Nancy Mehl lives in Wichita, Kansas with her husband Norman and her very active puggle, Watson. She’s authored thirteen books and is currently at work on her newest series for Bethany House Publishing. The first book, “Inescapable,” released this month.
Let’s talk about book signings. I can still remember the days when I toted my print-on-demand book to the local Borders and tried to convince them why they should carry it in their stores. Actually, I didn’t have a lot of trouble because I was writing book reviews for our local paper and actually sending business their way. But some of my friends didn’t fare quite as well. And even though the bookstores would usually accept my books, albeit grudgingly, there was still the stigma of not being “good enough” to make it out of the “local interest” area and onto the main shelves. Back then, we were convinced the way to “make it” was to get Barnes and Noble to allow us to have a book signing amid their hallowed halls. Heck, we would have been happy if Bubba’s Used Bookstore had set aside an hour for us while Bubba took his daily nap. Book signings were directly related to your success as an author, right?
Okay, now let’s leave the Twilight Zone world of newbie authors and enter reality. I’m Nancy Mehl, and I’ll be your host.
My first real book signing was at Waldenbooks. I had a book published by a small press, and I also had a publicist. And…the folks at Waldenbooks actually wanted me! (You like me, you really like me!) I showed up, nervous as a calf at a new gate (what does that even mean?) but ready to greet my adoring fans. Waldenbooks had a table set up in the entrance to the store, facing the interior of the mall, with my beautiful books on display. When I sat down, expecting the line of eager readers to snake down the mall and block entrances to other nearby stores, I was…well, let’s just say…surprised. No one was there. Even worse, as people walked past me, I began to wonder if I was trapped in one of those dreams where you begin to realize you’re invisible and no one can see you. (Thankfully it wasn’t the one where you discover you forgot to dress!) Now I’m not saying no one stopped. I directed several people to various places in the mall, including the bathrooms. I would say that particular request was the most frequent. Those who actually stopped to see what I was doing and picked up my book, looked at me like I was trying to sell them tickets to a rattlesnake rodeo. After a while I felt guilty about the whole thing. Not sure why, but I did. Thankfully, several friends and family stopped by, had pity on me, and bought a copy of my book. After my very painful two hours had passed and I’d only sold twelve books, I expected the folk at Waldenbooks to tell me to never darken their door again. But they seemed happy!
“Good signing,” the gal said when I dragged myself inside the store, ready to admit defeat. I’m sure my jaw dropped, but I quickly regained my composure and tried to look triumphant. Her reaction should have given me a clue to the reality of book signings. But no such luck. When I got home, I talked the experience over with my husband. Surely this was an anomaly. Future book signings would be better. And they have been. Thanks once again to friends and family. Sigh.
Yes, now that I’m with a large publisher, book signings are much better. I had a great kick off celebrating the release of one of my books. The store went out of its way to support me. Sent out postcards, put my name on the store marquee, had flyers from my publisher on the doors. In fact, they even made a cake with my book cover on it and served food! What more could anyone ask? And we sold lots and lots of books! Mostly to my friends and family – and acquaintances. You see, I’ve learned how to send invitations to everyone I’ve ever met or passed on the street. Sigh again.
But my last signing in this same store…and let me emphasize LAST signing…was awful. The store did…well, nothing. No name on the marquee, no postcards, they didn’t even bother to put my posters on the door. I may have sold ten books. Thanks again to friends and family. Strange, huh. Especially since this was the same store that went all out for my book launch.
This weekend, I went to a book signing for an author who is very well known. Much more so than me. Same store were my LAST book signing was held. They managed to find her posters and put them on the doors – but little else was done. In fact, they hadn’t even gotten the books in for the signing. There she stood, one of Christian fiction’s top authors, without the minimal support the store should have provided.
And in conclusion…no more signings unless the store specifically asks me or it’s a multi-author event. This advice comes from other authors who have already found out what I’ve just discovered. It ain’t worth it. It doesn’t make you enough money to take the family to McDonalds. In fact, if you want to sell books yourself, sell them outright to your friends and family and pocket the money. It will also save them the trip. Sigh repeated. Getting a little light-headed.
My publisher can get my books out better than I can. So, I’ll stick to the writing and let them do the book selling.
Oh, one interesting note: The same day of that LAST lousy signing, I first visited a store in a nearby small town. This store put out some real effort and it was a nice signing. Yes, some friends came, but there were also other people who showed up! People I didn’t even know! Imagine that…
So, for those of you just starting out, take my advice. Unless your ego needs a beating, put your energy into writing a great book and don’t worry about book signings.
Your friends and family will probably salute you.