Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Why We Sign Books and Other Mysteries

I had a signing at Northtown Mall on Tuesday night. It was, as we say in Minnesota, "interesting."

Mason, at least, had a good time. I bought him two new Calvin & Hobbes and a new three-pack Garfield. The other ladies were fairly impressed at how quietly he sat absorbed in his books. He got a little squirrely at the end, and, of course, we had to take a break to eat, but I think it was fairly successful given I had my four year old in tow.

I, of course, sold no books.

Before you cry for me, Argentina, I have long ago come to the realization that book signings are really for booksellers and for authors. The booksellers get a stock of signed books, which, according to at least one bookseller I talked to actually sell pretty well off the shelf -- and better than their unsigned cousins, at any rate.

The author benefits the most, I think. The author gets a chance to meet-and-greet the booksellers, who, as we know, are the ones who do any and all "hand-selling," which can be key to a book's success. The author also usually leaves with a sense that many of the books won't end up as stripped returns. (Note: I worded that very carefully, because I'm well aware of the fact that in many cases signing a book does NOT save it from being returned. Plus, sometimes the booksellers will crassly admit to returning as many as possible. It's only crass because all the authors I know tend to take that stuff personally. We know it happens; we just don't want to necessarily hear about it.)

But, back to the positive. Personally, I also really like to do "multi-author" signings, because then the authors also have a chance to catch up on industry gossip and whatnot. Plus, the time goes a lot faster when there's someone else to talk with.

I sometimes wonder why we bother, since, like so many things in the publishing industry, book signings feel like they come from another era -- one that's being overshadowed by "promotional" opportunities on the that crazy Internet thing all the kids are into these days.

I suspect that book tours -- the kind that are sponsored by publishers for gigantically best sellers (who, in my humble opinion, are the ones who need it the least, but then much of capitalism makes very little sense to me) -- still perform some important function in terms of boosting book sales and maybe even just allowing fans and opportunity to see that Big Name Star is just and average guy who puts his/her pants on one leg at a time... I'm not sure. I just know that I'll probably continue to sit in empty Mall bookstores staring at the wall for many years to come... at least until the bookstores stop asking me, that is.

1 comment:

Eleanor said...

Yes. The book signing. I like the mass signing at the end of Wiscon, because it means you can find all the writers you've missed; and anyone who wants to find you knows where to go.

Otherwise, signing is an opportunity to sit quietly and alone and reflect on your life or talk to other authors, who are not signing a lot. Or it's an opportunity to watch someone like Neil Gaiman sign a zillion books brought by hundred of people.

But once you come to terms with the event it's okay. As Lyda or Tate says, it's a way to meet booksellers. I have always figured, I will always respond to invitations, if they don't involve long trips or a lot of my own money.