A.

  2. says

    First answer: The key to a great reading is killer bees. Just release them into the crowd whenever you reach an awkward pause.

    Serious answer: My partner did a bunch of readings when she published her book. Generally, you want to pick a few excerpts. Don’t be afraid to bounce around a bunch with shorter good hooks. The longer sections may seem a good idea but reading long excerpts can sometimes leave the audience foggy. You’ll get the hang of which excerpts are the right ones to read as you do more readings. Afterwards make sure you schedule time to stay, sign books, and generally shoot the shit as the willingness of the author to stick around will often influence a few sales. If that’s not happening and things are feeling awkward, don’t be afraid to bail. Not having reason to dwell on bad readings will help you have the energy for the next good one.

    But you probably don’t need any of that advice and I’m sure your reading will be kick ass. I look forward to any you do in my part of the world.

  3. gussnarp says

    From things I’ve read from other authors, don’t expect to see big crowds. Maybe your internet infamy will lead to bigger crowds than usual, but from what I’ve heard lots of authors who have done pretty brisk sales and garnered praise for their works don’t get much in the way of crowds at signings, especially for early work.

    So the opening up to questions thing might fail you, unless there are enough fans/haters up there to show up…

  4. Artor says

    Be prepared for trolls. They don’t often show in person, but there’s enough people who despise everything that is PZ that you might have a few obnoxious hecklers. Have something ready to shoot them down in flames.

  5. gregpeterson says

    Hey, PZ–I’ve been to many author events at that very B&N, and plan to attend tonight. What I’ve always most appreciated is:

    -Some remarks by the writer about what motivated him or her to write the book, personal background, anecdotes about the writing process–stuff you can’t get from just reading the book. Maybe an author was going in one direction, and then something happened in her life to set her off in a new direction. I couldn’t know that just by reading the book, and it’s fun to have that insight.

    -A (brief, as you say) reading of some favorite, representative part of the book. This helps get the author’s voice in my head so when I’m reading the rest of the book,, that’s how I’ll hear it. This is especially useful with authors who have notable reading styles–Dawkins and Hitchens come to mind. A nice, natural reading is my favorite kind–I’ve heard authors who put on an “interpretive reading” voice, and it sounds phony and pretentious.

    -Plenty of time for Q&A…but a SET time, so it doesn’t ramble endlessly. “I’m setting aside the next half hour for questons–please keep them short and to the point. Questions only, please–you can make comments to me when you ask me to sign your book.” (Something like that–just to cut off anyone who plans to monopolize Q&A time with some pet hobby horse that no one else cares about.)

    -When signing the book, personalize it in some way. Could you draw the little happy Darwin fish quick, and sign below it? I know it might seem dorky, but people–me included–love that. It helps personalize the autograph somehow.

    That’s about it, I think. Oh…have water handy. Reading seems to be thirsty work.

    Good luck! Looking forward to it.

  6. george gonzalez says

    Ooooh, the Galleria?

    That used to be a very ritzy boutique mall, frequented by Doctor’s Wives who Did Lunch.

    Not sure they let in Our Kind of People.

    Good Luck.

  7. says

    Whatever you do, don’t read parts that you think are funny and then snicker at your own jokes. I went to see Douglas Adams at University of MD (a long time ago) and the group of us who went were pretty turned off by it.

    But I think you should figure out a way of mainsplaining any criticism in advance and do an interpretive dance in which you pre-position anyone who doesn’t like the book as not skeptical enough. Or something.

    Oh, and when someone asks for your autograph, don’t pour them wine and try to compromise them. Because there will be too many people around and that’d be dumb.

  8. says

    My observation as a school teacher is that people’s names have gotten more — uh — “creative” over the years (e.g., my nieces have made-up names). Hence it is a good practice at book-signings to have a pad of paper at hand, where you write your fan’s name and ask “Is that right?” before personalizing their copy of your book with a misspelled name. (I learned this the hard way.)

  9. says

    The four most frightening words in the English language: “read by the author”.

    I refute that as follows:
    Greta Christina’s “Why are atheists so angry…” read by the author
    Christopher Hitchens “God is not great” read by the author

  10. Louis says

    I’ve got mine on order. Apparently it’s going to be 1 to 3 weeks! What is this the Dark Ages? Have a word Myers.


  11. says

    Not related to book signing, but to writing your name over and over and over again. As part of my vounteer work with a local non-profit, I recently had to sign about 200 letters (fundraising appeals to big donors). The pen that was given to me to use was a piece of shit – it made an otherwise mundane task into an unpleasant chore, and my signature didn’t look as nice and smooth as I would have wanted. So, take a few pens with you that you like, that write easily and will help you rather than hinder you. Mundane advice.

    Good luck, and have fun!

  12. kevinalexander says

    Be prepared for trolls.

    Seconded. I recommend sagely stroking your beard while nodding as you respectfully listen.
    Just until they get to the really stupid part (it won’t take long) then laugh. If you do it sincerely then the rest of the crowd will laugh along and your job is done.

  13. says

    Would you believe I practiced my signature? It’s still illegible.

    Also, anyone who asks…I’ll doodle a pharyngula on the title page. Yes, I can do it — about 5 quick strokes, and it’s recognizable to any embryologist.

  14. says

    Just remember to have enough cupcakes on hand to give away with the books.

    Preferably with a lit candle in each.

    All the cool authors do that…

    Just so you know.

  15. Rey Fox says

    I refute that as follows:
    Greta Christina’s “Why are atheists so angry…” read by the author
    Christopher Hitchens “God is not great” read by the author

    Craig Ferguson. I guess it helps when one talks at a camera for a living.

  16. says

    Dang! I wish I could be there – my parents live about a ten minute drive from there and I’ve been to that Barnes and Noble many times. Have fun with thy public!

  17. opposablethumbs says

    Wishing you well for the signing!
    I hope it is equally free of trolls and (hopefully not, but I have a suspicious mind sometimes) chill girls trying to make you look bad in a photo or something equally callous – to match the callous misogyny they have already shown on line.
    (I was too late for That Thread, but just wanted to add my heartfelt thanks and my greatest respect for your courage and integrity to JD, to you and to the Horde)

  18. didgen says

    Please, please, come to Powell’s in Portland. I am a tad short on traveling fund right now. Plus we have beer, lots and lots of beer.

  19. David Marjanović says




    Mine is coming on September 18th. And not to me, but to my parents’ place in another country, because I ordered it before I even knew I’d go here. *thunderstorm above head*

    I guess I have to wear my “Support a United Pangea” T-shirt more often.

    Christopher Hitchens “God is not great”

    That’s spelled “god Is Not Great”. With “god” in tiny print on the cover.

  20. sidneyschwab says

    My first reading and signing was at a respectable book fair in Portland OR, called “Wordstock.” Whereas there were venues that sat a couple hundred people, I was in a side room of no great consequence, which was appropriate.

    Anyhow, my opening line was something like “This is my first reading ever, so I’m really looking forward to finding out what I have to say.” Feel free to use it.

    Afterwards, signing, I decided to use a fancy fountain pen someone had given me, figuring, finally, there was an occasion in concert with the showiness of the pen. It leaked all over me and the first couple of books. So my advice, if you don’t plan on using a pencil, is to use a roller-ball pen.

  21. says


    Also, anyone who asks…I’ll doodle a pharyngula on the title page.

    That would be so cool, but I think I’d ask you to draw a giraffe, because I really did like that thing, er, giraffe you drew.

  22. Bilb Ono says

    I got my copy today-I had actually forgotten that I ordered it! It’s been enjoyable so far. Will you be doing any more of these readings/signings or is it a one-time thing?

  23. manuel moegarcia says

    Got my copy in the mails today. Any donation to a legal fund would be conditional upon you defacing the title page of my copy.

  24. says

    Rawnaeris, better than our B&N, which didn’t see fit to stock it at all. Asses. That said, the digital copies are on tablets here in the Caine household, so I’m off to read!

  25. mikeyb says

    When I think of trolls, I think of Troll 2 – the best bad movie ever made – even if the trolls are actually goblins. Trolls are about as articulate as the actors in Troll 2.

  26. says

    Most memorable moment during one of my book signings, (also, as it happens, at a Barnes & Noble): A young couple, man and woman, walks stops by my table and the woman picks a copy of the book and leafs through it.

    Man: I’ll buy that for you if you want it.

    Woman: No thanks. I already have a book.