Absence of Writer’s Cramp, or Why I Hate Book Signings

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?


8 thoughts on “Absence of Writer’s Cramp, or Why I Hate Book Signings

  1. I don’t like signings at all. If you want my book, great, I’m thrilled & humbled to write a dedication. One of the worst signings I went to was not my own but in Dallas RWA literacy signing. This poor woman was sitting alone in the room full of mulitpublished authors. No one was even speaking to her, but I bought her book. Never read it, but now that I’m on that side of the table, I’m so glad I did.

    #4–I so know where you’re coming from. It wasn’t pretty being burnt orange in a sea of crimson & cream. :-0

  2. Awesome, Lisa! Hope you enjoy the goodies!
    My race cars are always some shade of orange & for my second fav school, I added the black. Halloween orange is OK by me, too. My birthday is two days shy of Halloween. Guess that was the first trick I played on dear ol’ mom. 🙂

  3. Nope. Lisa, you don’t have to share any goodies. Them’s all yours. 🙂

    Meg, you’re one of my two favorite Halloween “monsters.” 😉

  4. Marilyn,

    This made me laugh and laugh!! I had a HS teacher who did her Master’s in Kansas… I’m not sure what school, but I remember her saying, “If you ever have only 6 months to live, go to Emporia, Kansas, it will feel like a lifetime.”

    I worked in a bookstore for 2 years. The community relations manager was BIG on the booksignings and did them for any author willing to come to the store. Some were HUGE, some were busts. And there was no freakin’ rhyme or reason to it. At least in that instance, you had a football game to blame it on. We always did handouts and a lot of advertising. But sometimes, there just wasn’t enough traffic in the store to make the signing successful.

    I’m convinced that the secret to a successful signing is free food…. Now that I think about it–that might be the answer to a successful life. spw

  5. LOL, Sandee. Reminds me of the John Denver song: “You ask how I know of Toledo, Ohio. Well, I spent a week there one day.”

    I know book signings are always a crapshoot. I’ve seen ’em line up out the door in Tulsa for Nora Roberts, and I’ve also seen only a handful of people show up for her the entire evening. The Parker signing I mentioned earlier, there probably weren’t twenty people who came by. For Robert B. Parker, for God’s sake. For Spenser’s creator!!

    Free food . . . hmm. If I ever get my caterer story written and sold, maybe I can lure people in with some of Bella’s tantalizing food. 😉

  6. My first signing was great. But then I knew came…family, friends, and my entire writing group. We had flowers, cookies, punch, and I sold 57 books! Even my kids came.
    But I did one in McAlester… When I got there, they had a sign outside announcing that author Jackie Beelowicz would be signing today. For those of you who don’t know, that used to be my real name and they spelled the last one wrong. The name on the book was Amanda Kramer. Then, though the book had been out five weeks, they hadn’t put ANY on the shelves, but save them for the signing. Unfortunately, nobody came (except Gloria Harchar who came for moral support), so we didn’t make any sales. Instead, I’ll bet all those books went back to Silhouette.
    The cookie were good though.

  7. When the signings are good, they’re very good, and when they’re bad, they blow, don’t they, Jackie?

    I’d rather stay home and spend that time writing, and I think most of my readers would agree. They’d much rather have another book than meet me. 🙂

  8. One day I hope to have a book to worry about whether to do signings or not. But I am a shy person, so I’m pretty sure I would have to psych myself up to do one.

    Claude Mary

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