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Signing Hell

Anyone who has ever done a signing, whether a NYT bestselling author or self-published, has signing horror stories.  You know how that video goes, Signing at the Waldenbooks.  And there is just something about a person sitting at a table surrounded by a bunch of unsold books that screams "TARGET" to passers-by.

Once, when I was sitting at a signing, a man came by and told me that he wanted me to see his illustrations. I tried to politely tell him that I was a YA author, that I didn't write children's books, but he didn't listen. These were some really HORRIBLE illustrations, like stick figures and things. When he finally found out that I was a YA author, he looked at me, disgusted, and then pocketed a bunch of the mints on the table and disappeared.

Yes, if there is any food at your table, many people will approach you as if you're giving away food and ignore the real reason you are there.  "OOOH cupcakes!  Can I have one?" they will ask, oblivious to the big stack of books nearby and the fact that you did not even bake the cupcakes.  Then they will compliment you on how good the cupcakes are.  You will try to shove a bookmark for your book in their face but they will use it is a napkin.

Then, of course, there will be people who flag you down to talk about the books they've written, or thought about writing, or whatnot. They will ask to collaborate. They will ask if you or your editor/publisher/agent has nothing better to do, could they take a look? You will want to run screaming away. BUT YOU WILL BE UNABLE TO.

Then you will get the people who will mow you down to get to the TWILIGHT display.  Or the SHIVER display, or what-have-you. When you explain that your book is kind of similar, they will say, "OMG DO YOU KNOW STEPHANIE MEYER?"  or "OMG DO YOU KNOW MAGGIE?"  The answer to this, though, should always be NO.  If you say, "Why yes, I sort of do know Maggie a little," they will ask you what her favorite color is and if you can get her to sign her book for them.  Then they will bound over to the cash register with a pile of Twilight or Shiver action figures and band-aids and pillowcases and what-have-you, leaving you alone to cry into your pile of really-good-but-not-made-by-you cupcakes.

Then, after your signing where you sold one book (but still managed to unload 15 trays of cupcakes), the bookstore manager will come up to you, embarrassed for you but even more upset that she wasted her time baking cupcakes and setting out a nice display for you, and say, "I hope you'll come sign with us again when your next book releases," which is manager-speak for "Go away, far away, and never come back."

Really, lonely signings, it turns out, are not just for "the little people".  Megan McCafferty told me that when she became a bestselling author, she went to a signing and NOBODY else was there.  This made me feel better after the time I drove two hours each way to get to a signing and sold ONE book.  Okay, I could have spent the time writing my next book, yes, but still, it's one book I wouldn't have sold otherwise, right?  And maybe that crazy person who used my bookmark as a napkin knows someone who knows someone who is looking for a speaker for their upcoming event, or owns a film studio, or whatever. You just never know... 

So, do you have a signing horror story?  Or an appearance that didn't seem worthwhile at first but ended up being really good for your career?


( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 11th, 2010 05:51 pm (UTC)
I haven't got any yet, but I've a feeling there are more than a few in my future :)
Aug. 11th, 2010 06:12 pm (UTC)
I am sure you will have some interesting ones to tell very soon!!
(no subject) - jongibbs - Aug. 11th, 2010 06:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cyn2write - Aug. 11th, 2010 06:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Aug. 11th, 2010 06:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cyn2write - Aug. 11th, 2010 11:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Aug. 12th, 2010 10:22 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cyn2write - Aug. 12th, 2010 12:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Aug. 12th, 2010 06:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cyn2write - Aug. 12th, 2010 02:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Aug. 12th, 2010 06:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cyn2write - Aug. 13th, 2010 02:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 11th, 2010 06:37 pm (UTC)

Oh my. I'm sorry to be laughing at your pain....let's just say I'm laughing WITH you...

You ARE laughing right? Well, it's better than crying! And, no I don't have any stories to share. Need to publish a book first...need to finish a book first. :)

Sure enjoyed your stories though!
Aug. 11th, 2010 08:13 pm (UTC)
I am definitely laughing; I figure it's a badge of honor to have the guts to submit yourself to that kind of humiliation. And I bet you will soon be there, too, and can share your stories with me!
Aug. 11th, 2010 08:00 pm (UTC)
Ack! So sorry. But it is kind of hilarious the way you describe it and I hope you are laughing too. Especially using the bookmark for a napkin, lol. I dread sitting behind a table like this- group events definitely sound better to me!
Good luck- I'll bet you have plenty of crowded signings in the future to balance this out :)
Aug. 11th, 2010 08:11 pm (UTC)
Oh, yeah, it's totally hilarious. It's so great getting with a bunch of writers and trading signing horror stories. We all dread it, but we all experience it. And you just have to laugh at it! So if it ever happens to you, don't feel bad. Though I bet your signings will be just great!
Aug. 12th, 2010 07:26 am (UTC)
I must say, or I must confess that after reading this, I rather craft my stories and keep them to myself. You are so courageous, I don't know if I can do it.
I've never heard of this side of "published author doom", and I am so thankful that you shared it. Usually all I come across are the successful and packed signings and stuff.
Is there a way to prevent a experience like that?
Aug. 12th, 2010 12:41 pm (UTC)
Re: :(
It's extremely common. I think writers understand that and so they try to support one another as much as possible. I try to go to as many signings as I can.

But don't stop writing just because of this! You don't really have to do signings in order to be successful. It's really only if you're comfortable doing it and can stand being left alone at the front of the store while people use your bookmarks for napkins :)
Re: :( - akossket - Aug. 12th, 2010 01:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 12th, 2010 12:19 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry. Though I think every author who does events can relate. I can.

I walked into a BN a couple years ago, laden down with my speaking materials, because they'd asked me to do a program.

The manager took one look at me and screamed, "OMG! Your event is TODAY?!"

Needless to say, it wasn't well attended! The only people who came were the people who were persuaded by the obviously panicked intercom announcements that there was a program in the children's dept. She didn't say "Dear God, Please COME!" but that was the tone. :-)

There's a funny book (Mortification) that came out several years ago where authors tell their worst book event stories. Here's a little excerpt from Margaret Atwood. http://www.mediabistro.com/articles/cache/a1601.asp

I bought a copy very inexpensively and it helps keep it all in perspective. :-)
Aug. 12th, 2010 12:58 pm (UTC)
Oh boy, they forgot your event?! Now I've heard everything!

And "some mortification, after all, is self-inflicted". I think a lot of it is. I am sure we don't look nearly as stupid sitting alone in the front of the store as we think we do. At least, I hope :)
Aug. 13th, 2010 07:34 pm (UTC)
Oh,this was very funny! (and I think you're pretty brave.)

Here from Jon's livejournal.
Aug. 13th, 2010 07:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much! I think to be a writer (and withstand signings and horrible reviews and even just having people you don't know read your work), you have to be brave!
Aug. 13th, 2010 08:35 pm (UTC)
Coming from the other side of the coin, what approach would be preferred? I can't imagine the types of people who steal all the cupcakes and try to hawk their wares. But there's been times I walked into a bookstore and see the table set up, the piles of books & the smiling author. And I want to smile back & be supportive, maybe chat with them - especially if they are alone or appear bored. But then I see the posters and realize it's nothing I would ever be remotely interested in or remember I'm broke and can only afford the specific purchase I had in mind. My first instinct is to dash past as quickly as possible, eyes averted so as to not raise their hopes only to send them dashing when I waltz off without their novel in hand. But I don't want to be rude so then I'm torn & end up wobbling a sympathetic smile while sidling past and then making a break for it.
Aug. 13th, 2010 08:54 pm (UTC)
Whenever I am at a bookstore and someone is giving a signing but I can tell it's not a book I'm interested in, if they are alone, I will go and chat to them anyway. Talk about writing, ask how they got published, stuff like that. Take a bookmark. Of course, if someone came by who really was interested, I politely excused myself.

A lot of people have come up and chatted to me, congratulated me for getting published, but told me honestly the book wasn't their "thing" and then wished me good luck and moved on. I loved that. It passed the time and maybe one day they'll be talking to someone who is my target audience and remember that they met me, then tell them about me and my book! Who knows?
Aug. 13th, 2010 08:52 pm (UTC)
Been there. Done that. Hate that! It's nice that all authors can commiserate though. Thankfully, all my book launch events so far have been really well attended (5 so far, more to come) BUT I sent out tons of invitations, snail mail, and online. Plus made tons of food. It's expensive and time-consuming even if you sell 15 - 20 books. ;-)
Aug. 13th, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
Hmmm I should probably prepare more for my events like you do! I usually just post it on my blog and then bring only myself. Bookstores must LOVE you!
(no subject) - kimberleylittle - Aug. 13th, 2010 08:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cyn2write - Aug. 13th, 2010 09:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 14th, 2010 09:22 pm (UTC)
This was pretty funny. Two things-

1) I remember way back in a readergirlz chat that Ann Brashares signed in a Costco and it was after the Sisterhood movie had come out and everything. No one came to her signing. She was there for two hours and no one bought a book. So it happens to everyone!

2) What you need is a blogger or friend around to help pass the time. It's funny you mention Maggie in your post because in March 2009 before Shiver came out, she was signing her debut Lament in Alexandria, and I spent the entire time with her (well, once I located her; I spent like 15 minutes all over the store looking for her, but she was hidden away near the cafe behind a bookcase). Hardly anyone came by (most likely due to the horrible positioning she had), and the time went by REALLY fast and Maggie accidentally stayed past her end time because we were having fun. She also played her harp a bit in between people; that's another thing- bring an instrument to draw people in, lol.

So excited to meet you at PAYA next weekend!!!! :D
Aug. 14th, 2010 11:12 pm (UTC)
I can't wait to meet you, too! I just had another really lame signing today, but you are so right... it was made so much better because I was talking to a bunch of other authors!
( 31 comments — Leave a comment )