Thursday, August 21, 2014

Singing about Signings

John here, on the heels of my first Bitter Crossing event, a signing at the South Portland, Maine, Books-a-Million. The store staff was fabulous, the event was fun, and it was great to see some old friends and meet a few new ones.

For me, signings are far from my natural habitat. I've never craved the spotlight, and a signing, after all, is a far cry from what, as the proverbial line goes, "got us there" – the solitary act of writing. In fact, writing is one of the least public activities I can imagine. (I'm typing this post at 4:35 a.m., wearing torn gym shorts, with my dog snoring at my feet.)

With Yvonne Cote (middle) and Florence Eaton,
who drove 3.5 and 2.5 hours, respectively

Some writers make signings look easy, chatting up everyone who walks through the door, even giving customers the hard-sell, or approaching customers in the isles: "Hi, I see you're looking for a mystery. Well, I'm the author of…." I applaud those who can do it. But that's not me. I'm the guy at the table, offering the simple, "Hello, I'll be happy to answer any questions you might have about my book."

If you are a writer who needs public validation, a book signing can be a long two-hour experience, because for every person who stops to talk, there are five who walk by the table. I read an interview with John Updike during the latter stages of his career in which he said he stopped doing signings altogether. Some writers feel like they are on display, don't like that feeling, don't need any additional promotion, and simply don't do them.

Most of us, though, know that self-promotion is a necessity in the 2014 world of publishing. For instance, I love doing interviews – face-to-face, radio, TV, or electronically. During a Q@A, I can talk about the writing and research process and even other people's books. The focus is the work itself, not the author – or at least that's my mindset.

So where does all of this leave me? Appreciating the people who attend my signings.

At the end of a signing, I'm usually asked if I thought it was a success. Not sure I know enough – or care enough – about the business aspect of writing to have a definition for a successful signing. I do know that one woman drove three-and-a-half hours to get a signed book from me on Saturday. She called the store to make sure I wouldn't leave when she got stuck in traffic. Another couple drove two-and-a-half hours. That's two book sales. Given the average royalty scale, that means I probably earned $2.

But that isn't what it's about.

Three-and-a-half hours in the car to get a signed copy?

If that had been the only book I sold all day, the event would have been a success.


Hannah Dennison said...

John ... I get so nervous at book signings - I love sharing them with other authors (that way, if no one turns up we can have a laugh) - but joking apart - I've always found it worth the trip.

Sybil Johnson said...

How wonderful that people drove so far just to see you! I'll be doing my first signings in November. I'm glad I'm partnering up with someone who is a pro at them. I think I'd be way too nervous, otherwise.