Friday, March 21, 2008

For what it's worth

Charles here.

Rick’s entry (below) outlined lots of good info on the art and science of book signings, and he makes a valid argument that, by meeting new readers, book signings make economic sense for authors like us, meaning all those without massive PR/marketing budgets to blow through. I can’t improve on his advice and I won’t disagree with his economic thesis, but I can tell you that for me, book signings have stopped being about sales. Now they are about something much more important.

If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog – and who isn’t? – you know I’ve been going through a bit of a crisis of faith about this whole publishing adventure. I won’t bore you any more than I did the first time I wrote about it, but suffice it to say that my heart has not been in to the non-stop marketing, advertising, branding and self-promotion that I enjoyed so much – and frankly was rather exceptionally good at. Oh, I believe it all works – I didn’t make it as far as I have by my books alone, let me tell you – it’s just that the joy it used to bring has been lacking. And, being me, I’ve spent way too much time analyzing it all – but I guess it was worth it because I came to some truths about book signings (small t, very subjective and personalized) that have brought that joy back, ten fold.

I can honestly say that now when I do a book signing, I have stopped thinking about sales and have focused instead on what’s really important. No, it’s not ‘getting my name out there’ and it’s not networking or building a buzz or pushing my brand, all very important things but things I am no longer worried about. It’s nothing about the sales at all. If you should see me at a book signing, this is what I’m thinking about:

Holy shit, I’m a frickin’ published author doing a book signing – is that frickin’ cool or what?

One sale, ten sales, a zillion sales – I can’t control that. What I can control is how I feel about it, and when I think about it, I can’t get over how frickin’ cool it all is. Me, the kid who devoured crappy paperbacks propped up in my bed back on Straub Road. Me, the kid who could not get through Across Five Aprils no matter how many times I tried. Me, the kid who spent hours and hours just wandering the shelves at the Mitchell Road library, loitering in the Waldens in Greece Town Mall, joining book clubs so I could get the ten books for a penny and then desperately trying to figure a way out of the iron-bound contract. Me, the kid who skipped a class in high school so he could sneak into the library* to see the author of The Day No Pigs Would Die, not because I read the book but because he was an author. Now I’m an author doing a book signing. Un-frickin’-real.

This is going to sound ridiculously righteous, but to be asked to do a book signing is a privilege, and I am truly honored. I guess I never really lost the joy – it was always there, but for a while I misattributing that joy to success. But I’ve found it again, and I promise you, this time I won’t forget.

One sale, ten sales, a zillion sales – it’s all the same. It has to be.

*Got caught, sent back to class, didn’t go, went outside and drank a beer with Louie Romano.


Rick Blechta said...

You're right, Charles, very right.

It is not the reality of a situation, it is out perception of the reality of a situation. Find two people who were in the same place at the same time and who saw the same thing. The story you get from each will be completely different. Why? Because of the perception of each person involved.

If we think about what we're really doing, it is pretty cool. How many people approach us at a signing who are trying to become writers or have finished a book and are desperate to find someone to even look at it, let alone publish it? They would kill to switch places with us. Knowing that makes it much easier to watch all those people walk by and not even respond to what we're saying to them. We can sit there and feel sorry for ourselves (even I do sometimes) or we can focus on the fact that we've published books, something a lot of people desperately want to do, perhaps some of those people who are ignoring us.

You can look at a book signing as one author I know does: "an exercise in author humiliation" or as you've chosen to do ("How cool is this?"), and it's simply a matter of headspace.

I have booked 18 more signings and appearances (with several more still pending) on my current "tour" and I hereby swear to adopt the Charles Benoit Headspace.

I know I'm going to enjoy them a hell of a lot more, regardless of what happens or how many copies I sell.*

Thanks, old bean!

*Bet you I also sell a lot more simply because my smile and enjoyment are a lot more sincere.

Rick Blechta said...

One other thing:

That person who contacted me about the book his wife bought for him and that he enjoyed so much? Well, he went out yesterday and bought my other 2 in-print books -- and at an independent bookstore that has the good sense to keep my backlist in stock.

How cool is that?

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Yes! Charles, what a great attitude. I'm going to remember that, too. Thanks! And good luck in your upcoming signings, Rick. I'm going to buy both your books.

Rick Blechta said...

Thanks, Debby. I have one of yours waiting on my TBR shelf. It will go along on one of my overnight trips.

As for my novels, there are actually six of them, so choose wisely... (They can be read in any order.)

Rick Blechta said...


Next time you see Louie, ask him about that 10 bucks he still owes me.