Booksigning Hell

My brother Tod, in this weeks Las Vegas Mercury, tells a few of his booksigning horror stories. Every authors has’em. I do, too. Here are a couple:

I did a signing in a now-defunct Laguna Beach bookstore. Not a single soul showed up. So the store clerk plopped herself down in the seat beside me.

“This is great,” she said.

“How so?” I replied.

“I can read you some of my erotic poetry,” she flipped open a thick notebook filled with illegible scrawl, and began to read. “Hello, He throbbed…”

I looked at my watch. I was scheduled to be there another hour-and-thirty minutes. And my wife had my car…

“My wife should be here any minute,” I said.

Her breasts swelled, waves of lust on a sea of passion…”

* * * * * *

Another signing, this one at a Waldenbooks in the South Bay, where I was stuck at a cardtable at the front of the store. Only one person even approached me. She wanted to know where the diet books were.

After two hours of boredom, I approached the manager and thanked her for having me. “Would you like me to sign the stock?” I asked.

She looked at me in horror. “No way!”

“Why not?” No one had ever said no to me signing stock before.

“None of our customers are going to buy a marred book!”

* * * * * *

I fictionalized one of my favorite bad booksignings for my short story REMAINDERED, which appeared in “Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine,” a few years back. Rather then tell it like it was, here’s a bit from the story instead…

The voice of a new generation sat at the end of aisle 14, where the house wares department ended and the book section began. He peered over the neat stack of paperbacks on the table in front of him and, once again, as politely as he could, told the irritable woman in the orange tank top and slouchy breasts that he had absolutely no idea where she could find wart remover.

“You’re not being much of a help,” she snapped, leaning one hand on her shopping cart, which was filled with disposable diapers, Weight Watchers Frozen Dinners, Captain Crunch, a sack of dry dog food, a box of snail poison and three rolls of paper towel. “Look at this, it’s doubled in size just this week.”

She thrust a finger in his face, making sure he got a good look at the huge wart on her knuckle.

“I don’t work here,” he replied.

“Then what are you doing sitting at a help desk?”

“This isn’t a help desk. I’m an author,” he said. “I’m autographing my book.”

She seemed to notice the books for the first time and picked one up. “What’s it about?”

He hated that question. That’s what book covers were for.

“It’s about an insomniac student who volunteers for a sleep study and falls into an erotic relationship with a female researcher that leads to murder.”

“Are there cats in it?” she asked, flipping through the pages.

“Why would there be a cat in it?”

“Because cats make great characters,” she dropped his book back on the stack, dismissing it and him with that one economical gesture. “Don’t you read books?”

“I do,” he replied. “I must have missed the ones with cats.”

“I like cat books, especially the ones where they solve murders. If you’re smart, you’ll write a cat book.” And with that, she adjusted her bra strap and rolled away in search of a potion to eradicate her warts.

10 thoughts on “Booksigning Hell”

  1. I shotgunned with a new author when he came to Cincinnati for a signing. They told him they wanted him to speak to the crowd. The only problem was the crowd was over at the neighboring bar watching Game 7 of the Yankees-Red Sox. My friend had a three-hour drive back to Indiana.

  2. I don’t have as many signing stories as so many of Lee’s more illustrious readers, having only published the one book (and that with a partner — what’s wrong with me?).
    But I will always remember the long presentation we gave one night out in the valley… small crowd, mostly people barely listening to our spiel so they could sit on the uncomfortable chairs. But one guy hung on every word we said… laughed at all our jokes… laughed when he thought there might have been a joke coming… applauded at the end…
    And when we had actually signed some massive amounts of copies — two, I think — he came up to me. (Lee was dealing with a female fan who was trying to persuade him to read her spec script.) What a brilliant job we had done, we really put everything into perspective. He only had one question for me:
    “As a succesful TV writer and producer, have you ever stopped to consider whether you’re carrying enough life insurance?”
    And after I assured him I was, he pressed further. Our book shows that we believe in supporting people who are just starting out… and he’s just starting out selling insurance. So why don’t we get together for lunch tomorrow and talk business?
    However I tried to shake him, he had an answer. Finally, I said the only thing I could think of to shake him off my trail. I pointed at Lee and said “You know, Lee was just saying yesterday how underinsured he was feeling…”

  3. Now, Bill, that’s just MEAN! 🙂
    Still, I can relate…
    I grew up in the deep south, and one of the hazards to being a blazing feminist is being constantly fleeing a mob of people trying to Save Your Immortal Soul. But as condemned feminazis go, I was pretty mild-mannered.
    However, I had a girlfriend who was REALLY hard-core and liked to get in people’s faces if they told her she was un-womanly or whatnot, and when the preachers really annoyed me, I’d gently direct them to her. (Then try to stick surreptitously around so I could hear her yell.)
    With friends like us… 😉
    Seriously, does that happen often? I can imagine people trying to sell you their own manuscripts/screenplays/crap, but do you get hit by regular salespeople at signings often?

  4. One reason they didn’t want “marred” books — they can’t send them back to the publisher. Which is why it’s always good to sign’em all…

    That’s not true. Booksellers return signed stock all the time.

  5. I’ve heard about lesser known writers (or “the potentially midlisted” for your doublespeak term for the day) barging into bookstores and signing stock to prevent stores from returning them. In a couple of cases, the writers found their entire backlist (all two books) removed. One lady blew into the store with mother in tow. Mom declared to all and sundry in a loud voice that her daughter was doing them a favor.
    Last I checked, you were supposed to ask.


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