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Stories from My Life, #15: Uma Thurman’s Toes

Like many a teenager, I developed various bodily insecurities that stayed with me well into adulthood. However, one of them vanished, surprisingly, thanks to Quentin Tarantino’s movie Kill Bill, Vol. 1. Many of you know that Tarantino produces violent, take-no-prisoners, action movies. I like them.

Background: My father had short toes, and I had long ones. From his various insinuations and comments (in jest? I wasn’t sure), embedded in my consciousness during my teenage years was the for-certain fact that God had slipped up and produced a freak of nature when it came to toe normality. Toes were meant to be short, not long.

Let’s move forward to 2003 and Kill Bill, Vol. 1. Early in the movie there is a scene where Uma Thurman escapes from a hospital and hides inside a van. Because Uma’s character had weakened from her hospital stay, the point of the scene was to restore mental commands she was making to her body, to get back into fighting shape. As luck would have it, Tarantino began with close-ups of Uma’s toes.

YEP, YOU GUESSED IT. HALLELUJAH! Someone as striking as Uma Thurman had even longer toes than I did! I learned that there was nothing wrong with me in the toe department. More importantly, I came to appreciate that even the smallest derogatory comment can have a lasting impact on a person’s psyche. And, needless to say, ever since Kill Bill, Vol. 1, I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for Uma Thurman.

P.S. No, the picture above does not show Uma Thurman’s toes. No lawsuits here.

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What Seventeen Years of Book Signings Have Taught Me


I’ve been doing book signings for about seventeen years, starting shortly after my first thriller, Category 5, was published. That was back when we had two dominant bookstores: Borders, and Barnes and Noble. Borders provided me dozens of signing opportunities. After Borders withdrew from the scene, Barnes and Noble picked up the slack; they have been as good to me as Borders ever was.

My book signing skills have improved over the years, and I have learned important lessons. I would like to share with you what I have learned.

Number 1: To sell a lot of books, you need to meet a lot of people.

The beauty of Barnes and Noble stores is that a lot of folks come in. This is important. Why? From my experience, I’d say that, roughly, only 5-10% of shoppers entering the store are a) interested in buying my particular genres of book, and b) in a mood to buy. In my case, I am hawking two separate genres: I have a trilogy of thrillers (Category 5, Prophecy, and White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy) and a sequel (Retribution Times Two). I also have one historical novel, How Much Do You Love Me? Unless you’re a famous author, you can’t have a two-hour signing and expect to sell many books. So what do I do? I cheat. I stay all day.

Now, here is an important point that didn’t take me long to learn. Do not presuppose that someone approaching your table fits a particular stereotype who you’ve concluded will have no interest in (or money to buy) your book. A relevant story makes my point. Early in my book-signing career, I had a nighttime signing on a cold, rainy winter night. How cold and rainy was it?..I digress. Through the front door came a lady, dischevled, dripping with water and, as best I can recall, wearing either no shoes or bad shoes. I’m ashamed to admit that I thought she was homeless. Still, trying to being respectful, I addressed her, and we talked. Well, guess what? She ended buying something like five or six books–a record for me at the time. Of the lessons I’ve learned in my lifetime, that one resides in the top ten.

Number 2: Ask the store to announce your book signing as often as possible over the intercom.

Some customers don’t see me when they come in and need to be reminded that I’m there. To make it easy for the store, I provide a written example of what the announcer might say. Here’s one: “We have with us today author Paul Mark Tag, who is signing copies of his historical novel, How Much Do You Love Me?, a mystery and love story that revolves around the forced internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Paul is also signing copies of his brand new thriller, Retribution Times Two. Please drop by the front of the store and say hello to Paul.”

Number 3: Bring your own advertising.

Often, the store will put up signs anticipating your signing. In case they don’t, bring in a large poster board that advertises your presence. On that board is a picture and description of the primary book I’m selling. I’m usually allowed to put it somewhere by the entry door. Bring your own easel. I have a neat one that folds up small.

Number 4: Advertise ahead of time.

Unless you’re famous, just go for the simple and obvious. First, I make sure that my Amazon author’s page has a listing of upcoming signings. My website,, has a similar listing on my Media Room page. And, importantly, a day or so ahead of the signing, I make an official announcement of the upcoming signing on my Facebook page: Use whatever social media tools you have available.

Number 5: Be personable and enthusiastic when talking to customers.

Other than Number 1 above, Number 5 is probably the most important of all. Unless you are excited about your book, you can’t expect customers to be. Start out by telling them about yourself and where you’re from. In the case of my thrillers, I then convince them that they’re going to have a doggone good time following the exploits of my hero and heroine.

For my historical fiction novel, I say that my book, in addition to reminding us all about the World War II travesty that was the Japanese internment, is a page-turning mystery and a touching love story. As your customer turns to leave, thank him or her sincerely for buying your book. It is the rare exception when buyers of my books don’t walk away reciprocating in kind, thanking me for our discussion and for signing their personal copy.

Number 6: Odds and ends, in no particular order:

6a: Have a pair of reading glasses handy for the customer who wants to read the back of your book but has forgotten theirs.

6b: Take your own pillow or seat cushion; often, you end up with a hard bottom chair.

6c: Have reviews of your books handy in case someone needs additional persuasion.

6d: Unless you’re on the witness protection list, if asked, always agree to have a photo taken, but preferably alongside the customer. Immediately, ask him or her to e-mail you the picture right then, ask for permission to share the photo on Facebook or other social media, and then do it. The photo you see at the top of this blog was taken at the Almaden Plaza Barnes and Noble in San Jose.

6e: In conjunction with Number 5 above, ask customers if they will share their name and e-mail address (I keep a clipboard on the table just for that purpose). I’d say that somewhere around 95% agree. Next to their name annotate which book they bought. Then, after you get home, send them a personalized e-mail thanking them for buying your book; I ask them, if they like my book, to please consider writing a short review on either the Barnes and Noble or Amazon websites. Before they leave the store, also ask them if you have permission to use their e-mail address for your occasional newsletter; annotate the list accordingly. This catalogue of happy (hopefully) buyers will prove invaluable when you go to advertise your next book.

6f: Get to know store employees, by name if possible; they are your allies and will drive customers your way.

6g: If your book has received any kind of award, don’t fail to mention it. If you have related stickers, have at least one on display.

6h: If you have to leave your station, leave a preprinted sign that says when you will be back. I have two: one saying 5 minutes and one 20 minutes. You don’t want to lose a customer because they think you’ve gone home.

6i Thank the staff before you leave the store. And the next day, always send a thank-you e-mail to the store manager. Although he or she already knows the book tallies, I include an itemization of books signed.

6j: And last but not least, have something on your signing table that might attract customers. For example, I have recently added a bowl of good chocolates.

That’s pretty much it. The tips that I’ve learned over the years have helped me be a better representative for my books and for the store. Please write if you have questions, and feel free to share this blog.


  • Ed says:

    Paul, You give your patrons the royal treatment. I especially like the way you follow up after the sale. The little things you do would pull me to chat and buy. Good job!!!

  • Sharon Toston says:

    I bought “How much do
    You love me” 12/17/22 and finished it a few days later. I didn’t really know what Historical Fiction was until it was explained to me by the Author. I finished the book in about a week and thoroughly every chapter. As I write this review it is 1/17/23 and I am almost done with my 2nd reading (I enjoy reading and am so much more engaged in the story when I know what happens next) . I have enjoyed my 2nd reading as much as I did the 1st. This book is not only a page turner but a must read for anyone interested in this regrettable part of U.S. history.


Ode to the Coronavirus, Part 2

Into year two, the coronavirus continues its uninvited debut.
We’d thought this ballyhoo would long since be through.
Glasses held high, we’d toast good riddance to this bugaboo.
A vaccine would be our savior; we’d celebrate our derring-do.

But as summer rolled into fall of ‘21—my how the time flew!
adolescent deaths began to accrue; there’d been a switcheroo!
But wait! Why is this so? Did we misconstrue what we knew?
Did Dr. Fauci not argue that the COVID flu would soon shoo?

Here is what happened, from my personal point of view, for you.
Reasons were two: one from science grew, another just shy of voodoo.
So true: A genetic variation of COVID had been playing peekaboo.
More virulent than its nephew, and on cue, this new flu wanted its due.

Soon, variant “D” began its coup, society askew, hospitals in need of rescue.
Dr. Fauci preached calm: D would meet its Waterloo and rue its debut.
Three vaccines arrived thereto, their makers touting their breakthrough:
Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J too, had a rendezvous; variant D they’d subdue.

The devil’s in the brew, and so it’s true; a rogue view came into the slew.
It’s true—I kid not you—some came to eschew the miracle creation so new.
They’d refuse their injections long overdue, no matter the positive review.
“Why do you argue, why do you pooh pooh?” asked journalists anew.

Reasons—often absurd and nearly all untrue—filled their misguided spew.
The unvaccinated naysayers held to their view, no matter their miscue.
“If I want to risk my life, what’s it to you? Isn’t that my choice? Screw You!”
Recognizing the deja vu of a contagious, deadly flu, to them seemed taboo.

So what do we do? Does the greater good not outweigh our personal view?
A solution is beyond this purview, but perhaps religion can offer a preview.
Might those in charge of the hereafter offer a clue to those in the queue?
“What do you think Jesus, Mohammed, or the Buddha would do?” Et tu?



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Memories of—and Lessons Learned from—my Mother, Ottilie Tag

My mother, Ottilie Tag, known to her friends as Tillie, died of natural causes not related to COVID this past Monday, the 28th of December 2020. She had turned 97 the previous day. I’d like to tell you first about the family Mom came from. By knowing her upbringing, you’ll know more about Tillie, the… View Article

The Harsh Reality of Snagging a Literary Agent in the Year 2020

  I am writing this blog to summarize my recent experience trying to find a literary agent to market my latest thriller, Retribution Times Two. To provide perspective, I offer some background. After a career as a research scientist for the Navy, I changed professions, pursuing my dream of writing fiction. Initially, I spent five years… View Article

Stories From My Life, #14: How the pop star Tony Orlando played a part in snagging my wife, Becky

  I met Becky in early 1983. I was thirty-seven years old at the time, and my parents were convinced that I would never marry. As the months passed, I realized that my chances of ever again finding another female as beautiful and smart as she were tiny indeed. Add to that the fact that… View Article

Stories from My Life, #13: A Tribute to my Stepbrother, Bud Lancaster

We remember things differently, you and I. What stands out to one person from the distant past means nothing to another. This is often true for siblings. And so it happens that one will say to the other, “Don’t you remember when Dad did this or Dad did that?” “No,” the other says. “But surely… View Article

Ode to the Coronavirus, Part 1

    They call it coronavirus, a genetic aberration, a mutation damnation, an intimidation plaguing the world’s civilization. How long will this devastation affect each nation, halting transportation, mandating segregation and stay-at-home habitation?   It came from the East, its birthplace origination, a gestation foundation seeking personal validation and world domination. It spread in every direction,… View Article

Stories from My Life, #12: My Uncle Gus, Killed in North Africa in 1943

Every year when Veteran’s Day rolls around, I think of my Uncle Gus Kern, who died in World War II. Over the years, the details that I heard were minimal: that he was killed in Tunisia, in North Africa, somehow involving military tanks. Also, that he was awarded a Silver Star medal for bravery. On… View Article

Rebecca’s High School Reunion: Reflections from a Spouse

My wife—AKA Becky—went to her high school reunion: rah-rah! to which she invited me, avoiding hints of complicity. (ha ha) To Kansas City on Southwest Airlines, via Las Vegas on the way, we eventually arrived in Emporia, Kansas, all on the same day. I learned that Becky’s school was not of the ordinary, but a… View Article