Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Hey, Let Me Sign That Book for You

There was a thread on Facebook the other day where authors were sharing their book-signing horror stories, and I decided this was a topic worth broaching on my blog. I'll post this entry on Facebook and Twitter as well so that any authors who care to jump in may do so.

I've done more book signings over the years than I can remember, and frankly, only a few actually do stand out in memory. I've had signings that far exceeded my expectations and others at which the sound of crickets was damn near deafening. Most of them have fallen somewhere in the middle. And though signings are part and parcel of this business, especially when more of your product appears via paper and ink than electronic means, I can't say I've ever been all that fond of them—less because I worry about a lack of attendees than the fact that promoting my work, especially face to face with potential customers, is not my strong suit. Oh yes, I've faced up to this challenge and worked like hell to master it for a long time, but I still don't much like it. Put me in front of my keyboard in my own office, with some mood music playing and a few horrific ideas in my head, and I'll be going straight to town. Ask me to get to work promoting that very thing, and I'm going to start thinking of a whole different kind of horror.

Perhaps oddly, I don't have much problem with public speaking. I certainly do my share of that, whether about writing, geocaching, work-related issues, what have you. That's not so bad. No, it's the act of playing salesman to which I am averse.

But enough of that, I reckon. I do what I've gotta do to the best of my ability. When it comes to actual unpleasant experiences at book signings... well, I might have a couple.

Certainly, the first time no one showed up—I believe that was at a little bookstore in Hertford, NC, in the early 2000s, with a couple of other authors—yeah, that was disconcerting, yet at the same time not altogether frustrating, in that I didn't actually have to try to sell a goddamn thing. The conversation with my fellow authors was enjoyable, at least.

When it comes to more well-attended signings, there are two types of patrons I particularly dislike: 1) those who are simply rude or dismissive, especially in regard to the books' subject matter, and 2) those who never intend to buy a thing but want to chew your ear off about the book they hope to write.

The most memorable example of the first was when Dark Shadows: Dream of the Dark first came out, in 1999. The signing was either in Roanoke, VA, or Winston-Salem, NC, I can't recall for certain. Anyway, I was sitting at my table, happy as the proverbial clam since things had been going well, when this rather brusque gentleman came up, grabbed a copy of the book in his oversized paw, and started thumbing through the pages, taking no care not to bend the book's pages or spine. I quite affably asked him whether he was a fan of Dark Shadows, and his response was, "Shut up, let me just read the cover copy." I was so taken aback, I didn't have any response for him other than, "Yeah, all right." Of course, he didn't buy the book; he just dropped it back on the table and walked off. Being far older and wiser now, in the same situation I'd be more likely to suggest he put my book down and seek out a copy of Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior but thankfully, this sort of offender, in my experience, has been relatively rare.

The second is the more common type. Now, I don't mind shooting the shit with someone who is genuinely interested in writing, but I'm not fond of people who have no interest in my product but will not hesitate to monopolize my time and blithely occupy the space that other, possibly paying customers might wish to occupy. At a couple of my more recent signings, I had just such encounters; at one of them I managed to divest myself of the offender by indicating there were other people trying to get to the table, and in the other case, a fellow writer was kind enough to come and rescue me because the patron was clearly not picking up on the not-necessarily-subtle signals I was sending that, as far as I was concerned, his time, truly, was up.

The flip side of this is that, far more often than not, there are plenty of folks who are kind enough to take an interest in my work and even part with some of their hard-earned cash, only to have me devalue a book with my signature. It's these folks who keep me keeping on, and to whom I offer sincere thank.

Okay, authors—if you'd care to share any your own tales of book-signing terror, you are most welcome, either here, on Twitter, or on Facebook. Sign away!


James Robert Smith said...

Never had a bad experience. Once I didn't sell a single book. That's about as bad as I've seen.

Once I was seated with one of my pals who is a comic book artist who draws shapely, thinly-clad women in his comics. A classic social justice warrior approached the table to criticize him for making women sexual objects. (Sorry, honey, but civilization beat him to it by about 20,000 years.) She was typical of the lot--fat, ugly, and self-important. Neither of us said a thing to her (her fat ass was blocking my table). Both of us had been raised not to be cruel to girls, so we just waited patiently until she ran out of propaganda to blather, whereupon she left.

We laughed.

Anonymous said...

"...those who never intend to buy a thing but want to chew your ear off about the book they hope to write." Yes, yes, yes! This drives me crazy. I agree, a short chat with another writer or wanna-be writer is one thing, but recently I had a local signing, and a fellow came up, glanced at my books, then proceeded to tell me in GREAT detail the fantasy series he was GOING to write, including where he got his ideas. Many, many minutes of this went on as other potential buyers came up, peered around his shoulder (he took up much of the space in front of the table), and then just kept on going. A couple "Well, I wish you success. Have a good afternoon" didn't register and he kept on. It wasn't until I held up my hand, said, "Excuse me," and pulled out my phone and pretended to answer it, that he made a bit of a face and moved on.