Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sandy Lender: Funny, Crazy, Upsetting Publishing Stories

My Most Depressing Publishing Moment

There have been so many depressing moments in my publishing career that it's difficult to pick just one, but let's focus on the most recent. Saturday, I had my first official book signing. I'm attaching a picture. Notice the big ol' smile. That's called propaganda. Notice there's no one in the picture with me. That's called the-only-shill-who-has-arrived-is-behind-the-camera.

So what do you do when you have the prime spot next to the front door at Barnes & Noble and you've got the prime time of 2 to 4 p.m. on a Saturday and you've distributed four-color flyers all over town and you've had the owner of your most-frequented cafe handing them out and the store itself handing them out and a notice in the city's daily newspaper and all over the internet get the idea. It's just after 2 and you're staring at the door thinking, "Gee, shouldn't they have customers on a Saturday afternoon? And where are my shills that I invited personally?"

Have you heard this one? "Oh, I can't make it to your book signing because I'll be on a mountain in Colorado." How about this one: "I have a job interview." (On a Saturday. Afternoon.) How about this one: "I'm going to my co-worker's son's high school graduation party." How about this one: "Oh my gosh, I didn't know you were doing a book signing (I had called and e-mailed this person in excess of five times in the past week about the signing) and I'm getting my hair done tomorrow afternoon!" How about this one: "My family's coming into town and I just can't bring a four-year-old into a book store."

So there I stood on a Saturday afternoon dreading the fact that I'd have to stand there looking like an idiot with my stack of books for two hours. Praise God one of my writing friends showed up. (She already owns the book.) And then my publisher came in. Oh, great. I look like a success. Great job signing me!

Here's the silver lining. I can get pushy. And I did. I slapped that Smile of Denial on my face and just started grabbing people when they walked in (and a few did). I ended up selling 15 books. And, yes, that's they way it's supposed to be. You're supposed to sell books to people who don't already know you and have a guilt-reason to buy the book.

But the shills are your support group for your first signing. The friends and family that you invite to your first book signing are the "traffic" to plump up the appearance of your signing. They impress the book store manager so you get invited back for Signing #2, which is where you're supposed to rely on the kindness of strangers. They increase traffic and draw the attention of other customers (read: people you don't know personally). They produce the "lemming effect." It's all planned, you see. But when you don't have those shills there to help you out, you have to create the atmosphere from scratch. It takes guts, folks. Step out of the comfort zone and make eye contact and just reach out and take hold of the customers walking by. Be personable and friendly and engaging. If you don't...

Well, if you don't get personable and friendly and engaging at your book signings, you'll end up with a depressing publishing moment and an empty book signing photo. As I said above, the silver lining in this story is that I didn't let the chirping of crickets at the outset of my signing get me so down that I collapsed. I pulled my chin up and just started grabbing people as they walked in. I handed them bookmarks and pens. I told them they needed to enter the contest to win the sword I was giving away. I just volunteered that this was my first fantasy novel. When one lady told me she was a born-again Christian and only read non-fiction books about the Bible, I didn't even flinch. Fine. I'm a born-again Christian, too, and I'll just take back my book that I've just placed in your hands before it causes you to spontaneously combust and I respect your choice to read only one kind of book from now on. Wow. Who's next in line?

It takes moxie, but we all can do it. That's the silver lining. It's in us all to step into the role of making a good book signing event matter who showed up!

(And I've got pictures with actual people in them at my blog at


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