My Book Signing Nightmares

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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?”

“No.”

“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.”

“Right.”

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
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21 comments to My Book Signing Nightmares

  • Beatriz

    Oh, so your listeners are Godless, helpless, and clueless?”

    David,

    Thank you. My monitor is now wearing grits.

  • David I had a good-morning-chuckle over the children’s book! How can they be so…dense????

    I once had a quarter hour segment on a book show and the TV personality told me with all delighted sincerity that she hadn’t read the book, but that she was a professional and it wouldn’t be a problem. And three, two one… “Good Morning folks, we’re today with aurhor…” Whose mouth was still open.

    She then asked me, “So, what is a romance book?” (Can you believe it?)

    I floundered around a while (about 3 minutes too long) Thinking all sorts of answers from, “About 300 pages of sex and angst,” to “How the heck do I know?” Until I realized that not only had she not read the book, the dimwit hadn’t even looked at it.

    I then said, “But since I don’t write romance, and don’t read romance, I don’t have any real experience with the genre.” (Held up book) “As you can see by title, Delayed Diagnosis, I write medical thrillers.” The poor woman’s face was priceless. I pretty much ran the interview myself after that. Sigh…
    Faith

  • Wendy

    Thanks for a smile and a chuckle on a very sleepy Monday morning. 🙂

    (Faith too.)

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter

    > “Oh, so your listeners are Godless, helpless, and clueless?”

    Oh, that’s great. She might never hear it, but we can all enjoy it!

    John’s first signing was something like a book an hour, too. It was in Phoenix. The book had just come out, and we’d never done anything like this before, so we did not know what to expect.

    John’s funniest signing was World Fantasy in WI. He got there late, I can’t recall why, and was flattered that some guy went down to his car and brought back a huge box of books. And he had a number of other people come by, too…but he was seated right next to Gene Wolfe, whose line went on longer than anyone elses. — but like your experience, this was made pleasant by the fact that Mr. Wolfe and his wife are just delightful people.

  • admin

    David said, “And they sat me right next to George. I might have signed ten books that hour. George might well have signed two hundred.”

    I sat between William Dietz and Patrick Rothfuss for a signing at this year’s WorldCon. I signed 8 books, and they signed forever. *grin*

    Have you ever dealt with the people who assume that if it’s fantasy for adults it must therefore be a SEX fantasy? I can’t remember how many times I’ve gotten those ooh-la-la expressions from people upon being told I write fantasy.

  • Oops, that “admin” post was me….I was logged in to accept comments, and forgot to change it.

    🙂 Misty

  • Sorry about the grits, B. Get them quick, before they harden….

    Faith, good for you! I managed to correct the woman and get the interview to go in the direction I wanted, but I don’t think I handled it that well.

    You’re welcome, Wendy!

    Thanks for the stories, Jagi and Misty. As I said, many of these experiences are universal. Every writer has at least one nightmare story; many have several. And many of them are quite similar writer to writer….

  • David, I’m not so sure I handled it well. Rod was standing in the corner laughing till his eyes watered. I think I was … um … snippy?
    Meeeee?
    Faith

  • Snippy can be effective. I wish I’d achieved snippy faster in that phone conversation with the NPR host. Sometimes snippy is just the right thing. And I have no doubt that whatever snippiness you threw at the TV person is question was richly deserved.

  • Marianne de Pierres

    Hi David,
    thanks for sharing. I remember at worldcon in Melbourne in 1999 that a colleague spent her whole signing being mistaken for Sarah Douglass (both having blond hair). Each reader would turn away in dispointment when they realised. It was a salutory lesson about fame. You gotta laugh!
    MDP

  • Thanks for that, Marianne. What a nightmare that must have been! You’ll have to tell me privately if it was anyone I know. I have a hunch….

    By the way, all, the above comment was from Marianne de Pierres, a wonderful urban fantasy writer and good friend from Australia. Welcome, Marianne. Good to see you here.

  • David we all have stories of wanting to go back and throw out that witty line long after the incident is over. Wouldn’t it be good to have an instant retort button that we could push in our brain to come out with the best lines at the right time?
    Glad you’re not too jaded by the whole book signing experiences.

  • No, not too jaded. Though it’ll be some time before I do a solo mall signing again. Doing signings with friends is a whole other animal, and a great deal of fun.

  • Wayne

    David,

    I think I was at the WorldCon you mentioned waiting in the Martin line.

    Of course I think I had something for you also … 🙂 I’ll have to check my books. 🙂

    Still disappointed that I won’t be in the neighborhood and swing by for the signing.

    Well you did have that mob that came and saw you last year.

    And very embarassing for a bookstore not to get enough books in for the signing of that they don’t get there in time… Happened a few times in New Orleans when I was ASM of a B. Dalton. For both the employees and the author.

    Good luck and hope you sell out.

    Wayne

  • Thanks, Wayne. Sorry I won’t see you there. Hoping things work out for ConCarolinas.

  • Those stories are priceless. *laugh*

    While I haven’t had a book signing nightmare from the writer’s perspective, I have had some from the person-waiting-in-line perspective.

    At one signing her ein Nashville for Robert Jordan, I tried to be polite and ask him how Mrs. Jordan was doing. An upset look crossed his face and he gave a short terse reply. I guess they had an argument or something that day. I felt bad because I was the guy everyone was looking at like, “What did you say to him to make him upset?” I was highly embarrased.

    I also got an autograph Commando-style from William F. Buckley. The college announced that he would not do autographs after his speech. Did I listen? Nooo. I got my book and my pen ready. As he was leaving the area after his speech, I made a dive for him. After a moments’ surprise, he took the pen and signed the book before I got practically tackled by campus security. I got them to let me keep the book so I was happy.

    Then of course my tendacy to stick my foot in the mouth because I try to soundinetlligent. Here’s a tip for wating-in-line people. Don’t try to think of something intelligent to say when you get to the front of the line. It only comes out awkward and you leave with the taste of dirty sole in your mouth afterwards.

    So if you see me in your line at a signing, you might want to run the other way.

  • Great stories, Mark! I especially like the image of you pouncing on William F. Buckley with campus police hot on your trail!

    Thanks very much for sharing.

  • *howls at David* Those Hollywood signings really blow our idea of what’ll happen out of proportion, don’t they? Although I was very lucky: the only time I’ve ever done a signing on my own, I sold about forty books. (The bookstore was delighted.) My secret: I baked cookies and offered them to everybody who walked by. 🙂

  • Ahhh! Shameless bribery! I like it! I’ll have to try that next time.

  • How perfect to stumble onto this post just as I’m lining up my first book signings for my own book (Not a novel – it’s non-fiction, relationships/sexuality.)

    If I don’t bring cookies (maybe candy kisses would be more appropriate?), I’ll at least remember to be well-stocked with a sense of humor!

    ~ Diana

  • Good luck with the signings, Diana. Hope the book is a huge success.