(You can read a “companion” to this essay, a humor piece about book signings from 1/16/17.)
I was at a Barnes & Noble recently, and I saw that there were folding chairs set up for an author reading and signing that evening. It was an author I had never heard of, nor had I heard of her book. Nor did anything about the signage promoting the event make me want to hang around.
Then I felt bad. Who was I to judge? Then I had a flashback to book signings of my own, and felt a mixture of pity for the author, mixed with a bit of nostalgia, and maybe even a little envy. This author had birthed a book! And she was putting herself out here in the cold, uncaring world of the mall bookstore.
My first book signing was for a collection of columns I wrote for a newspaper in southern California. It was at an independent bookstore tucked into a strip mall. I brought my own sparkling cider in a cooler, cocktail napkins, and plastic cups.
My book signing was to go from 10:00 a.m. until noon. When I arrived at the bookstore at 9:30, a woman named Inga (whom I had never met) was already waiting for me to sign two copies of my book.
Such an auspicious beginning! She told me how happy she was to meet me, and that she read my column every week. Between 9:30 and 10:00, no more Ingas came through the door.
My book was displayed nicely, its royal blue and white cover brightly beckoning. I tried to strike an authorly pose as I waited for my fans. Another couple of women drifted in and I signed their books and thanked them for coming. I probably wasn’t going to need that extra box of books in my trunk that I’d brought “just in case.”
This was my first book, a venture into self-publishing with a partner who also worked for the paper. I had been writing a column there for four years. At last, a little flurry of activity as friends came in to say hello and, thank God, buy books. This is one of those times, like Tupperware parties, when your truest friends come through for you. They all pronounced the book signing to be marvelous fun, and the book to be treasured.
In the midst of this heady success, I received a phone call on the bookstore phone. Surely it must be a literary agent who had heard about my signing through the literary grapevine!
It was my husband, who was in charge of our two children that morning. He wanted to know where our son’s soccer socks were. When I hung up I realized he hadn’t even asked me how the signing was going. I decide I will call him during his next staff meeting and ask him where our daughter’s underwear is. And then call him back, and ask him why he left a wet towel on the bed.
The rush of activity comes and goes. It’s noon already, so I thank Susan, the bookstore owner, and she apologizes that there wasn’t more of a crowd. We blame the low turnout on a.) her location b.) the fact that people just don’t read like they used to c.) the Clarence Thomas hearings which were on TV that very morning.
I cheerily remind her that I have been a writer for eight years, and I am used to rejection. In fact, I wallow in it. I pack up my cider and cups. If I hurry I can make the end of my son’s soccer game.