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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

On Lookin' Good and Wondering Why: Stories of Book Signings Far From Ideal

Dressed for the occasion with my dangling umbrella earrings that match my first novel’s cover, I’m ready. Gas is in the car, bookmarks in the glove compartment, and the GPS is programmed to get me where I’m headed. It all seems good until arriving at the location---the bookstore, the conference, or the church. A squirmy feeling in my stomach tells me: This is not at all what I‘d hoped for!

The sun was invisible that day in mid-November when my friend Beth and I drove to the coastal town of Elizabeth City, NC. The independent bookstore was quaint and cozy. Although there was no poster on the door or wall announcing my event and I’d understood it was to be a book reading, instead of a signing, I was not discouraged. My novels were there, their covers ready for me to open and autograph for potential buyers.

I suppose my optimism waned when there came a warning from an author who was packing up his table. Yet even so, just because his luck was not good, did not mean mine would follow suit. I’d contacted churches and groups in this area, Twittered and Facebooked, and believed those who said they’d show up to meet me this morning.

“The streets are blocked off for the Thanksgiving Parade,” said the author before leaving the shop. “There is no way for anyone to get here.”

Yet the manager had told me that this was a high-traffic area with vendors on the grassy harbor front across the street, vendors that would help to draw a crowd. Seated at the wobbly wooden table, I waited for customers to enter the bookstore.

The rain drizzled. Vendors took their tents down and loaded their vehicles to go home.

Beth and I went outside, beckoning people to come inside, enticing them with my bookmarks. The manager waved good-bye and left.

An elderly man entered the store and I cheerfully told him about my book. He interrupted with his thoughts on the smut in today’s novels and how his wife refused to read them. I told this man that my novels were rated G, and encouraged him to get one for his wife who was home sick in bed. Ignoring my suggestion, he ventured into some tale about his cat, his brother’s girlfriend’s trip to Walmart, and a few other topics I wasn’t sure of----I had tuned him out by then.

Misery loves company, and I suppose having a story of my own about a book signing gone bad makes me actively listen to other authors and their accounts.

Kim Sawyer, author of dozens of novels including the recent release, In Every Heartbeat, always wears her “hope” pin and something purple. She also makes sure to have chocolate on hand. Of course, none of this helped when a bookstore in Kansas forgot she was to be there and placed her at an undecorated table in the back corner of the store with only two novels. Kim spent the day directing women to the restroom.

Last summer, a bookstore wasn’t ready for authors Jim Rubart (Rooms), Tosca Lee (Havah: The Story of Eve, among others), Robin Carroll (her latest work, Fear No Evil) or Brandilyn Collins (her most recent, Deceit) either. After purchasing their own cloth to cover the drab plastic table, the four sat in front of stacks of their books only to sit some more.

Obviously, even decorated tables are not enough to sell books. Angie Breidenbach, author of Creative Cooking for Simple Elegance, always wears her Gems of Wisdom jewelry and non-fatigue-showing clothing to her book events. At one store where she was scheduled to be, she was greeted with a lovely table displaying her cookbooks, complete with a gorgeous prize basket. Although she was told that the day before the shop had been booming with customers, the day Angie was there, the store was practically vacant.

Perhaps as we sit or stand in the cold and wonder why the event is not as we expected, we can see beyond our disappointment. It is in that moment that we realize the day can be redeemed.

In Elizabeth City, I started talking to the young employees, answering their questions on novel writing. Later, my friend Beth treated me to lunch at a restaurant in town. The crab cakes filled my stomach with happiness in spite of my earlier feelings of doom. She commented that at least the staff had learned something from me.

During our third book signing together, Marybeth Whalen considered leaving early. The store had only a few copies of her novel, The Mailbox. Yet so many of her friends came out to see her, that she stayed to talk with them. “It was not the optimum way to do a book signing,” she later wrote to me, “but I am moving forward and figuring that there was some reason I was supposed to be there that didn't involve selling books."

The art of peddling our wares to the public can be daunting, especially when we are an unknown name among shelves of bestselling books. However, Angie, along with my marketing and sales husband, Carl, would agree that establishing a rapport with book store employees is a brilliant business practice. When these employees are asked in the future to recommend a book, it just might be your book they select because you have taken the time to get to know them. Angie says, "The most precious things come out of the hard ones.” In the empty store, she spent time with store employees, building relationships with them. She concluded, "The beauty for me is in the new friends."

"Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitudes toward life,” writes Charles Swindoll, pastor and author. “The longer I live the more convinced I become that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond to it.”

Here’s hoping we’ll respond well, through the good events, as well as through those that invite us to build character.

~ Alice J. Wisler

Want to share your story about a book signing gone bad with me? Email at


Angela Breidenbach said...

That article turned out really well, Alice. Thanks for including me. I feel I've been baptized into the published author fold now :-)

Alice J. Wisler said...


You are so cute! I'm grateful for what you shared. You helped to lock-in my desire to see the glass half full when those book events are not what we planned.

~ Alice

Vannetta Chapman said...

I've scheduld 25 booksignings in 3 months, and have been through about 1/2 of them. At some I've sold as few as 3 books, at others I've sold as many as an entire box, and at 2 I've sold out! I'm trusting God used each to his purpose ... so I'll keep showing up. Thanks for the article!

Alice J. Wisler said...


Thanks for your comment and I hope that the rest of the signings go well for you.

~ Alice J. Wisler

Tina F said...

I LOVE this, Alice. Most of my signings have been great, but there have been a handful that left me with a queasy feeling. Rene Gutteridge and I had a not so great signing together once in Tulsa, but even though we didn't sell many books, we had fun. I was so surprised because the night before, I'd had a great signing at another store. Something that was special to me was that my niece fell in love with Rene and her books. Now she has developed a love of Christian Fiction. God uses everything. :-)