Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dreams and Nightmares of Book Signings

I think that most writers dream of having that line-around-the-corner type book signing as a show of fan support, book sales, and to be made to feel celebrity like special. At least for one signing on one particular day in the life and times of a writer.

Of course, most of us realize that scenario is often easier said than done. Unless you are fairly well known, have a publisher willing to devote the resources and effort to promote the book, can gain enough local interest through your own efforts, and other intangibles, having a standing room only gathering or otherwise group of fans who will allow you to empty the table by signing books for paying customers is difficult at best and nearly impossible at worst.

This notwithstanding, I have been on both ends of the book signing journey and believe that it is always worth pursuing at the end of the day, if book signing constitutes part of your criteria for having "made it" as an author.

On the dream side, I have had a few book signings in which due to a combination of my own labors and serious publisher involvement, have been enormously successful in terms of creating a buzz and signing every available copy and then some.

In one such, example, it occurred at a bookstore inside a flea market. The signing happened to be on a Saturday afternoon when the market was packed with bargain hunters. It was a two hour reading and signing event and was announced over the PA system every fifteen minutes or so. The result was that I ending up signing 150 books (or three cases of books), with enough time to spare that the bookstore owner actually went to a nearby chain bookstore and bought up another 50 books they had on hand (they were happy to cooperate and replaced their stock by ordering an even larger amount for their store). I signed that extra 50 books as well and headed back home (another state) grinning from ear to ear and wondering how I could package that success for other signings.

Alas, signings vary from bookstore to bookstore and sometimes no amount of preparation, publicity, or celebrity status can keep a book signing from being decidedly a flop. I have been at some major bookstores (both publisher sponsored and through my own initiative) and, in signing only a comparatively few copies of book, been little more than a mannequin for patrons passing me by. In some instances, customers will go in the opposite direction or avoid eye contact to keep from being solicited for signing by me or a desperate store representative trying to unload books the bookstore has no desire to keep.

In some (make that most) cases, timing is everything. There are instances where the bookstore only has an opening (or willingness to allow signing) at a time or day where not a lot of traffic is likely to be generated, all but guaranteeing that the turnout will be weak and book sales/signings far less than ideal.

Other times, the lack of bookstore preparation can doom a book signing from the start. In one classic example, I arrived at a chain bookstore signing and after announcing myself to the store manager, she did some checking and realized apologetically that the assistant manager had mistakenly had signing for two days later (at which point I was to be in another state for another signing). There were no posters up (as has been the case for some of my signings) and no author info in the store newsletter for either day.

The manager hastily hand wrote a sign to put in window, pulled out a table near front door and stacked books on, and we went with it. I managed to sign maybe fifteen books for actual customers and another twenty-five for the bookstore. The rest (about sixty or so) were returned to publisher.

Anyway, in conclusion, book signings are always a good thing for a writer's ego, even if some signings fail to live up to their potential. Going into them without overly high expectations and taking it all in stride whether a good or bad experience and go a long ways in keeping things in a proper perspective. The most important thing in being a writer is to write the best you can, which is within your control. Book signings, on the other hand, can often be a hit or miss, but always interesting and a testament to your ability to at least put yourself on the book signing map right alongside bestselling authors and others whose signature on a book can do much to brighten someone's day!

What are your thoughts on book signings in general? Share some of your good or bad signing experiences as an author.

As a reader, do you enjoy going to book signings? Or would you rather have an author mail you a signed copy of book?


Charles Gramlich said...

I've had a couple that were pretty well attended, and a few that had barely a few people there. But I've learned something each time and enjoyed the experience.

Phyllis Bourne said...

I've had some signings where I've sold out of books and others where I didn't sell a one.

As a reader, I don't like anyone - even the author - to write in my books. I'll buy my author friends at signings to be supportive. LOL! Then discreetly tell them, "Don't scribble-scrabble your name in my book!"

Devon Vaughn Archer said...

I remember as a college student when an alumni novelist came to campus to sign books. I was in awe of in what seemed like a dream life and happily purchased a copy of her novel and had signed.

Unfortunately the book got lost in the shuffle over the course of years and many moves since then. But I still enjoy the memories of youth in getting that first autographed copy of a book.

I still think about that when I return to my alma mater to do a book signing in hopes of inspiring other young writers to put forth their best efforts to carry on the tradition.

Ty said...

As a reader, my feelings over signings have changed over the years. I used to love them. Nowadays, I find them mostly boring.

I blame it on the Internet. See, it used to be that meeting an author was kind of a big deal, sometimes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But now many authors are blogging and chatting online, so you can talk to them anytime.

Now when I go to a signing, I usually already know everything there is to know. I've heard all the author's jokes, their latest news, etc. Sure, I'll shake hands and get my book signed, but it doesn't quite have the magic it used to. Still, it's nice to meet people or to meet them again.

Could be that as a writer myself, maybe I'm a little too familiar with some of the workings of the business.

Farrah Rochon said...

I blame it on the Internet. See, it used to be that meeting an author was kind of a big deal, sometimes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But now many authors are blogging and chatting online, so you can talk to them anytime.

Ty, I totally agree. The internet has lifted the mystique that used to surround authors. Readers now have instant access (maybe even too much access) to authors. And I believe with the popularity of eBooks, book signings are about to go the way of the dinosaur.

With three book signings scheduled this week, I can't say I'll be sorry to hear when those torturous events gasp their last breath. I love chatting with readers online, but absolutely hate book signings. They are so uncomfortable to me.

Devon Vaughn Archer said...

Ty and Farrah, you make good points. Book signings are certainly not what they used to be in terms of author stature and that "big event" type atmosphere.

I am sure that author accessibility via the digital world plays a big role in that--including the Internet, cable TV, cell phones, and such with author-reader communicating more diverse and possible than ever before--having the effect of lessening the book signing experience.

Good thing that for most writers it is the joy of writing itself for readers that really gets us up in the morning.