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Virtual Book Signings: How to be there virtually, or be square.

Imagine attending a busy high tech conference in California, thousands of miles from your home, then breaking for lunch in your own kitchen. Later that day, you meet fans at a New York City bookstore, on the opposite side of the country, to sign copies of your latest book. Minutes after the signing, you retire to the comfort of your own bed... after all, you have make an appearance in London in a few hours. No, you haven't discovered teleportation, you are travelling via video-conference!

With devices like Apple’s iSight and iChatAV software, a Space/Time itinerary like the above is possible. The technology is readily available, easy to configure, and a lot less expensive than airfare and accommodations.

With this article, we're aiming to turn you from a jet-setter into a Net-setter, but it's not so much a how-to as a what-we-do. By explaining how we use simple AV set-ups in our careers as authors, for what we call “virtual book signings”, we hope to spark up some ideas about how video-conferencing can enhance your own life, either for pleasure, or for making your business a pleasure. We'll be focusing on the iSight and iChatAV, but this information could also be applied to almost any other web camera, video cameras, and video conferencing software.

So step up on the transporter and prepare to energize!

A Virtual What?
Now you may be asking yourself what the heck is a “virtual book signing”? Don't worry, it's not some kind of pantomime performance art that we captivate our imaginary friends with. Instead, it is an online event where fans can have their Best of the Joy of Tech books signed and customized by us, in cases where we cannot make it physically to the fans.

Snaggy and Nitrozac
Snaggy signs a Joy of Tech book, while Nitrozac chats online with the happy new JoT book owner.

It works like a traditional author signing, held at a bookstore or at a conference, only instead of interacting with the folks in person, we are thousands of miles away at our home in Canada. We meet them virtually, either via webcam, over IRC, or via iChatAV's two-way video communications. After exchanging smiles and laughs, and asking what they would like us to sign in their book, we autograph a digital file using a Wacom pen and tablet. This customized signature file is then delivered to them immediately via iChat or by email, where it can then be printed out on label paper and stuck in their book.

book signing fileAn example of one of our digital signature files. (We bet you didn't realize there would be go-go girls and aliens at a geek convention.)

In cases where people have purchased a book via our webstore, we sign a book located at our end of the connection. They can then watch as we sign it, and afterwards, we hold it up to the camera for them to see. A week or so later their book will arrive in the mail for them to enjoy.

So for us, living as we do in the wilds of west coast British Columbia, it is a fantastic way to meet with fans and colleagues, and to make personal connections that we would otherwise be unable to. For the fans, it is a fun way to have their books signed and personally inscripted. Their book becomes a memento of a pleasantly geeky experience that they can share at the water cooler, on their blog, or in their favorite forums.

Now if you're a creative type, you may already be thinking how this technology could be applied to other situations and events, both for the chance to connect with friends and family around the world, or perhaps for use in your own business.

For instance, you may know someone who is in the hospital and needs cheering up, but you can't visit as often as you'd like, or you live on the other side of the country. A simple webcam feed of you or their favorite view might be just the ticket to them feeling better. Or, you may be holding a wedding, and see an AV broadcast as an opportunity to share the celebration with more people than you could traditionally. Perhaps even use it as a way to keep those long lost relatives from showing up in person!

Another example. You may be nervous leaving your child for the first time back home with the babysitter. No problem, set up a webcam or a couple of iChat accounts, then just log in from the office or Internet cafe and check that everything is OK.

And remember, you don't always have to broadcast live video from a camera, you can just as easily transmit previously recorded material. By feeding the signal from your camcorder or VCR to your webcam software, you'll suddenly be broadcasting your child's birthday party to the grandparents that couldn't make it. Of course, keep this in mind when viewing your babysitter cam... your babysitter may be playing a game of Spy VS Spy with you.

Joy of tech comic
When Geeks Go Bad: using the technology for slacking.

The Virtual Benefits.
Although there is nothing like actually being there, attending an event virtually does have its advantages. For authors who reside in far off distant lands like Canada, Australia, or Brooklyn, it gives them a chance to share in a bit of the excitement of a conference, without actually having to go to it. This means saving the costs of transportation and accommodation, and since you can travel virtually from your home or office with all the associated comforts and familiar surroundings, it also tends to be a lot less stressful than an actual trip. (Of course, that depends on how your home or office life is doing. You may want to get away! )

Travelling virtually is also a perfect solution for your typical agoraphobic and anxiety-filled author. No more fear of flying, lost luggage, hotels from hell, the crush of crazed and rabid fans, or that dread of visiting Buffalo in the winter. For those who lean towards catastrophic thoughts, it is re-assuring to know that, to date, there hasn't been one recorded case of a virtual traveller suffering physical injuries from an iChatAV crash. Egos may have been bruised, and some may be suffering post-tramatic kernel-panic stress perhaps, but all in all, the safety record is spotless.

It's also a chance to be an innovator, someone who uses new technologies in fresh ways. You will always have those bleeding-edge risks, but it's far more likely you'll wind up with a fun event, meet some happy family, friends, or fans you otherwise wouldn't have been able to see, ... perhaps even create something that is newsworthy in itself.

And best of all, people love it. The virtual experience is a really fun thing to participate in. We find most folks are enthralled with the technology and think it's “so cool”. Everyone who we've talked to during one of our virtual book signings has had huge smiles on their faces and clearly enjoyed the experience as much as we have. (in fact, since most of these folks are pretty geeky, we suspect that they are more enthralled by the technology in front of them than by their favorite authors.)

On to Part 2!

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