Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Book Signings - The Third Circle of Hell

When I first started writing, I fantasized about the day I finally made it. Adulation from fans. Book tours and signings. A line of women (and men) that reached well past the bookstore's building into the street or the mall. Each of them waiting for me to autograph one of my novels, hoping for a chance to speak with me. To tell me how awesome my stories are.

God, was I ever naive.

The fantasies I had are reserved for writers like Stephen King, Nora Roberts, the lady who wrote the Twilight franchise or Sarah Jessica Parker when she played Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City.

I've held book signings at Barnes & Noble, local bookstores, mom & pop places and Walmart (yes, Walmart). So, I've run the gamut from megastore to tiny and not one had fans fainting in the aisles waiting to speak with me. I don't know if what I experienced was exactly typical, but I will tell you this - no way could I have made this stuff up.

B&N signings (the following happened on different nights):

1. Early on, I decided that having a stash of Dove chocolate might entice readers to my table so I could hawk my books. When I told one B&N store manager about my stash and asked him to mention it over the loudspeaker when he intro'd me, he shook his head as if I were demented and said, "They'll only come over for the chocolate." I smiled and said, "If I don't mention the chocolate, they might not come over at all, unless I start to strip, like the character in my book." The clerk standing next to the manager smiled and gave me a thumbs up. The manager sighed and said, "Very well, I'll mention the chocolate." He did and he was right. Females and males descended upon my table, snatched my Dove chocolates like unruly kids on Halloween, didn't say word one to me and never looked at my book.

2. An elderly woman, probably in her late seventies, walked up to my table and asked me to look at her feet. I looked from her to my books and back, asking, "Why?" "They're swollen and red," she said. "What do you think that means?" I explained that I had no idea, I was a writer, not a physician or a nurse. She gave me a queer look and left.

3. A man, probably thirty or so, stopped at my table and stared at me. I smiled. He didn't. He glanced over to the side at one of the store displays. He studied it for a moment, then looked back at me and said, "Your picture doesn't look like you." I glanced to where he had - a studio portrait of an African-American woman who was going to be signing books at the store the following day. Given that I'm white, I stated the obvious, "That's not me in the picture. She'll be here tomorrow. However, your wife might like my books." He didn't buy any.

3. A middle-aged woman rushed up to my table and gushed, "Oh my god, oh my god, you're that lady who was on Oprah's program the other day. I just knew it when I saw you. She picked your book for her reading club!"  I wish. As others started to gather because of her previous gushing, I explained that I had never been on Oprah, but I did have some great novels to sell. She didn't buy any. Neither did the others who had gathered.

This happened at one of the mom & pop places:

I was new to the business and I had gone to area bookstores asking if I could set up my table and hawk my wares. One very nice older woman told me I could. In fact, she had a reader's club coming that night and she was certain they'd love to meet me. I arrived with a box full of books and a wide smile. No sooner did I sit down than a woman came up to me and said that her own bookstore had gone out of business because of people like me who sold their books at B&N, Borders, Walmart, you name it. She told me she was about to lose her house because of people like me. I told her I'd just lost my husband, my house, our business and if I didn't sell my books, I'd be homeless. She backed off. I was depressed for the rest of the evening.

This happened at Walmart:

1. On one of my signings, the store manager put my table in the little boys department. I explained that probably wasn't a good place for a romance author to be. She insisted it was. I didn't sell one copy. The only one who approached my table was a coworker from my EDJ who'd just broken up with his girlfriend. He bent my ear for an hour about how pissed/sad he was, then left without buying one of my books.

2. On another occasion, I had a great spot in the middle of the aisle right at the checkout stands. You couldn't miss me. I was chatting with some women when I noticed a guy about thirty feet away staring at me. I didn't think anything of it as I continued to chat with the women. When they left (with several of my books!) I looked again and the guy was still there. Staring. I started to get worried. Then, I started to panic as he strode toward me with purpose and what appeared to be menace. Having a wild imagination, I thought he'd come to shoot me because I was writing steamy romances. He had his hands in his pockets and there was clearly something in one of those pockets. As he came closer and closer, I kept leaning farther back in my chair. My heart was hammering. My mouth went dry. As he pulled out his hand, I wanted to jump to my feet and run, but couldn't move. In his hand was an envelope, not a gun. "For you," he said.

I have to admit, my imagination got even wilder. I thought he was a process server, serving me for something I'd done that I'd forgotten about. I kept thinking that what little money I did have was going to go for court costs. Naturally, I didn't take the envelope. He kept waving it at me. I kept leaning back. "You don't remember me," he said.  He had that right. I didn't have a clue who he was. Finally, he smiled and told me his name. He was my second cousin that I hadn't seen in years. He saw the newspaper story about me having a book signing and decided to come by and give me some photos his dad (a photographer) had taken of me when I was a little kid.

So there you have it, the weird, the bad and the ugly of my many many book signings. I'm still waiting for my Carrie Bradshaw moment. :)


Tina Donahue
"Heat with Heart"

SINFULLY WICKED (menage - Available NOW)

Website: http://www.tinadonahue.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/tinadonahue


Karenna Colcroft said...

I'm laughing at some of your experiences and commiserating with others.

On the other hand...at least you've been able to do signings! Every store I've approached, from B&N to mom&pop places in my area, has turned me down flat, whether I'm trying to do a signing for my romance or my young adult novels :(

Tina Donahue said...

I'm surprised you got turned down, Karenna. Was it recently? Could be the economy. The only store that turned me down was the Borders where I live. Guy who managed it was a little jerk. Told me he only wanted NYT bestselling authors there. Six months later he was out of a job and they closed the store. Wonder why???

jean hart stewart said...

Great stories, but kinda sad. But you got your name and your books out there and that's neat.

Tina Donahue said...

Definitely not what I was looking for, that's for sure. Glad we do promo via the net now, much simpler and cheaper. :)

Fiona McGier said...

I've been at author "events" where readers were supposed to want to connect with local authors and sat for hours without anyone even stopping to chat, much less buying anything. Other authors who were expecting much more left after an hour. At one I finally sold ONE book, after about 3 hours.

I've given speeches at libraries and club events about e-publishing and no one bought any books.

In fact, my last 3 books are eBooks only, since my publishers charge for the set-up to make paperbacks available. With 3 kids in college, I work multiple jobs to pay bills, not to indulge my desire to have my stories available on paper. But since they offered me contracts, I don't feel I can complain. E-published is still better than non-published!

No books stores close to me will let me do an author signing. There are a few local stores, but my experience is that they only want the big names. I guess they figure that if I sit there, smiling and tapping my pen, to the noise of crickets chirping, with no one stopping to talk to me, then it won't reflect well on them?

Tina Donahue said...

I hear your pain, Fiona. I'm surprised that book stores turn authors down. Really, except for the local Borders (which is closed now), I never had any problems. I called the local store, asked to speak to the person in charge of book signings and went on from there.

Tim Smith said...

Tina, this is deja vu all over again as I've had many of those same experiences, plus a few others. We'll have to swap war stories sometime. I've done the mom and pop stores (where I usually do pretty well), Wal-Mart (disastrous since I wasn't selling tires or TVs), Borders (not bad) and B & N (which was great because I appeared on Black Friday and Christmas Eve one year).

What we go through to hustle a few books!

Tina Donahue said...

Hey, Tim - sorry to hear your signings have been as weird as mine. We should do one together. With your wit, it'd be a blast. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm really too shy in person to do book signings although I tried it once. I sold 6 books and never got my money from the store owner. Not my cup of tea.

I think most writers who do this are brave, but just can't muster the nerve. Glad I sell on line or I'd never make money. LOL
LOve and blessings