When people dream of becoming an author, one of the images that springs to mind is that lauded book signing. Imagine the scene: you’re greeted by a bookshop manager who leads you to a table beautifully laid out with your books and some promotional literature. As you take your seat, the manager gushes about your novel. As soon as you sit down, a queue of readers will form and you’ll barely notice when people you know pop by, beaming in pride at how very popular and authorly their friend is.
Then comes the book talk at your local library. They think you’re so ace, they’re even going to charge for tickets and put some nibbles on! Naturally, those tickets sell out within just a few days of being advertised on the library noticeboard and when the day itself arrives, you’re greeted by a room of readers eager to hear all about your road to literary success.
Yes, this exactly how it happens… right?
Hate to burst the bubble but na, sorry. Unless you’ve just won Love Island or your initials consist of a J and a K, then chances are, the main emotions you’ll feel as you look back to a book signing or library talk will be complete humiliation.
Sure, there are exceptions but for most authors, not just debut authors but established authors too, events like these are usually a humiliating and lonely experience. I hear this again and again. It’s the norm, a rite of passage in a way. A little hint of the anti-climactic moments that will sometimes dominate your writing career.
Like one author who had a minus one attendance at their library talk as the librarian couldn’t even make it. Or another author who had a delivery of random books plonked in front of their signing desk so hardly anyone could see them over it.
The truth is, most authors will be lucky if more than a couple of people turn up. Often the book staff aren’t prepared for your arrival. In fact, your books may not have even arrived! As for selling actual books to anyone but friends and family? You’re having a laugh, right?
Talks at libraries can be worse. Even publicising it for weeks in advance or including wine and nibbles don’t shift many tickets.
My advice? Don’t bother with events like these. They’re not worth the preparation time, the nerves in the lead-up and the dent to your fragile literary ego.
But if you must do an event like this, here’s some advice…
1. Have the right mindset
I always bang on about mindset, don’t I? But what I mean in this case is don’t see your signing as a chance to sell lots of books or introduce your ‘author brand’ to a bunch of new readers. Instead, see it as an opportunity to get some great pictures for social media. Even better, bribe family and friends to come along to create the illusion of a crowd around you for said pictures. This is what I did! Thank god for large families. I also invited a friend and my mum to take it in turns to sit with me so I wasn’t there alone.
2. Join forces with other authors
Contact other authors who have a book out the same month as you and do it as a joint event. I’m not saying this will attract more people but what it’ll definitely do is help you connect with other authors and have a laugh with them in the process (addition of wine always helps with this too). Plus you have the advantage of appearing on your author pal's social media timelines and therefore, get the attention of their followers too.
3. Create a live event from it
If you’re doing a talk, then have someone film it so you can live stream it or make a recording of it for future use on social media… making sure you don’t show the empty seats! This way, it doesn’t feel it’s a waste of time and you’re actually creating some content from it, like with the photos of your signing.
4. Find a ready-made audience
If you’re desperate to hold an event, I find that reading groups and clubs like the Women’s Institute can be better as you won’t be the whole event, you’ll be part of a bigger meeting so people will be there already. Again, as long as you don’t see it as a book selling exercise, simply sitting in a room drinking wine and talking about books can be reason enough to do something like this. Same goes for appearing at literary festivals. Many people will have already brought a day ticket so will be more likely to pop into your talk. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend doing an event on your own at a festival though unless you're running a workshop for authors, and instead, ask to be part of a panel.
5. Charge fees
This is a tricky one, I know. Bookshops won’t pay you in most cases, and it’s tough with libraries as they’re not making much money. But you should definitely charge for your time at a literary festival (fee plus travel expenses). Going rate is about £175. A token fee for groups like the WI doesn’t harm either, so around £50? At least this means if you don’t sell many books or get much of an audience from an event, you’re being paid for your humiliation.
I hope this helps! If anything, it’ll make you realise you’re not alone in attracting nothing but tumbleweed to events. In fact, there’s a whole book dedicated to other authors’ awful event experiences featuring a collection of stories from some of the world’s greatest writers about their public humiliations! So take heart!
Got your own stories of mortification? Share them in the comments or come join the Savvy Authors’ Snug on Facebook.