I have a signing coming up at the end of this week — my first since the hardcover release of The Horsemen’s Gambit (book II of Blood of the Southlands) and the paperback reissue of The Sorcerers’ Plague (book I of the Southlands trilogy). The signing is at the University Book and Supply Store in Sewanee, Tennessee (our fair city…). If you’re in the area (and really, what are the chances of that?) please stop by and say hello.
Anyway, I thought it might be fun for a while to get away from the serious discussions of terrible news in the publishing business, and the writing advice stuff. And so today I’m going to share some book signing nightmare stories for your entertainment. Don’t get me wrong: Signings can be great fun, and they are, at times, a fine way to publicize and sell books. My signings here in my home town are particularly fun and always well attended. But mall book signings can be a total nightmare. I assure you that every writer has at least one signing disaster story. Here are a few of mine.
When I started out, I was way gung-ho about the signing thing. I had seen all those Hollywood interpretations of what a signing could be — crowds waiting on line for hours to get a book signed and to tell the author how great he or she is — and so I assumed that mine would be similar. My first big signing outside of Sewanee was one at Books-A-Million in Chattanooga, and to publicize it — to lengthen that line just a bit — I arranged for myself a television interview on a local morning news show. My interview was at 6:00 am, Chattanooga time. We’re on the other side of the time line in Central time. I also had an hour-long drive. So I had to leave home at 4:00 am — I had to get up a bit after 3:00. And I did all of this. The interview went pretty well, actually. The anchor was very friendly and it was kind of exciting. I also managed to get an article in the Chattanooga paper about me and my new book. Two people came to my signing. Two. I sold one book each hour I was there. I spent the rest of my time being patronized by well-meaning store employees, who assured me that this wasn’t the worst signing they’d ever seen, and trying to make eye-contact with potential buyers, who so assiduously avoided looking back at me that one might have thought I was Satan.
Undeterred, I scheduled another signing for later in the summer at the Barnes and Noble in Boise, Idaho (we were out there visiting my in-laws), and once again I managed to get myself on local morning television. This time it was a Saturday morning news program and I didn’t have to get up as early. The anchor was a very attractive woman who, I’m afraid, was not the brightest bulb on Broadway. I was whisked onto the set during a taped segment and she began to ask me questions about my book.
“You write children’s books, right?”
“Actually no, the book is called Children of Amarid, but it’s a fantasy novel for adults.”
“So it’s not a children’s book?”
“And it’s called The Children of The Amarid.”
“Um . . . just Children of Amarid.” [Here I hand her a copy of the book to look at.]
“Okay. Children of Amarid. And it’s fantasy. For adults.”
At this point the taped segment is over, the commercial break is ending, and we’re given the sign that we’re coming back on air — five, four, three, two, one. And she looks at the camera, gives a great big smile, and says, “Today we’re joined by children’s author David Coe, who has just written a new book, The Children of the Amarid. David, welcome….”
I haven’t been on TV since.
Everyone has a story like this one: At, I believe, WorldCon in Boston in 2004 — Noreascon 4 — I had an autographing on Saturday afternoon at 2:00 pm, which is prime signing time. That’s a great slot to get. So great in fact, that they also gave that slot to George R.R. Martin and Lois McMaster Bujold. And they sat me right next to George. I might have signed ten books that hour. George might well have signed two hundred. His line stretched around the hall. Twice. My line was not so much a line as a dot. It was humiliating, but made bearable by the fact that George was friendly and very funny.
A few years ago, while trying to publicize a Nashville signing for one of the Winds of the Forelands books — I forget which — I tried to get an interview on our local NPR affiliate, WPLN in Nashville. At the time WPLN ran a segment every week on books that was hosted by a woman who no longer is at the station, but was, at the time, a big deal in Nashville. I left several messages for her and might even have sent her a copy of the book. She never responded. But finally, I reached her by phone — the call screening system must have broken down momentarily — told her who I was, and reiterated my interest in getting on her show.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “There are certain types of books we just don’t do on our show: Religion, self-help, and science fiction.” I swear, I’m not making this up.
This left me at a complete loss for words. I thanked her as politely as I could and hung up. And then I immediately realized that I should have said, “Oh, so your listeners are Godless, helpless, and clueless?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished for a do-over on that phone call so I could get that line in.
I’m sure that this week’s signing will not be a nightmare at all. And I have to admit that I’ve had many good signings over the years. But publicizing books is never easy, book signings are not always glamorous affairs, and as professionals, we sometimes get our egos stomped just a bit. It’s probably good for us. And down the road a piece, it’s always good for a laugh.
Happy writing, all!David B. Coe http://davidbcoe.livejournal.com http://magicalwords.net http://www.DavidBCoe.com