Book Signings Can Waste an Author’s Time

Bookstore ginger cat

 

Beginning authors are so grateful to be invited anywhere, they sometimes make decisions that don’t really help their careers.

Back in the 90s when my first books came out, I agreed to signings at  a number of book stores.  That meant sitting at a table by myself or with other authors with a grin plastered on my face, hoping people drifting by wouldn’t just look at my book and chat, but would buy it.

It was profoundly demeaning.  It made me feel like a pickle salesman on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s.  And it was a complete waste of time.  Yes, books of mine were piled in the store.  And yes, I got to meet book store staffers.  But unless they’d actually read the book and pushed it because of that, my showing up and sitting there didn’t really matter.

Worst of all, I’d be thinking after one or two hours: “I could be home writing.”

Doing a reading first and then a signing at a bookstore was of course completely different.  People not only got to hear me talk about the book and read part of it, they got to ask questions that were always much more pointed and interesting than anything idle shoppers asked when they stopped by a signing table.  Books always sold after a reading, even a week or so later because I signed stock.  A reading is an event.  A signing is, well, I’m not sure what it is, but it doesn’t have the impact a reading and Q&A can have.

A writer’s time is valuable.  Even beginning writers should think twice before agreeing to events that waste that time and have no real impact on sales.

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10 Responses

  1. The bookstore will generally expect you to bring your own people to a signing, and those are usually the people who would buy the book anyway. I agree, a speaking event is something else altogether.

  2. You’re right on the button, Lev. I have never sold a book at a simple signing, but buyers will line up after a reading and/or Q&A program — especially with refreshments.

    • Pat, it’s so much more pleasant to have an “event” of whatever kind than just a signing. I don’t know why bookstores persist.

  3. The only book signings at which I’ve done well have been either those where I’ve given a talk or those I’ve publicized myself. I do better at libraries where I’m known or in situations that are really set up jointly with the venue. The worst was one night when Barnes and Noble invited a dozen local authors on one night. Their total publicity was one poster in the store. We stood in a line, and NOBODY bought books.

    • I do well at libraries, synagogues, museums, colleges and universities, because I’m not just another author showing up that week. The whole evening is special and dozens or more people will routinely show up.

  4. One of the most awkward situations is to be at a venue with a well-known author and have his/her line snaking past where you’re sitting. People who have no intention of buying your book don’t want to make eye contact and are almost trying to push the line forward so they can get past you.

    • I agree, and would only add that worse than that is if you’re the only author there. Then the passer-by can’t even pretend to be looking at the author author’s books or sign.

  5. I’ve been through the signings you describe, Lev: sitting there with my bare face hanging out and a sheepish grin. Awful! Now I try to set up talks–often illustrated, with a bit of reading and lots of snacks, For my latest book, Broken Strings, I’m putting on a half hour marionette show. We’ll see how that goes!

    • I learned by humiliation years ago to never do them, and was thrilled to start developing an audience at colleges and universities for my work.
      It’s so much more satisfying to talk to people, to have a conversation.

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