3 Phases of Sparsely Attended Book Signings

Visiting authors at schools can feel like rock stars. Kids ask you to autograph books, papers, casts, t-shirts, skin. You speak to a captive, attentive audience because their teachers won't let them leave or fall asleep.

But bookstore appearances come with no such guarantees. Here I am, for example, at a recent book signing for a fundraiser, feeling some of Gail Gauthier's pain, watching customers sneak past with I-should-talk-to-that-lonely-Indian-lady expressions. At least Mo was nowhere in sight this time.

At an under-attended bookstore signing, I usually pass through three phases:

Phase one: Smile through clenched teeth, think of England, and count the minutes.

Phase two: Browse the bookstore, gather a bunch of interesting reads, and start to enjoy the unexpected solitude.

Phase three: Realize that the few people who buy a book or stop to chat are worth a thousand swords (LOTR-lingo for immensely valuable, if you're Tolkien averse), and that I'm actually having a wonderful time.

Take Janet Arden, for example, one of our stellar regional advisors in the New England Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators. Janet kindly arranged my appearance, but then went above and beyond the call of duty by showing up and bringing along her book-loving family. You should hear the chairman of the Janet Arden fan club (husband) rave about her writing.

Or Tatiana Burgos-Espinal, a hero who works for the North Shore Community Action Programs (the excellent organization hosting the fundraiser), whose daughter snapped this photo:
Or Paula Morin, book events person for the Peabody Barnes and Noble, who actually is a rock star -- she used to be the opening act for the Moody Blues and is a fine bluegrass singer-songwriter.
When it comes to bookstore events, a few book sales are sprinkles; people like these are the cupcakes and the icing.


Lisa Yee said…
Oh, I'm with you on bookstore signings. They can be painful sometimes.

I totally feel your pain on this one, Mitali - and I so admire your candor and not-afraid-to-talk-about-it attitude. I detest and deplore booksignings and avoid them at all cost. In my head, I know that is very foolish and I should just suck it up and get over it. I know in my head that it's not about sales, it's about building relationships. I know, I know, I know....but, still.... It's like having a party and nobody coming. All you can do is eat the cupcakes and drink the wine.
b. Johansen Newman said…
Mitali--been there, done that! And, to tell the truth, I will do it again.

I just try to read to the small group of eager children who hang on every word and page turn. And I hope that maybe it was a very nice day for them. And when I sign their books, I really put an extra dose of good vibes in my signature, because I was glad they were there.

That is why I love school visits--big, captive, enthusiastic audiences!
Mitali Perkins said…
But we can all agree that bookstores are the real rock stars, right? And when they agree to host us, we want to drum up business for them. So what can mid-list or debut authors do to bring in a bit of a crowd?
gail said…
Well, my very first booksigning for my very first book, relatives came in and the bookstore was so impressed that they referred me to the person who arranges signings for their chain, and I got a couple more appearances.

The managers at those other stores must have been surprised when the books didn't go flying off the shelves when I showed up at their places.
annie said…
I haven't been there yet, but am glad to be forewarned. Could you as an author post a flyer or send an e-mail to school or local librarians/teachers to announce the signing?
Anjali said…
Mitali - I just found this post when I googled "book signings" and "avoid them." I'm going to blog about this, too. I feel your pain! I just did a book signing with nine other authors at a big chain store, and maybe two people stopped to talk to us. So I spent some time getting to know the other authors, and then I stood at the door, handing out postcards. Excruciating, as some customers didn't even want a postcard. The booksellers are wonderful, but where are the readers? Many authors tell me that they don't do bookstore signings anymore, as so few people come.
Anjali Banerjee