Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Book Signing Follies (with apologies to Jenna)

Working on: A Historical Western
Mood: Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead

Ah, the booksigning. The chance for an author to meet her readers or make new ones. A moment to emerge from the cubbyhole office and enjoy the “glamorous” side of the writing business in a mall or a brick-and-mortar bookstore.

“Do you know where the restrooms are?”
“I’m looking for a dictionary. Where can I find them?”
“You know, these books really give women a distorted idea of what a relationship is like.”
“I can’t believe anyone buys this kind of junk.”
“Hah! I outsmarted the bookstore and got your book used for fifty cents. Will you sign it?”
“Is Sears around here?”
“Where do you get your ideas?”
“I’ve got a great idea for a story but I don’t have the patience to write it. If I tell it to you . . . ”
“Will you look at my manuscript?”
“How did you get your agent?”
“I don’t read THESE books.”
“The manager didn’t tell me there was a booksigning today. We don’t have your title in stock.” But I came here to San Antonio for this. It was all arranged. Is the manager here? “Sorry.”

Yes, friends, we’ve all heard these and more.

In fact, early in my career I wrote for the Topaz imprint at Penguin. Some of you might remember the Topaz Man in all his puffy-shirted glory, a marketing creation to compete with Fabio. I did a booksigning sitting beside him at the Women’s Fair at the Portland Convention Center. The come-on was buy a book and have your photo taken with Steve Sandalis, the Topaz cover model. Females of all ages lined up like it was the Running of the Brides Day at Filene’s Basement. It was thrilling! All these people eager to read the story I had labored over for six months.

I thought.

“Oh, Steve, sign your book for me!”
“Steve, where do you get your ideas?”
“I’ve got a great idea for a story but I don’t have the patience to write it. If I tell it to you . . . ”
“How do you find time to write and model too?”
And best of all: “Why is that woman signing YOUR books?”
I was the fly in the ointment.
Then, of course, there were the times when no one showed up. The bookstore manager, wringing his/her hands, offered, “Well, it’s a nice day, so people are probably out in their yards.” Or, “It’s raining. That always slows down business.”

One of my favorite memories (now) was a signing I did at Rolling Oaks Mall on a different trip to San Antonio. It was a Friday evening in early December, 1997. I figured business would be good, people out doing some early Christmas shopping, You could have fired a cannon through that place and not hit anything or anyone. I was scheduled to be there for two hours (hidden next to the dictionaries) and I swore the clock was running backward. Though I tried in vain to make eye contact with the few people who came through, I did not speak to one shopper. Toward the end of this interminable event, a store employee finally said, “You know, I think everyone is downstairs at the multiplex to see that new movie. Uh, something about the Titanic. The lines were really long.”

I was furious with James Cameron for snatching my own little contributing piece to the entertainment industry until I saw the movie. Then I forgave him for everything and privately thanked him. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched it, but it still makes me cry.

Of course, the best part about booksignings is that they aren’t all stinkers. I’ve talked to people who’ve enjoyed my work and have been a great privilege to meet. People who gave me the courage and will to forge on because they love my stories. Sometimes they are the ones who will keep an author moving forward when everything else seems to be going wrong.

I’ve always said yes to a store manager’s request to do an in-store, and I always will.

5 comments:

Genene Valleau said...

Oh, Lexie! Why didn't Steve Sandalis make it to a booksigning near us? KIDDING!

Thanks for sharing your booksigning stories! Just let me know when your next one is and I'll be there to have YOU sign your book.

Jessa Slade said...

LOL on the Topaz Man signing. At least he got the bathroom question too :)

Delle Jacobs said...

Aw, that's sad, Lexie. You just didn't have the right pheromones for the occasion. And SS may be prettier than Fabio but Fabio's nicer.

I'm kind of inured to pain at booksignings now, I think. I usually have a good time with the people who want to chat, and anything more than that I consider chocolate icing to the cake.

therese said...

Yet this is how we connect to readers?
I've never attended one of these type book signings, but then I've yet to have a book to sign and have only attended book signings where Marcy has been in change. Thank God for the Marcy's of the world.

Alexis Harrington said...

Yes, indeed, Marcy's events are the best. Marcy doesn't leave her authors to fend for themselves. She always puts on a great signing. :)