Tuesday, June 17, 2014


   In a prior life I used to manage local music talent, mostly helping teen garage bands make the transition into actual performance venues and the like. It was not uncommon, unfortunately, to schedule an opening act and a headline act for a venue and, no matter how much advertising is done - print, social, marquee, etc. - the bands are the only ones to show up, some stragglers aside. The headliners would sit and watch the opening act perform, and then they'd trade places on the stage and the openers would watch the headliners perform. I used to call nights like that, none too politely, Incest-a-poloozas. Maybe we could say it was good performance practice, but let's agree that's just putting lipstick on a pig.

   Sometimes an author's book signing can feel like that - the number of friends and fellow writers that show up can be counted on one hand, and the rest of the time you're left smiling at passers-by, attempting to look friendly and approachable, and just generally looking like a doofus!

   So why do we do book signings? It certainly isn't for the one book or two we might sell at every third appearance, which is a distinct kind of thrill, more like a drop of water on a dying man's tongue, great for what it is, but hardly life-saving. Is it vanity? Is it just to see our name on the chalk-board-sandwich-board set on the sidewalk outside the store? Does it make us feel somehow like real writers to sit idly behind a banner touting our latest release, sorting the three pens we brought with us, rearranging the books from one pattern to another? If we don't sign a single book, or even sell one or two, is there really any utility at all in working so hard to schedule book signings for ourselves?

   There are self-promotion superstars, personal-marketing gods who will tell you to pick creative, out-of-the-box venues for your signings; promote your appearances with contests and giveaways; don't wait for customers to come to your table but go out and engage them; etc. But the secret little truth is these people are making more off the money you pay for their advice than they are from putting their own advice into practice.

   So do appearances and signings have any utility at all? Or is it all just a single tear into the ocean?

   The answer is in how you, yourself, shop for books. I'm betting the vast majority of you out there are like me. How many of you have walked by the lady offering samples at the grocery store, maybe you take a sample, maybe you don't, but you don't take one of the boxes or packages she has stacked around her for sale. Then, later, on another aisle, you see the product, the very one she was pushing, and you take your purchase from here? No one likes to be sold stuff, even if later they decide it sounded pretty good after all.

   Like me, you are reluctant to pick up a book written by someone you've never heard of before. You almost always buy books by author's you already know, or someone whose opinion you respect has recommended. Name recognition is the key. Getting your name out there so often and so much that people begin to recognize it, even if they don't know where from. So much that one day they pick up your book, recognize your name and think, "I've heard a lot about this guy/gal before, so he/she must be good." And they buy your book!

   Book signings - indeed all self promotion - is all about name recognition, putting your name on the lips of customers, or in the backs of their minds like a seed to take root and bear fruit at a later time. So, book signings: vanity? Maybe. Sure. Okay, a little bit, yeah. But utility! Very much so!

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