To Sign or Not to Sign

Over the weekend I had a mega-author booksigning event that was…. interesting, as we like to say in Minnesota.

We had a mix of romance, mystery, and SF authors there — including some people I would have considered “big names,” which is to say authors who have made various bestseller lists.  However, it was cricket-ville.  Hardly anyone outside of authors’ families showed up.

I wonder about booksignings, sometimes. I mean, I’ve had some really successful ones, including one which was a disaster in the other direction because the bookstore didn’t have enough books on hand and I sold out within the first ten minutes. Lately, however, it’s been surprisingly difficult to muster enough support from friends and family to get people to turn out to signings. When I do signings at smaller venues at speciality stores, I’ll often make postcards that I hand-address to everyone I’ve ever known. That helps. I’ll get a 10% return on those (if I send out 100, 10 people will show.)

But you can only really do that once, you know? People don’t show up again and again to buy a book they already have.

Plus, I tend to have better luck with signings that are uber-local, for me that it means within the city limits of either Minneapolis or St. Paul proper. There’s some reluctance (which I can totally understand, actually) for people to drive out to various suburbs to pick up a book that they can have Amazon deliver to their doorstep. Goddesss knows, I’m lazy. I often have the very best intentions to go support my friends and then find something better to do on a Saturday afternoon.

Book signings are one of those mainstays of being a published author. It was one of those things I used to dream about “before,” you know?  I practiced my signature so it would look cool on the title page.  But are they really useful? I’ve heard people say that signed books don’t get returned, so it’s worth going just to sign all the stock for the bookseller. But, I’ve also heard that’s not true, since the covers are ripped off returned books so a signed book is of no more value than a non-signed one. Yet booksellers have also told me that signed books sell better in the store, so they’re worth doing for that. But, I don’t know. I sometimes feel like the hassle you’ve put the store through isn’t really worth what they get out of it.

My question is what do you think about book signings? Do you go to them? What makes you want to go? 

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  1. 1. S.C. Butler

    Ack. I hate them. But you have to do them, don’t you. From what I’ve heard, even if no one shows up for the signing, if you’re nice to the folks in the store they’ll handsell you forever, which is worth a lot.

    I believe, in general, stores don’t return signed hardcovers, though technically they can. Paperbacks it’s irrelevant, because, as you say, they tear off the covers.

  2. 2. SarahP

    I don’t go to signings for the signature, but for the reading. If it’s just a signing, I don’t go. Books are a lot more about the experience of reading them, to me, and not about the book as an artifact.

    I haven’t done a signing yet. I don’t expect much.

  3. 3. Amy Sisson

    I will make an effort to go to a book signing for an author or book I really enjoy. I drove about 45 minutes to get to a signing for Gregory Maguire at a small, independent bookstore. It was terrific — not only did I discover an amazing new store, I also got to speak to Mr. Maguire at length — but that’s bad too, because there weren’t many people there, and this was his hometown, or near to it. (This was before “Wicked” became a hit play — I suspect he’d draw a bigger crowd now.)

    If I stumble onto a book signing, I feel awkward — I want to get close enough to see who it is, but not close enough that they can engage me in conversation if I’m not interested — because many times it turns out the author is self-published, and it’s on an obscure nonfiction topic I’m not interested in.

    At science fiction conventions, I used to take tons of books to get signed, but I rarely do that anymore unless the convention is within driving distance. But I’ll often pick up a book or two from the dealer’s room and make an effort to get that signed.

  4. 4. Jennifer

    I’ve only been to a couple of signings, but they were for authors that I love. It’s exciting to be next to someone who’s created a fantastic world that really pulled you in, and it’s refreshing to realize that the author is just a regular person who happens to have an astounding talent.

    Although I’m not in a big market for tours. If more fantasy authors came around St. Louis, I’d go to the signings…

  5. 5. Alma Alexander

    Jennifer – so talk to your local bookstores to help bring us authors out there!

    Amy – on the subject of the self-published authors – there’s a guy here where I live, presumably a local fellow because I’ve seen his posters in the windows of the little strip mall down the road, and that’s really “self”-marketing – I saw him putting up one in the door of the mail shop where I occasionally drop in to buy stamps and stuff, and I glanced at the poster, and it said… fatally… PublishAmerica. Ouch. Ouch ouch ouch. Possibly people ignorant of their reputation might even roll up for this guy’s signing appearance – but it’s enough to make sure that I stay far, far away from it. PA has a bad enough reputation that I don’t really trust its product – which is part of the tragedy, since its authors don’t realise how much of their OWN reputation they’re putting on the line here…

  6. 6. Simon Haynes

    I have a launch for each book, where family and friends (as well as the public) are invited. I don’t do signings or book tours though.

    I figure signings are a celebrity deal, where people want to stammer out a few words to their hero and have their books written on, and I don’t now (and never will) see myself in that light. (I’ve attended signings at cons and bookstores, but mainly to show support. I figure how awful it would be for the writer in question if nobody turned up!)

    I guess I’m a realist. I KNOW 99.999% of the local population have never heard of me or my books, and I’d rather use my promo time on the internet, being there for those who seek me out.

  7. 7. Mindy Klasky

    Occasionally, I go to readings (where I know the author, or know about the work, or have some specific interest in the reading.) I never go to plain ol’ signings – it’s just not interesting to me to have the author’s name on the page of a book, especially authors who are uncomfortable interacting with the public (yeah, I’ve been burned a couple of times, thinking I was going to meet a hero of mine, only to find that s/he had not interest in stringing two words together.)

    With my own books, I used to have a launch reading and signing for each book, at the local Borders. We’d sell between 50 and 100 copies (I have lived and worked here for 20+ years, and I’ve had several distinct identities – student, lawyer, librarian, friend, writer – so there are lots of folks to draw on.) My worst reading took place during a summer thunderstorm, where the store lost power. We still had about two dozen books sold (by cash and emergency power!)

    With SORCERY, though, the store coordinator who used to set up those readings has left, and I’ve been unable to interest anyone at Borders or B&N to sponsor a signing. I think that I’m not interesting to them – I’ve only had 8 novels published, and none has made the NYT bestseller list, so they won’t make the time. Sigh…

    (I like doing readings – a lot.)

    Mindy, tossing in her two cents…

  8. 8. Maggie

    Hey Mindy!

    Sorry to hear about your local Border’s. Keep in touch with them though, most Border’s do want local authors to do signings. I know in our area (I work at a Border’s in Minnesota), they recently changed how they go about coordinating the events, in order to make it more accessible to local talent. However, as you say there was a staff change over, you might just be dealing with a sales manager who is either untrained or incompetent.

    But speaking of being incompetent–here’s a little horror story that took place at our store a couple years ago. A local writer’s first romance was being celebrated at our story. The author had done a great job of inviting friends and relatives–but someone working in our stock room thought her books were scheduled to to be returned to the publisher, since they’d been piled neatly to one side for some time. The morning of the event, he tore all the covers off and trashed the books. The poor author showed up to find no books in the store–the manager jumped in his car and drove to all the other stores to gather their inventory.

    I’m not published myself, but am working for that to happen someday. I’ve certainly witnessed author events at Border’s, but to be honest, never gone out of my way to attend author signings. So when the time (hopefully) comes, I’m really not sure how hard I’ll pursue it, other than in my immediate area.

  9. 9. Lexie C.

    Personally I LOVE author signings. I rarely have a chance to network with other fans about authors I enjoy (outside of the internet that is) so I relish the chance to meet authors. I’ve only recently gotten into finding ones in my area, but I try to visit new authors as well as authors I know I enjoy. Some forumites and myself are going to the Author/Reader Meet and Greet that’s happening next year in June, I met so many new authors I now adore at Book Expo last year and I had hopes to go to Capclace last weekend, but sadly I had to work.

    What makes me want to go? Umm…well if its an author I enjoy I will go (Maria V. Snyder for instance, I recently went to a signing of hers for the second time), no matter the weather or distance (well driving distance). Stephenie Meyer’s recent signing in Fairless Hills PA was a big shock for me since it was…well PACKED. In comparison Maria V. Snyder’s was only attended by family and a few fans (myself and 3 others). If its close by and on a day I have off I will attend, or if its a subject I enjoy I will attend.

    I am hoping to attend more signings in NYC, since its a free train trip for me to go there, but sadly timing (and money) never line up.

  10. 10. peacerenity

    @ Lexie C.

    maybe i’m speaking from the perspective of time here, but the idea of a stephenie meyer signing that is packed doesn’t surprise me AT ALL, any more than a dan brown, j.k. rowling, or a stephen king signing would. once you get to the stage of fame where people who haven’t read your books or are fans of your particular genre can recognize you by name, chances are people will start lining up.

Author Information

Lyda Morehouse

Lyda Morehouse is the author of the science fiction AngeLINK series. She's won the Shamus and the Philip K. Dick Special Citation for Excellence (aka 2nd place). Her books have also been nominated for the Romantic Times Critics' Choice and preliminary Nebula ballot. She lives in the deep-freeze of Saint Paul, MN with her partner of twenty-odd years, their son, and lots and lots of cats (and fish!) Visit site.

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