Many people assume that once you become a famous author, it is nothing but adulation and crowds of fans, hanging on your every word. Heaven knows that's what I thought! But as the big day of my very first booksigning dawned, I had heard a few things . . . and begun to worry about a few things . . . and I resigned myself to the fact that I would be talking to a small, intimate crowd of family and very close friends. I was quite, QUITE delighted to find that a fairly good sized crowd had turned out for that first signing, and not all of them were my relatives! It gave me a wonderful, glowing feeling. A feeling that I was popular, and loved, and that my rosy childhood dreams were true and I would spend the rest of my careeer speaking to nothing but packed crowds of devotees.
For one thing, after my launch party and a well-choreographed panel-and-signing at a large conference, I didn't DO any more signings for months. No one seemed interested. So when I found myself in a bookstore I used to work at a few months after DRAGON SLIPPERS debuted, I couldn't help but check for it on the shelf, and then show it to some of my former co-workers. They all expressed their excitement, and so I eagerly asked one of the managers if I could do a reading a signing at the store.
"You know," I said, "sort of a Former Employee Makes Good! type of thing!"
"Oh, honey," she said kindly. "Other than your parents, who would come?"
A few months later booksignings picked up again, and I was invited to do an event at a local bookstore for Teacher Appreciation Week. I prepared a few remarks, some fun anecdotes about favorite teachers and how they inspired me, and also brought a couple of books to give away, since the manager who contacted me had said that they would be doing drawings every half hour while I was there. Good. Nice. Fun.
I arrived at a quarter to seven, fifteen whole minutes early, and totally impressed with myself. (Usually I am the world's least punctual person.) No one knew what I was talking about. No one could find the manager who had contacted me. I stood by the information desk, smiling in an increasingly forced manner, until she was finally located, and told her that I was ready to go for it whenever she was.
"Well," she said, not looking me in the eyes, "I didn't know what to do when you weren't here, so I just announced at twenty to seven that any teachers in the store could come to the info desk and get a prize. If you want to stay and sign or something, we can put a little table at the front of the store."
"Um, don't you want me to speak or anything? I thought I was going to be speaking at seven." It was barely seven at that point, and the manager acted like the night was already over, and my extreme tardiness had ruined everything.
"Oh, I don't think there's really enough people here," she said. "Let's just set up a table for you."
So I became one of those awkward authors, sitting at a little table at the front of a bookstore, smiling bravely at everyone who came through the door and hoping that they would take pity on me and buy my book. One of the booksellers (not the manager) came over and offered me a bottle of water. He told me in a quiet voice that he had set up chairs and a microphone in the back of the store, and had everything ready to go at 6:30. Several people had asked what it was for, and seemed interested in waiting around to hear me talk, but ten minutes later he had been told that no one was coming and to take it all back down. He gave me a sympathetic look, asked if I needed anything else, and sidled away like he wasn't supposed to talk to me.
At 7:30 the manager came over, told me I was great, and then said she had to go.
"Yeah, I get off at 7:30. But you can stay as long as you want," she told me cheerfully.
"Um, I guess I'll stay until 9. Aren't booksignings usually two hours?"
"Whatever," she said, and shrugged.
She started to walk away and I asked her if she wanted me to sign some books and put an "autographed copy" sticker on them.
"Oh, no! If you sign them we can't return them tomorrow."
"You're returning my books? To the publisher?"
"Aren't you going to keep a few to sell?"
"Well, maybe two, but we don't need them signed." And then she left.
The good news is, I did sell a few books that night. There were indeed teachers wandering the store, and they came over to talk and even to get some books signed. A few friends stopped by, and a couple of my cousins. I was still so new to booksignings, though, that I jumped whenever someone came over to the table, and felt humiliated that the manager hadn't thought that anyone would want to hear me talk. I have a feeling that she was new to this managing gig, that or she was even more insecure than I was.
I thought after this moment that nothing could be worse.
Well. This is hands down the worst bookstore signing I've ever had, let's just say that. We shan't talk about the major convention where I did a reading to an amazing audience of four people, and then sat for two hours without signing a single book in a room crammed with fans interested in every other author but me. Nor shall we mention the school visit where, after my presentation, the reading specialist who had scheduled me came up with an angry look and told me that my presentation was wildly inappropriate because all I talked about was killing people. (I had joked that Creel wasn't an orphan, but my editor had killed her parents. The kids thought it was hilarious.) It turned out that she had never read any of my books, but someone had told her that my presentation was wonderful, although now that she'd seen it she "had no idea WHAT they were thinking," and didn't think she would be recommending my books to her students, because they were probably filled with murders and inappropriate jokes.
Yes, let us not speak of these things!
But for more of Mortification Monday, please check out Shannon Hale's and Mette Ivie Harrison's blog. There are some great, humiliating stories out there!