It’s an ugly part of the writing biz. People stare at you while keeping their distance. They sometimes approach you, noses wrinkled as if they can hardly bear the smell, then dismiss you as unworthy. Sometimes they insult you to your face, and you sit there and smile politely while muttering curses under your breath.
I’m talking about book signings. Some authors, I’m told, actually enjoy them. They usually fall into one of two categories: they’re either newly published and haven’t yet experienced the worst book signings have to offer, or they’re best-sellers who have people lined up out the door.
My first book signings took place at national conferences for Romance Writers of America, where the books were freebies. No-shows were no problems; everyone loves freebies. My first paying-customer signing was at a Romantic Times convention. I sold nearly a hundred books in a few hours and thought this was too cool! I couldn’t wait to do it again.
So I did. It was much smaller than RT’s convention signing, with far fewer authors taking part, and far, far fewer sales. But it still wasn’t too bad. After that, I did a few signings at my hometown book store, and those were great. (Anyone I’m not related to, my mom knows or my husband has arrested, and people have a tendency to not hold their arrests against him.) Then one day the publicist at my then-publisher called. They wanted me to do a signing in Kansas, at their expense.
You betcha, I said. She gave me the date and time, along with the store info. It was set for a fall Saturday afternoon. DH and I would drive up to the town in Kansas – don’t recall the name now, but it’s the home of Kansas State University – and we’d spend the night, then do the signing and return home. A nice little weekend getaway, right?
I knew something was wrong when DH started trying to make hotel reservations. There was nothing in town. Nothing anywhere within sixty miles of the town. “There’s a football game that weekend,” he told me when he finally found a room an hour away.
A football game. Huh. I’m not a fan, but I remembered how everything in Stillwater came to a stop on OSU’s home game days. My stomach started to hurt.
The weekend came. We got up that Saturday morning in our distant motel and drove into town, where traffic was heavy and restaurants were crowded and everyone was sporting school colors. The ache rose into my chest.
The bookstore was one of the few places in town that wasn’t busy. A table was set up inside the main entrance, stacked with piles of my book. “Sorry about the timing,” the slightly-anxious manager said as he got me settled.
“Timing?” I echoed through gritted teeth.
“Well, yeah. Kansas State is playing Kansas today just a couple miles away. In fact, kickoff is in five minutes.”
Oh, great. KState is not just playing; they’re playing Kansas.
In two hours, I told three people where the bathroom was, directed two people to the music section and sold two books – one to the manager, one to the assistant manager.
That’s when I started hating book signings. I’m not an outgoing person, I’m not a sales person, and I find it really hard to sell myself. I’d rather stay home and scrub toilets than do a signing these days. Maybe that’s why I’ve convinced myself that signings aren’t really great sales tools, even though I know they can make a difference. Just not always a good one.
I went to a signing once with an NYT author who was snippy and rude (then went back to her hotel and whined online about being stuck in Oklahoma for the night). Soon after, NYT author Robert B. Parker did a signing in Tulsa, and he couldn’t have been nicer. I still buy his books. I don’t buy hers.
How do book signings rate for you? Better than cleaning a toilet, worse than a root canal, or do you actually enjoy them?