Book Signings...

... are not like pulling teeth, not really; but they're not as glamorous as everybody thinks.

I assume that if I were as famous as, say, John Grisham, book signings could be a nice ego trip, what with groupies and adoring fans lining up around the block. In reality, book signings are boring. Most people would pass you by without acknowledging your existence. And if by chance they notice you or your books, they'd mouth the words of your book's title, then walk away quickly. And once in a blue moon, you might be lucky enough to get a smile from them.

And occasionally, like one in a hundred or two, you'd find a person approaching your table. Your palms start to sweat. Your throat starts to tighten. You pray that the person would be kind enough to just grab the book and run to the cashier. But alas! They actually speak to you. And your mind goes blank for a second before you understand what they actually said.

"What's your book about?"

OK, you can deal with that. You have the three-paragraph pitch memorized. You hope it sounds interesting...

"Oh, that's cool. Not something I'd read, though. Good luck."

*Gad* You've just been rejected! And you thought you didn't have to deal with rejections anymore, now that you're published. Reality sinks in fast. You've just become a frigging car salesman. You start to loathe yourself. You're scum.

The minutes become hours, and you start to hate being there. You're a side show, a strange-looking person sitting by a table in a corner of a book store somewhere in a crowded mall. And you notice that people would rather spend $4.55 on a latte and $20 on a pair of sunglasses than $14 on your book. Suddenly you wonder if what you do makes any sense. Maybe you should start selling gold-plated jewelry instead.

Then it happens. An angel shows up in the form of a housewife and her teenage son, or a man with glasses who looks like he actually reads. Then come these beautiful words:

"That's interesting. I'll get one and would you please sign it for me?"

Your heart beats faster and your face feels warmer. Then you find yourself shaking as you hold that pen and try to remember what that person just told you his or her name was... You want to make sure you spell their names correctly. "That's D-A-V-E, correct?" And you feel like an idiot asking someone to spell DAVE, and you feel like a bigger idiot because you forget all the witty things you're suppose to inscribe in the book; instead, you write "Enjoy!"


Now the angel thanks you and leaves with a smile and your 4-year-old baby. You feel good. You feel validated and appreciated. Finally, being a writer doesn't seem so pointless anymore. A total stranger is going to curl up with your book tonight... or tomorrow... some day...

Until you realize you just made $1.50 in royalties. The girl working at the Arby's across from you has made more than you just did in the last 50 minutes.

Glamour my ass.

Then you remember: It's not about the money or fame. It's about doing what you believe in. It's about telling stories and creating something that might entertain someone, or better yet, change someone's life. It can't be measured in dollars and cents. You're a published author and you have earned your right to sit there like an idiot at a table in a corner of a book store somewhere in a crowded mall where no one takes notice.

And I tell you: It's worth it.



jason evans said…
Ray, how's is going? I haven't been by for a little while.

I've thought about book signings and imagined they'd be just like you described. It must be a bit uncomfortable at times (okay, maybe more than a bit). Do you have any strategies to bring people to the table? It must be daunting for the customers too. You are a bit of a celebrity in their eyes, you know. Maybe not Elvis yet, but a celebrity nevertheless.
Ray Wong said…
You know what, Jason, I really don't think I'm a celebrity in any sense. The vibes I got was that people really didn't give a crap. I think some people do think it's neat that there's an author in the store, but most people have more important things in their mind.

How to attract people? Not a whole not. You smile a lot. Hopefully, your book cover will attract people to come over. Then all you can do is be personable and tell them about the book. People DO NOT like hard sell. They don't like to be solicited either. They don't want to hear "this is the best thing you would ever buy." They're either interested or they're not.
jason evans said…
The thing is, you're an author sitting in the middle of a bookstore. You're the kind of person who makes the product all those folks are shopping for. And writing a book is not easy. They all know that.

I think many shoppers are thinking, hey, I'd like to go talk to him, but what would I say? I'd just sound like an idiot.

It must take a certain amount of nerve to walk up to an author at a signing. Especially without the comfort of a whole line of people.
Ray Wong said…
Yeah, that too. I do think you're right that some people find it awkward to walk up to an author and just chat (me included -- I am very shy with people I don't know). And I find that if there are some people around chatting with me, more people would come by as well. So my guess is if I can have a friend or two to "draw in the crowd" it might make others feel more comfortable, like they're not alone.

But I'd say a lot of people do have that "whatever" attitude when they see an author, unless she happens to be J K Rowling!
September said…
I loved reading this, getting a behind the scenes type of thing about how an author feels. I remember reading the book, "One Perfect Day" about an mc who gives up work to write and novel. I remember thinking how fake some of it sounded. (the way mc found an agent) But he described the identical same thing with his first couple of booksignings. That part sounded real.

Even so, I can't wait to be where you are, Ray.

BTW,later his book "skyrocketed" and they made his book into a movie.
Ray Wong said…
"skyrocket" and "movie"... hmmm.

I'd love to live to see that day. Meanwhile, I'm trying to conquer the world one book at a time.
Jen said…
I've heard that about book signings from several different people.

A friend of mine from the local writers' group here has a bit of a proactive stance. She takes a lot of bookmarks. She spends time at her table, yes, but she also walks around the bookstore and gives the bookmarks to people and invites them to stop by if they're interested.

She sold quite a few at her last signing doing that. I don't know that I'd have the guts to do it. I could kind of hide behind the table. *s*
Ray Wong said…
Well, I would have done that but the store told me that was considered solicitation and they would not allow it. I guess they had complaints in the past from customers.
Jen said…
You know... That could be why Mary Ann (my friend) doesn't do it at all of her signings.
Ray Wong said…
I might try it next time and maybe the store won't kick me out... :)

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