Jessica Day George

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mortification Monday

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.

Yeah. No.

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!


Caitlin Flowers said...

That's horrible! I'm so sorry! Don't worry, I definatly would have come if I didn't live halfway across the country

Anonymous said...

Knowing that this lies in my future is good for planning...I'll just remember to write down all the mortifying moments so that I can laugh at them later!

(loved the presentation on Friday, and it was so good to see you again!)

Pippin14 said...

Oh no!! How could anyone not be interested in your books- they're amazing!! Dragon Slippers was probably one of the best books I've ever read, and I just saw not too long ago one of your books on a display table for everyone to pick up and read. Perhaps you just went to the wrong store- we (your fans) still appreciate you!

Lucy the Carrot said...

teeheehee...once i made a short video on the Fates for language arts class and my parents wouldn't let me show it in class because it had a "humorous attitude towards death" but my LA teacher loved it

Lucy the Carrot said...


Lucy the Carrot said...

by the way, you should totaly sign books in Chicago! i know loads of people who would come
-Ruth E.

Sophia the Writer said...

Oh my goodness, bless you and the gang for writing these! I came over from Shannon's blog. I'm so early in my query journey, I can only imagine the humiliation upon humiliation that will accumulate by the time it's my turn to take the stage in front of four people.

By the way, both you and Shannon are on my shortlist of authors I will read ANYTHING by. Now you've got obsessed writer-fans like me...;P

Sara said...

Wow, I can't believe some of the stuff writers go through. It's interesting to think of it the other way around and how you as authors must feel. Whenever I go to signings as a reader (and I've been to a couple of yours), I always feel awkward and never know what to say to you! I just smile and ask you to sign my book and walk away! Yet, you would probably love if we as readers talked to you more. I just get nervous.

But I agree with Sophia in that you and Shannon are two authors that I will read anything by. In fact, I think you are the only ones on my list. I absolutely LOVE every single one of your books (I have them all and have every one signed and personalized!). I love your style and I can't wait to read more by you!! :)

Kim said...

We love your books, Jessica!!! You're an amazing author. I wish I could come to ALL your signings!

Miriam said...

Oh wow. I just got directed from Shannon's blog. I'm sorry to say I've never read any of your books- I'm from Ireland and I don't know if they're available here, but I've heard your names mentioned a lot in the various author's blogs I do read. And I just looked at them now and OMG FAIRYTALES. I love you already. So I'm going to have a look for them now :)

Also. Love the stories! I don't know how I could deal with being an author at one of those events. You guys are made of tough stuff.

Tonya said...

Blame it on the publicity! I've heard you speak and you're great! Love all your books and look forward to more. So, stop trying to talk to uninterested people and write more for those of us that love you. Hee, Hee!

Lauren said...

Dragon Slippers was the first book I read of yours. I got it at my library. I had no idea who you were, only that your book was one of the best I had read. :)

Keep writing! I am anxiously awaiting your next book. :)

Degns Of Our Lives said...

a few years ago i went to one of your book signings at a barnes in noble in west jordan. shannon hale was there (that's why i went) and a few other local authors. i heard you talk about your dragon books and got very excited. i felt bad because i hadn't read your books yet and i'm on buying-book-restriction (i could easily spend over a thousand on books a year) and with a humble family of 4, food (i guess) is more important! BUT i checked out your book the next week! FELL IN LOVE with all of them. BOUGHT Dragon Slippers! I Give them away as gifts and always recommend you! So sorry, I didn't know you then or I would have stepped in YOUR line! If I ever make it to another signing, YOU'll be the reason I'm there!

RAQ said...

bummer! I think you are wonderfully talented and was so thrilled to find your books! Maybe we could get you to come to our school next year when I am in charge of the reading program! You obviously have taken it all in stride! Bless you and keep writing because we are reading!:)

Joanna said...

I just read
Princess of the Midnight Ball
for the first time and I think it is breathtakingly beautiful. I'm so thankful to have been able to read it. Reading this book has, in fact, been helping greatly to cheer me up in the wake of my own frightening and difficult book signing experiences recently. I am so thankful that you've chosen to share your storytelling gift and skill with the world.
All the best!

Angela Felsted said...

Jessica is awesome!

Shelby said...

Maybe I should rethink wanting to be an author... JK! If anything, your blog will make being an author easier, because when this happens, I will now that THE GREATEST AUTHOR ON EARTH went through it to.

Shelby said...

And if I do become an author, it WILL happen.:):):)

bitsy said...

.....I haave read alote of books, Jessica, and your books rank with the finest!! are you headed to Louisianna anytime soon?

cindy said...

Jessica - Hugs to my old college roomate! I have been working my own online business and recently did the "Belief Breakthrough" training with Heather Madder to help support it. It completely changed me and helped me to overcome so many things holding me back. The fact is that you have something awesome to share that many people love, but fears and insecurities stop you from reaching as many people as you could. There will always be those who say you can't or don't like what you do, but if you KNOW who you are and what you are about, they can't stop you. When you have that kind of confidence, people will respond to you in a more positive way (and these not so postive experiences won't even both you anymore). Here's a link to a current training she's doing. check it out!

You are amazing!

Aleesha said...

Ditto to the person who said they will read anything you have written :) I am also mentor to tons of young girls and I pass on all your books to them! :) In fact as soon as my kids are old enough to read them I will be buying copies of each book and just so you understand...I NEVER buy books. Like ever. I am a total library kind of girl, because I rarely read a book twice. So if you ever want to do a book signing in Arizona, just give me a hollar and I'll make sure its full of adoring fans :)