Tuesday 1 June 2010


I bring you this video and challenge you not to laugh. Actually, I pretty much cried, and not with laughter. I have so been here - well, not in the Waldenbooks, but in other bookshops, one reasons why I don't do bookshop signings if I can possibly help it. I especially related to the bit where he's with Mary Higgins Clark.

Seriously, folks, I bring you this video to make a very important point. Well, two.
  1. Being a writer is a horribly competitive and often publicly humiliating occupation. No wonder we are flaky. Seriously, there are a hell of a lot of books published and most of them don't get noticed. Be prepared for this.
  2. If you ever see an author sitting at a table with a pathetic or non-existent queue, please, please, please increase the pathetic queue and go and talk to me her. I promise you that the author will love you for ever and a day.
If you're ever doing a signing, here's my advice:
  1. Get friends involved. Make them turn up as fake fans if necessary.
  2. Insist that your publisher and the shop do some promotion beforehand. 
  3. Be brave - smile, sing, hand out sweets, cry, tap-dance.
  4. Insist that your publisher sends a publicity person or, if that's not possible (as it usually isn't), get someone to act the part. You need support. 
  5. If you are ever in a dual signing with anyone else, I have one tip for you: have free postcards or bookmarks or something with you because as soon as readers see something free, they will queue at your table too.
  6. Realise that this situation happens to everyone at some point. And it's bloody horrible.
 Good luck!


    Anonymous said...

    Just don't do singings. When your publisher asks, say no. Going to booksignings is a service for your fans--once you have them. It's not way to build a readership. The sad fact is that self-promotion is like buying a lottery ticket; you hear about the few times that someone makes millions, but not about the millions of times that someone makes nothing.

    And it's worse than that, because all the time you put into promotion (the anxiety beforehand, the days of self-hatred afterward) is time you're not writing. Write your next book that much faster, instead.

    And it's worse than -that-, because your publisher and agent will insist you to go through this Ritual Public Abasement, for two reasons:

    1) Doesn't cost -them- a dollar or a minute.
    2) You can't win if you don't play. They want you to self-promote the same way I want you to buy lottery tickets if you'll share the winnings with me.

    And if they're crappy agents and editors, they'll hate you when say no.


    fairyhedgehog said...

    Ouch! I hate to think of you without queues and queues of grateful fans all lined up.

    Unknown said...

    That's hilarious - and sad, but by God I'd still like to be him and published rather than one step behind. :( Helena xx

    Karen Jones Gowen said...

    Book signings are a waste of time unless you already have a huge fan base. Like Mary Higgins Clark. It's no way to GET a fan base. It's humiliating and frustrating and the biggest waste of a writer's time EVER! Unless it's your launch party and in that case you have your friends, families, and initial supporters to stop by and join the party. Or unless your signing is in Costco.)

    Saviour Pirotta said...

    This happens to famous authors too. I once stumbled across a very tense-looking Susan Howatch in a bookshop in Chichester. She had someone from her publisher with her, in fact a small coterie of people, but no fans. I felt obliged to buy a book even though I don't read Susan Howatch - luckily I knew someone who enjoys her novels very much and crossed one item off my Christmas present list.

    The few times I've done book signings, I've always insisted that the shop invite a local school. That way you have an audience even if you don't sell many copies.

    Book signings at conventions, conferences etc are another matter. You have the chance to get punters interested in your books beforehand and you always sell copies. I once had to stand next to Francesca Simon at the Edinburgh book festival. My queue was dauntingly shorter than hers but we still shifted barrel loads. So think of your book as your child. You would do everything on earth to protect them, wouldn't you?

    Katherine Langrish said...

    Oh my sweet Law-d!
    Been there, done that, totally.
    Very funny, very true.

    Penny Dolan said...

    Thanks for these amusing and so painfully true moments, Nicola!

    Jill said...

    That's pretty much what happens to me in the rest of my life, anyway. So, yeah, I'm totally ready for it. BTW I saw this happen to an author who did a signing in the local library. I happened to set up my netbook near him, and it was so sad. Nobody showed up, not even friends and family. I ended up talking to him for a long time. Nice guy.

    Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

    This was funny, clever and scary!
    I'm thinking internet promotion is looking better all the time.
    I went early to a Border's once for a signing thinking there would be a great line. I was it -- at least for the hour and a half I was in the store.
    Giggles and Guns

    Elizabeth West said...

    I figured I wouldn't do it if it were far away from where I lived. Locally, I can drum up at least a bit of interest and would definitely have freebies to offer (bookmarks, etc.) even if I had to make them myself. Also, planning something to DO that would intrigue shoppers, rather than just sit there looking desperate.

    Getting a table at conventions or something like that is a good way to get people. There is a ready-made audience right there and I discovered a couple of really good horror writers at the last nerd convention in my city. Not only that, one of them I got to know a bit said if I sold my book, he'd give me a blurb. YEAH!!!!

    Old Kitty said...

    Erm. Your blog's changed.



    I love this clip!!! Thank you! And seeing lovely Ms Higgins Clarke!!! Now the great thing about this clip is that I'll be looking out for this guy's books too now LOL!

    Take care

    catdownunder said...

    The thought of having to do a book signing terrifies me - not that anyone is ever likely to ask. I can imagine few things more excruciatingly embarrassing! I have had more than one author at Writers' Week say something like, "For goodness' sake Cat, come and talk to me while I make an idiot of myself!"

    Sally Zigmond said...

    So true! I was told it had nothing to do with promoting the writer or shifting books but with the publisher keeping 'in' with the bookseller--especially if it's a big chain.

    You cannot fully understand the full meaning of the words 'humiliation' or 'desperation' until you've done one. Chat to the staff, though. They can make a big difference.

    Ebony McKenna. said...

    Call me a sucker for punishment but I'm trying to line up three signings in local shops here in Melbourne during the school holidays.

    I have a plan. It involves large amounts of sugary confection and making sure loads of my friends turn up.

    Might see if I can borrow a few ferrets as well, so if no-one turns up, at least the ferrets will be a nice distraction.

    Dan Holloway said...

    I left a lovely long comment last night but my computer then crashed at the 11th hour, so I'm afraid this is the condensed version.

    My experience of events reinforces in particular what you say about getting bookstores to do their bit - I am not sure why they often don't support author events as they lose out just as much as you, but the two bad experiences I've had (once as an author, once as a fan) have been when bookstores simply gave out their space and did precisely nothing else.

    I always try to do events rather than signinngs. Not just reading, but combining with music and/or art. I've never come across someone who's said no when I've offered that (you're bringing them custom, after all), and musicians love the multi-arts format too. The great thing about doing it that way is you cross-pollinate your fans and actually get new readers rather than just having to drag out the devoted. And consider non-standard venues. We've done events at galleries (wonderful - and they have large mailing lists), record stores (they can cope witha full-scale band); established reading nights (they come with a ready-made audience) and (er, ahem, plug) on July 7th (click the linky thingy on my name for the poster with details) we have hired The Good Ship in Kilburn, a large rock gig venue for the whole night - you'd be amazed at the cost (total, for 3 rather excellent bands, 5 writers, and an art expo is £50 returnable deposit and IF [we won't, because we don't] we were to charge for entry we'd get to keep that in full. And, because it's a music venue, we get free advertising in Time Out and NME). Of course it depends on your readership, but think beyond bookstores - think of where your fans hang out and go and do something there - you will be bowled over by how reponsive people are - after our latest gallery/art installation/reading gig - we took to the streets of Oxford taking photos with people & invited them all to a reading - we've been asked to stage an event at the local tattoo parlour, for example. OK, that may not suit gentle historical fiction, but whatever the genre of your book, there will be an equivalent. Find it, and you'l get to meet some amazing people in the process.

    Vanessa Gebbie said...

    well call me a masochist, but I think they are good for the soul.

    When my first book came out, and of course, I was a genius, and terrific, and this was the start of a meteoric rise that ended with the Nobel prize sometime in the next year or so...this happened.

    Borders in Brighton arranged a signing plus talk/interview with the manager. They got free coffees from Starbucks lined up. Huge posters of my book all over the store. Publicity on their website.

    No one came, except me and the manager.

    We retreated intot eh coffeeshop to have a quick caffein fix while they put the event out over the tannoy every five minutes.

    The ladies at the next table, on hearing it for the nth time, said

    "Oh for gods sake, who cares? Shut up and let us get on with our coffees."

    Good for the soul, as I said.

    The Nobel prize may have to wait a few months...(!)

    David John Griffin said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Mary Hoffman said...

    I haven't got sound at the moment on my computer but I think the images say it all. Of course he set it up but it makes a good point.

    Mark Robson would say "never sit behind a table!". You must walk around, wearing a name badge and introduce yourself to people saying "hi, I'm the shop's author for today - can I help you with anything?"

    This totally works but is not for the faint-hearted! Or you could do a joint event with friends working in the same genre (as we do in the SAS).

    Jennifer Shirk said...

    it helps to bring bookmarks with you too, so you have something to do/hand out to people. :)

    Jo Treggiari said...

    Great advice! And hilarious though heart-breaking video. I always make sure I have lots of candy and free stuff(bookmarks, stickers, pins) to give out and I paste a great big smile on my face (so that I look very very friendly but not so big that I look psychotic). I also send out mass emails and reminders before the event.
    My first out-of-town signing for which I did almost none of the aforementioned things, was blessedly well attended, but one of my friends- a prolific, Edgar nominated mystery writer, once did a signing at one of the big stores where the only person to approach her table stacked with shiny new hardcovers, asked her where the bathroom was.
    It can't get more lowering than that!

    Saviour Pirotta said...

    @ Vanessa

    Borders in Brighton were dire at getting punters in for book signings, mostly because the people in the store were students whiling away the hours with magazines they could just read without buying. I did a very succesful event there but that was because my publishers at the time were based in Hove, so everyone came and brought their kids. A huge audience built up during the session but even then we sold very few books.

    Nicola Morgan said...

    KarenG - i'm with you on that, I'm afraid. Still, for some genres in some situations it does work. Not mine, though!!

    Of course, it is (or should be) different in convetnions and conferences, or places where you are the guest speaker, but this is specifically about bookshop signings. HORRIBLE!!

    Any time you see an author with a huge queue, we should rremember that that same author will also once (or more often) have had the no-queue experience.

    Vanessa - that is BRILLIANT(ly) awful! Thank you for sharing!

    Daniel Blythe said...

    Nicola - thanks for sharing that! I've now seen it in three places, so I think I'll post it on Facebook and scare all my fellow writers and writing students there...

    Vanessa - oh my goodness. Thanks for being brave enough to let us know that. It makes my attendance of 6 at the Lincoln Festival look not quite so bad...

    Elizabeth West said...

    Oh good Lord! LOL at least we're not this poor guy!


    DJ Kirkby said...

    The video was hilarious as well as sad. I was suprised to read that you don't do signings if you can avoid them and even more surprised that you don't have loads of people who come to your signings.

    Nicola Morgan said...

    Dan - actually, I'd rather have none than 6! At least with none you can disappear and pretend it never happened. (That's what i did at a signing once - well, there were actually two but they were my daughter and a friend...). I am sure you are a stronger and better(prepared) person for your bad experience. Mind you, you should blame it on the organiser, not yourself.

    Elizabeth - hilarious!

    DJ K - I actually don't like signings even when lots of people come. I feel self-conscious and wonder why the hell someone would want me to sign a book. Oh, and i can't talk while writing, so everything goes silent as i sign my name, which is embarrassing.

    Anonymous said...

    Thanks for this, I was laughing my head off. Been there, done that. i now do stand up comedy, to learn what real humiliation is...