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Get to Know Your Favorite Authors

Susan Wiggs | WORST BOOKSIGNING EVER

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When you first sell a book, did you dream about going on tour? Did you imagine yourself putting on grown-up clothes, lipstick and new shoes to sally forth to meet your adoring public? Maybe you pictured yourself with a slick-looking Moonsus business tote slung jauntily over your shoulder, dashing from one bookstore to the next, leaving a trail of avid readers in your wake.

Then one day-be careful what you wish for-you find yourself on a book tour. You’re going to bookstores and big-box stores, doing signing after signing. And grim reality sets in-the inhuman hour you have to get up to get to the airport in time for your flight. The soul-sucking lines and security measures at the airport. The dearth of media coverage, forcing you to confront the reality that no, the publication of a novel about a woman’s emotional journey to self-actualization is not exactly the news hook the papers have been looking for. Then there are the events themselves-the frighteningly empty seats at the readings, the painful absence of book-buying fans. The oh-shit expression on the bookseller’s face when she realizes no one is coming to buy a book. You’re asked where the bathrooms are, where the Twilight books are, and would you mind holding this 16-foot boa constrictor?* By the end of the first leg of the tour, you’ve cycled through the stages of grief-denial, anger, bargaining and bleak resignation.

Really? What about that time you went to a booksigning where you had to take a number and wait your turn?

It’s true, there are definitely writers who not only wrote terrific books, they signed and PR-ed their way to success, doggedly schlepping from one event to the next, winning hearts reader by reader.

Some writers are born stars. Their personal charisma, intense reader-character bond and huge sales tend to draw impressive crowds. Their events are a cross between a tent revival and a rock concert. Readers stand in line for hours to meet them and get their autograph. Twenty-something years ago, I saw a line of Anne Rice fans in Houston wrap around an entire city block for the chance to meet her, and believe me, these were not the kind of fans you want to disappoint. These fans had fangs. Seriously-you do not want to mess with fans like that. Anne stayed in her seat for hours, making sure each and every one of them got a signed book. (Note to self: Don’t send a single reader home disappointed.)

The incomparable LaVyrle Spencer once told a group of us that, early on in her career, she devised her own do-it-yourself book tour, staying with friends and fellow writers in towns across the heartland. And how about Nora Roberts-readers at a group signing in Harpers Ferry were given time slots on their tickets to avoid a massive crush. I once made a trek into the city to "rescue" Diana Gabaldon from obscurity when I saw that she was signing at a store not known for big turnouts. I needn’t have worried. There wasn’t a seat left in the house. Janet Evanovich had an event in a casino, thrilling fans numbering in the thousands. Debbie Macomber’s fans, God love ’em, come to her signings like pilgrims to Lourdes, hugging their beloved novels to their chests. Jodi Picoult toured faithfully for each book-that’s how I ended up meeting her in person-and built her readership with steady determination. Now a Picoult booksigning is SRO, and some even have to charge admission, she’s so popular. Catherine Coulter is a one-woman party, and her readers know it. Rick Bragg and Sherman AlexieM can fill an auditorium.

Then there are the rest of us.

We are booksigning poison-Authors whose books might well be enormously popular with readers, but whose booksignings resemble the aftermath of a nuclear winter. Our readers tend to stay away in droves. Once while on tour, when one lone reader approached me to buy a book, I recall texting my husband: "I’m being stampeded to death by my legions of fan."

Here’s the truth-my readers don’t necessarily want to meet me. Does that bother me? Hurt my feelings? Hell, no. They want to buy and read my books, and bless them for doing so. This is as it should be. Just the reader and the story, with no pesky author getting in the way. I’m a writer. I should stay home and write my next book. That’s what readers want. Not a signature on the title page, but the story that comes after.

There’s a story-possibly apocryphal but I like to think it’s true-of a mega-bestselling author who found herself at a drugstore signing, sitting at a table laden with her latest novel...and not a single customer stopped to buy a book. So the author asked the store manager what he paid for the books. She wrote him a check for that amount, signed all the books, then proceeded to give them away to startled shoppers. How smart is that? The author got credit for the sale, and for a few hundred bucks, spared herself the humiliation of a failed signing. And I’m betting she won some new readers by giving them a book.

A book tour’s not so bad, you might tell your mom on her nightly phone call. At least I’m seeing the country, staying in classy hotels, meeting new people. And it’s not really killing my writing schedule, is it? Some writers honestly do write while on the road. They carve out a little portion of their busy day to write a scene or revise something. In my dreams, I do this. In reality, I explore the neighborhood and hotel amenities, check out the minibar, go to the fitness center, flip through the TV offerings and check my e-mail.

So why book tours? Some people in PR will tell you it’s a necessary component of the campaign. If you want publicity in the media, you have to stage an event so there’s something to write about. In that sense, a booksigning is not about selling a book. It’s about the media coverage of the scheduled event. Unfortunately, this blast of media doesn’t always include a front-page spot (with photo and book jacket) of the entertainment section of a major newspaper, review coverage, appearances on afternoon TV and call-in radio. More often, media coverage is often a half-inch blurb in the "What’s Happening"section: "Author Flair MacKenzie reads from her new novel at 7:30 at Timewise Bookstore."

*And all right, if you’ve read this far, you get to see a shot of the Worst. Signing. Ever. Here it is, at a military base where my fellow author was an Army Ranger with a memoir. I didn’t sell a single book, but he was so busy, he made me hold his 16-foot python, Roxanne, while he signed. I was so traumatized by the snake signing that I had to soothe myself by buying this couture dress-and yes, that’s a snake print.

So next time you see an author at a booksigning, do her a huge favor and chat her up a bit. She’ll be so grateful that you’re not asking where the Team Edward t-shirts are that she won’t even expect you to buy a book.

I would love to hear from readers on this topic. What draws you to a booksigning? The promise of drawings and doorprizes? The urge to commune with other readers? The presence of freebies and swag? Do you make a date to attend book events or do you go on impulse? Or are you one of those readers who just likes to stay home and read? (Don’t feel bad-I’m a member of that club.)

***

Susan Wiggs’s new novel is Lakeshore Christmas from Mira Books. You can order a signed copy here: here Her next scheduled appearances can be found here:here She promises all events to be snake-free.

 

 

Comments

17 comments posted.

Re: Susan Wiggs | WORST BOOKSIGNING EVER

Susan Wiggs: Thank you for your article.

Like you, I prefer to stay home and read. But unlike you, I'm terrified of snakes!

Some open questions for FF readers:

What effect has the growth of the Internet had on book signings? Have they become more or less effective as a means of reaching readers?

Do book signings help bestselling writers more than midlist writers, or vice-versa? Or is there no difference in this respect?

Does anyone know of any scientific studies concerning the effectiveness of book signings, in terms of helping to sell both the author and the individual titles? If so, are those results available anywhere on the Web?

Keep up the good work!
(Mary Anne Landers 12:33pm September 25, 2009)

I love, love, love signed books! My problem is, where I live, very few authors ever come! So I do every one of Suzanne Brockmann's virtual signings and I'm super excited when an author will send a signed bookplate to put in a book. I treasure my signed books. Actually, there's not much I like better than a signed book!
(Kelli Jo Calvert 11:06am September 25, 2009)

At my first signing,the bookstore forgot to advertise me. The only person there was the owners mother who always came to hear the Sunday talks but never bought books. Then there was Sam's Club where people wanted to buy my laptop which was running a promo for my book. I competed with Turbo Tax next to me. Ha.
(Suzanne Arruda 11:34am September 25, 2009)

i haven't had the pleasure of attending a book signing of a favorite author. Location is my problem.
For a favorite author I would go it it was withing my larger town radius about 60 miles each way to a larger town.

ps. I don't like snakes either.
(Gigi Hicks 12:29pm September 25, 2009)

Susan, your comments made me laugh. We have very few book signings in Cleveland, Ohio so I'm not sure if I would attend or not, but it would be nice to talk with one of my favorite authors. The personal connection is always nice.
(Rosemary Krejsa 1:53pm September 25, 2009)

I'm about to go to a signing in a couple of weeks. Where I live there isn't usually a lot of chances for authors to visit. I hope that evetually more will come to my small part of the world.
(Paula Abel 3:44pm September 25, 2009)

I love booksignings, and the chance to mee the authors. I hope they don't go away! If you ever come to the DFW area I'd be at your signing.
I'd even rearrange my work schedule

Sandi
(Sandi Shilhanek 4:33pm September 25, 2009)

I've never went to a booksigning. I'm more of a stay-at-home and just let me read type of person. But if one of my favorite authors came to my small town in Ohio then I would make the effort.
(Theresa Buckholtz 5:48pm September 25, 2009)

I've only been to two book signings and I loved them both. I was a little nervous, not knowing what it would be like, but I really enjoyed them both.
I went to a 4 author signing at a Walden Books - the main author was Linnea Sinclair and it was wonderful to meet her and get her latest book. There weren't very many people there, one group of about 4,myself and 1 other person. I was glad I went to support her, and of course I bought a book by the other 3 authors, just so they'd sell some books too.
The other signing was at the RT Convention Bookfair that was held in Orlando this year. That was awesome, with tons of authors to meet and new authors to discover. I'll definitely go to more signings when they are near by.
(Barbara Elness 8:04pm September 25, 2009)

I love to have books that are signed by the author, it's a book I will always keep. If I hear of an author whose books I love were coming to town I would make a point in being there for the author; I have stopped at many booths where authors look a little lost( even a lot) and talked with them and congratulated them on their willingness to put themselves through this trauma. Congratulations to all authors who put themselves out so much for their readers!
(Diane Sadler 8:53pm September 25, 2009)

I tried to get all the books by one author signed. To that end, I drove between 2 and 3 hours to 3 different places. I was pretty lucky that she came to these places close to me while I still had a car--well, I had to rent a car for part of the way for one trip. At that time, there were no prizes--that I was aware of. I must admit I always was a bit on the late side and once drove with radial nerve palsy in my right hand. After that she was never close enough to me again. But it was fun talking to her and her entourage and other fans in person. I was very grateful to her for making this possible for me and other readers.
(Sigrun Schulz 11:22pm September 25, 2009)

I love to go to book signings but there is never any around us and we live in Los Angeles.
I'm looking forward to reading your new book Susan thanks for blogging here today,
Penney
(Penney Wilfort 1:01am September 26, 2009)

Love the dress with the snakes print. we have pet snakes here so we all love them!
Penney
(Penney Wilfort 1:02am September 26, 2009)

I go when I can, to the authors I know, and enjoy! I can only imagine the feelings engendered by holding a snake. Ugh!!
(Anne Harris 8:12am September 26, 2009)

I LOVE books signings. I love meeting authors and getting my books signed. I also really enjoy the interaction with other readers. I live in Germany and although I do have a few bookaholic friends, if it wasn't for the internet, I wouldn't have much of a chance to talk about and share my addiction...hehe!!! I even met my favourite author in Berlin one year, Terry Pratchett, that was great fun!!!
(Valerie Bongards 2:41pm September 26, 2009)

I know how you feel. I'm not a writer, I'm a librarian. I plan activities, prepare snacks, and print handouts. No one shows up. The publicity was fine, but no one shows up.
Even local authors may only attract a few relatives. I do displays at local events and sit forever with few interested in finding out about the library and what it has to offer.
I have gone to signings and wish more would be close by. We are on a trip to Texas and hope to come across a signing or 2 by the many authors there.
(Patricia Barraclough 9:31pm September 27, 2009)

I have read 4 or your books and just received Lakeshore Chrismas. I love your books. We very seldom have book signings in my mid size town. Last one was 1 or so yrs ago but I was working and could not attend. I retired in Dec 08 so going out of town would be very hard on me, so unless they have one here will not go..I have read thousands of books and have given away to "Friends of the Librery" 2 thousand plus. Keep up the great writing.
(Brenda Hill 10:59pm November 8, 2009)

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