Ask any author who isn’t a household name and they will tell you the same thing: book signings are brutal.
For a relatively unknown author, it’s important to put yourself out there, tabling events where your prospective audience might gather. And the “new mom showcases” and “green mom events” have generally gone pretty well for me. I hope to continue to find existing venues where I can showcase and connect with my target audience.
But I can pretty solidly say that I am done with individual bookstore signings. It is simply too emotionally taxing.
The worst is when a bookstore is super excited to have you and thinks you will draw a huge crowd and dozens of sales. They purchase way too many books in advance, create a professional sign, and post to their social media as if anyone knows who the fuck you are. When you arrive they have put out rows of chairs as if there are just loads of people dying to come hear some unknown woman rattle on about asbestos in crayons.
As far as drawing a crowd of friends and family to these things, here’s the thing: my friends and family are spent. They have been to all of my book launches, bought both versions of my book, shared my blog posts, supported my clients, attended my nonprofit fundraisers, rallied for my political causes, bought Beautycounter, and brought me soup when I was ill. My people are fucking exhausted. Seriously, there is not one person in my life to whom I am not indebted seven Girl Scout cookie purchases, a case of wine, and coordination of a meal train.
Often if I happen to have a signing near the home of friends – and by near, I mean a 45-minute drive – they will feel obligated to stop by even though they already have the book. I am officially letting them off the hook.
Usually, the bookstore puts me right by the entrance in hopes that people will catch me on their way in. Mostly I just get asked where the bathroom is and occasionally need to explain to an elderly person that I cannot help him with his expired gift card. Basically, I am a Walmart greeter.
At the last one, I thought it might be helpful if I was moved to the children’s section where parents might want to engage with me. That went worse. Mostly parents tried to avoid making eye contact with me as they chased their children around the store and argued about how many Harry Potter books they were allowed to purchase.
No matter where I am positioned with my sad little “gifts with purchase bags,” time passes slowly and painfully as I try to engage literally anyone in conversation. I get a lot of “Oh, you wrote this? Good for you!” as they walk away or “Sorry I don’t have children or know children or know parents or know humans.” Sometimes someone will just stare at the back of the book for a really long time, like way longer than it takes to actually read the words, and just say, “Huh!” and put it down.
After I collect all my things and go home, I am forced to write an apology email to the bookstore and know that most of the books will be sent back to my publisher – who hates me.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. I did really well at a signing right before Christmas as I was able to coerce enough people that my book would make a great gift for their nieces. I am doing a signing event in Atlanta in May hosted by a friend who is a genius publicist and always manages to convince the good people of Atlanta that I am super important and warrant red carpet treatment.
But I am officially breaking up with any book signing where the onus is upon me to make people give a shit. I have enough self-awareness to realize that they don’t. And I’m not being self-deprecating to solicit pity – I know authors far more successful than I who have played to an empty house. I don’t hate the player: I hate the game. I will never quit writing – but I quit trying to ever meet a fraction of the level of in-person engagement earned by a Teen Mom, Real Housewife, or the “Cashmeousside” girl.
If I am meant to be found, I hope you will find me. If someone wants to read my book, I really hope they will buy it. But unless I can be free with purchase of your pass to the exhibit hall featuring much more exciting shit, you probably won’t be finding me there.