I have a love-hate relationships with book signings. They are absolutely amazing when they go well, but when they don’t… well it makes you feel like the biggest loser on earth! Let me explain…
In 2012 I organised several signings to support the release of Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed New Edition. The first one was fantastic. It took place in a local book store and they had set everything up for me: there were signs in the window, the table was filled with books and I was located in a central spot. I was there for six hours and during that time I sold most of the books on display. The staff didn’t have a huge amount to do with me, but the manager was thrilled with the sales and so was I. Because of this, the same store asked me to return a few months later, to do a Christmas signing. Because they had treated me so well I was happy to say yes.
I arrived at the store for the second signing, and the first thing I noticed was that the table was right at the very back of the store, surrounded by books that were not in any way relevant to my own. The manager who had arranged my visit was absent, and the staff showed me to the table with barely a word and then promptly disappeared. The following two hours were painful to say the least. I did manage to sell some books, (mainly to people who knew I would be there thanks to my social media), but there were also customers who presumed I must work there, since I was doing nothing but loiter around a book shelf. In that regard, I managed to direct various people to relevant departments, and even had a fascinating discussion with a man obsessed with ghost stories…!
During the entire time I was there, not one staff member asked how I was or even came anywhere near my table. When it was time for me to leave, I walked past the only staff member on the floor and told them I was going home. “Who are you?” she asked. Need I say more?
That was a frustrating book signing because of the lack of interest from staff, but it was not the worst…
That came when I was asked to visit another fairly local store. It was a Saturday morning and the signing had been booked for a while, but when my husband, daughter and I approached the shop, we were surprised (and slightly bemused) to discover that there were no signs or posters to tell anyone that I was going to be in store. This escalated to WTF levels when we got inside and saw no table, no books, no nothing. I walked up to the staff at the till and explained that I was there for the signing and they waved me off in the direction of a tiny table right next to the door.
I should explain here that as you come into this particular store, you go up a ramp with a barrier at either side. The table I was given was on the other side of the barrier, which made it impossible to see on coming into store, and only barely viewable when leaving. The assistant plonked some books onto the table, then wandered back to her position behind the desk. While I rolled my eyes and shrugged, my husband was far less forgiving and stormed over to the desk to ask why there was no advertising for the event at all. The assistant told him they hadn’t had time, and after much discussion, they finally printed off a card with my name on it, and shoved it onto the front of my table.
I was booked to be in store for two hours (and can I just say that we authors do these events for free, and while we do get our royalties on any books sold, we don’t get any other kind of fee or expenses). Anyway I digress… In all the time I was in store, none of the staff came anywhere near my table, and only one woman spoke to me. She wanted to know if ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ would be appropriate reading matter for her 15-year-old son. I kid you not. Not one of my books was sold because nobody knew I was there and the only way they could see me was if they craned their necks round the barrier or happened to stumble across me on the way to somewhere else. After an hour I finally had enough. I picked up my handbag and left, and do you know what? I don’t even think anyone noticed I’d gone!
Thankfully I had a much nicer experience in Northampton. The wonderful store manager advertised the event relentlessly, put up posters and even wrote about me on the store’s exterior chalk board. So brilliant was her organisation that when I arrived there was already a line of people, and we sold every book except one. The manager was on-hand throughout the morning, and we became instant friends. In fact we are still friends on Facebook to this day. That particular signing was a fantastic experience and I left with one of the posters that had advertised the event, and a warm feeling in my belly.
Since that year, I haven’t done any book store signings (but I did two really wonderful ones at the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum). I have since done some research into the treatment of authors at book shop signings and sadly it would appear that I’m far from alone in my experiences. In fact judging by some of the things I’ve heard, some stores seem to think it is a complete inconvenience to have an author in their shop, which is a very sad state of affairs indeed.
Have I been put off signings forever? Not really. I would like to do another one but before I said yes, I’d make sure they were definitely going to advertise the event and organise it appropriately. I’d encourage all authors to do the same because your time is just as important as anyone else’s. Don’t let anyone waste it!
Until next time,