Does Anyone Want to Come to My Book Signing? Please!

From The Wall Street Journal:

Years after she started writing her debut novel, Chelsea Banning settled into Pretty Good Books in Ashtabula, Ohio, on a Saturday in early December for her first author signing.

She waited with neatly stacked paperback copies of her book, “Of Crowns and Legends”—which she calls a King Arthur reimagining that takes place 20 years after his death. She had props, including a crown, a little statue of a knight kneeling and holding a pen, and pictures of friends dressed as her characters, in medieval garb.

The 33-year-old librarian in Girard, Ohio, whose real name is Chelsea Vandergrift Podgorny, was optimistic. Friends in the area said they wanted to stop by and have their books signed, and 37 people responded to the Facebook event listing that they would attend.

During her three-hour signing, just two people showed up.

The next morning, Ms. Banning tweeted to her roughly 100 followers that she was “pretty bummed about it…upset, honestly, and a little embarrassed.” She felt a little sheepish after writing the tweet and planned to remove it, she recalls in an interview. She didn’t want the no-shows to feel bad.

Then, Henry Winkler chimed in. Yes, The Fonz himself.

“That is the beginning,” the star wrote, retweeting her post to his one million followers. “Then word gets out and they come!”

She isn’t sure how, but her online confession had gone viral and was ricocheting around the arts and literary world. Thousands were retweeting it, including big-name authors. She had exposed a truth of the publishing business. Lonely events are a rite of passage for authors.

“Join the club,” Margaret Atwood, author of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and many other books, responded. “I did a signing to which Nobody came, except a guy who wanted to buy some Scotch tape and thought I was the help. :)”

Stephen King—the king of horror himself—jumped in, writing, “Dear Chelsea Banning: When you do your next signing, let us know. We’ll let EVERYBODY know.”

In an interview, Mr. Winkler says Ms. Banning’s tweet struck a familiar chord. In 2003, he held an event at a book store promoting the first installment in the Hank Zipzer children’s book series he wrote with Lin Oliver. It was billed as a reading and a chance to meet Henry Winkler. Six people came. “It doesn’t get easier,” Mr. Winkler says.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Díaz says one person, a friend, attended his first reading as a published author. “I did a reading for my friend and the embarrassed booksellers and called it a win,” he says by email.

Jodi Picoult, who has sold millions of copies of her books, says once, at a signing at her hometown bookstore in Hanover, N.H., she sat alone until a wandering patron needed help finding the bathroom.

Paul Bogaards, who ran publicity campaigns for 30 years at publisher Alfred A. Knopf and now runs his own company, says the in-store author appearance is, in large part, a holdover from a time when they generated local-news coverage. As local news has shrunk, filling seats is harder.

This hasn’t diminished the author’s desire to pitch books in the flesh, Mr. Bogaards says in an email, “if only for one person eating a Twix bar in the front row.”

The same day Ms. Banning signed books to a sparse audience in Ohio, Jon Land was at the Rhode Island Author Expo promoting his new thriller, “Blood Moon,” which he wrote with Heather Graham.

More than 100 area authors spread across a hotel ballroom, waiting at tables laden with books, and lures to entice browsers.

Mr. Land, who has written dozens of books, deployed one of his regular sales tools—free candy. The children come over and take some, he says, and parents feel guilty and buy a book. But the best way to get customers to engage at a signing, he advises, is to bring a child yourself.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Quite a long time ago, 50,000 years BA (Before Amazon), while living in a suburb of a mid-sized city, PG attended some book signings featuring popular authors that drew a large crowd.

He doesn’t remember exactly how many channels his television could tune in at that time, but he thinks he could have counted them on one hand. It was between seasons for the local high school team, so a book signing by a famous author was the only thing happening other than reruns of The Cosby Show.

In the somewhat distant past, PG participated in some book signings. Even back when, flop-sweat is not a comfortable experience.

If an author’s time is worth anything, forgetting about book signings is the only rational decision.

2 thoughts on “Does Anyone Want to Come to My Book Signing? Please!”

  1. I agree that book signings at bookstores is, today, a fruitless endeavor*. However, I have seen several recent complaints by authors of severe hand cramps after genre-specific conventions.

    I believe that the hoary adage of “location, location, location” applies – set up shop where your customers are concentrated.

    * Perhaps not at niche bookstores. I have not seen stories about crowds, or lack thereof, at LGBTQ, feminist, romance, etc. centered stores.

  2. Signed books are just a special case of autograph collecting. People don’t do that so much anymore. It’s not a thing.

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