Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Author Question: "Which way is the restroom?"

By Chester Campbell

We did a book signing last Saturday at a library in a small town south of Nashville where they had a large group of authors from the area. Last year at the same event, I sold enough books to make it well worth the trip. For some reason, that didn't happen this time. I didn't see a lot of signing going on anywhere around me. Not all that many people showed up. My single sale came when another author bought my latest book.


That's me and colleague Beth Terrell at the library.

Signings are funny that way. You never know when one will knock your socks off and another will make you wish you had put on two pairs because the reception is so cold. But invariably you get to meet a number of nice people who make the experience worth experiencing.

When I'm doing a solo signing at a bookstore, my wife, Sarah, plays the role of a warm-up act at a night club. She stands at the entrance and greets people, handing out my small promo folders and telling them the author is signing  at the table "over there." Sometimes, a customer will stop and chat with her about the books. That frequently results in a sale.

She gets most of the questions from people wanting to know the location of the restrooms, where to find the magazines, and who knows what else. I get the ones who want to talk about the book they'd like to write. If somebody is actually working on a book, I'm happy to give my advice on whatever they need to know. It's usually about finding a publisher or an agent. The only problem comes when I get a talkative person who stands there forever, blocking the way for people who might want a book signed.

When Sarah takes a break, I stand at the door and greet the customers. I ask, "Do you read mysteries?" and it's appalling how many come back with, "I don't read books." Makes you want to say, "What the hell are you doing in a bookstore?" Of course, some will tell you they just came for the coffee.

It's interesting to watch people's reactions. Some appear intimidated by the appearance of an author and shy away from the table. Others zip right by as if you weren't there. I used to set up an easel near the table with a large blow-up of the cover of my latest book. However, watching people's eyes, I rarely saw anybody notice the poster.

Invariably, someone will stop at the table, take a book, turn it to the back cover, look at the photo, then up at me. "That's you," they say with a look of surprise. "You wrote this." Duh, if I didn't, why would I be sitting here?

Those you never see enough of are the ones who charge up to the table, grab a book and say, "I want this one. Will you sign it for me?"  Occasionally, at a signing like the Kentucky Book Fair, where I have all my backlist available, a reader will look them over and say, "I want one of each. I can start with the first and go right through them."

On the few occasions where sales have been almost non-existent, I found the person who invited me more distressed than I was. I've been around long enough to know these things happen. But the store manager will apologize profusely. I had one small independent owner who was almost in tears. Heck, everybody has a bad night once in awhile. You move on to the next one and hope for the best.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

And I'm willing to bet no amount of promotion will generate a crowd when it just ain't gonna happen. If there was only a way to see it coming.

Chester Campbell said...

You've got that right, Anony. But in the right kind of store, it doesn't matter. In a mystery bookstore one night, I sold three. The owner had me sign a bunch and said "don't worry, I'll handsell them."

Jean Henry Mead said...

You just never know. Sometimes there's something important going on in the town that draws people away from the boostore. I sold 40 books at my first signing and it's gone downhill ever since. I've found that craft fairs are the best places to conduct signing parties (on Black Friday) although mass signings at writer's conventions are usually good as well.

Pat Browning said...

Great article, Chester, and I love the photo of you and Beth. Beautiful!

I've never had a bookstore signing that amounted to a hill of beans, but did very well with library and women's clubs programs. As Jean said, you just never know.

Pat Browning