Presenting an Insider View of the Writing Life by Novelist and Poet Kat Magendie





Why I’m Giving Up Book Signings

Before my first book (Tender Graces) was released, I had visions of book signings cha cha through my head like Christmas sugar plums. Isn’t that what authors do? Plop ourselves at bookstores and wait for the crowds to show up? I’d meet readers face-to-face and we’d have lively discussions about the book/characters/writing process. I even mapped out a route that included places I’d lived, where I was born, places in and around those places that I’d pass through to and from events. Oh! Excitement!



But then reality smacked me upside my pea-head. And as of yesterday, I, with the blessing of BelleBooks, have decided that with rare exception I will no longer ‘do’ book signings. Why? Because here is the reality I learned:

1. With exceptions (and there are always exceptions to everything), unless an author is published by the “Big Publishers” with a nice advertising budget, or a book is on a best-seller list, or in some way becomes a household-bookshelf name, it is harder than an author would imagine to find their books in a bookstore or to have an event there. Because it’s Pure D Simple: Business. If a bookstore doesn’t think a book will sell or be advertised heavily to sell, why should they have it take up space on their limited bookshelf space? And they can’t know it will sell unless they know it will sell and how they know it will sell is if they see it selling everywhere else or it is published by publishers with advertising dollars to help hoist the book into the faces of readers, reviewers, magazines’ book pages, and all the other et ceteras.

2. There is no way to predict the turnout at book signings. I’ve had a wide range of participants and a wide range of book sales at events. Now, this is important to note, that even if one person shows up, that one person is important because they came to see You and they are interested in you and your book(s), and that is special—nothing can take this wonderful feeling away from an author. However, remember I said it is Pure D Simple: Business? Not having a good turnout affects more than an author’s ego or their desire to meet and greet readers because—

3. The bookstore orders books based on whatever criteria they use (how many they hope to sell, how many they’ve sold in the past, some random number). If those ordered books do not sell, the bookstore can return them. If the bookstore orders fifty books and two books sell, they can return the remaining forty-eight. For a large publisher like Random House, perhaps this is just a wrinkle in their budget, but for small or mid-sized presses, book returns for multiple authors from multiple bookstores can count for a loss that’s more difficult to swallow. And, returns can come not only from book signings but from books ordered for a bookstore’s regular stock. Bookstore return policies are liberal—the risk is then the publisher’s risk, which trickles down to the author. So that means—

4. When I prepare for a book signing, I’m worried about sales even though I don’t want to be (danged ole Pure D Simple: Business). I want to meet readers, talk about books—and not just my books but words and language and character—I want to contribute something to the community; I want to meet bookstore owners who love books as much as I do; I want to see readers’ smiling faces, whether it’s a hundred faces or that one special face. Instead, my stomach ties in knots as I worry about how many will show up, will they buy books, will the bookstore be disappointed if I have a small turn-out or don’t sell enough books.




Then, when it’s all over with, I worry the bookstore will return the un-sold books and my publishers will have to suck up the loss. Is it no wonder then that—

5. E-books are less of a risk to smaller presses. And this is hard for me to admit, because I’ve always been Pro Indie Bookstore/Pro “Real Book,” and not so much for e-books. Yet, I see the Pure D Simple: Business of it. There are no physical books to return unsold because each e-book downloaded is Sold. I can imagine an event where everyone takes along their E-reader or APB’s (Already Purchased Books) and the Author doesn’t have to worry about how many books will sell. Instead, the author can meet the readers, talk about books, answer questions, sign something or other—have some fun! No pressure there.

I will always love holding a “Real Book” in my hand and that is my main source of reading right now, but, Pure D Simple: Business tells me that book events with book signings have been not-so-good business for many authors and their publishers. The best part of them is meeting the reader, and that is tainted by worries about Sales.

Perhaps it’s time we consider and re-consider how we talk/react/interact with readers about books. With social networking (twitter, Facebook, blogs) so prevalent, readers can at any time find out all they could possibly want about an author, what the author’s dog’s name is, when and where an author writes their books, what they’re working on next, what they had for dinner last Tuesday—perhaps the mystique and mystery just isn’t there anymore to draw larger crowds to book signings (remember those exceptions are always). And no one wants to feel “obligated” to purchase something after listening to a Spiel—I know I don’t.

Book clubs, Skyping or other online venues, schools, nursing homes, library events, conferences on the book (although many of these concentrate on book signings as well), are all viable options for the author to interact with readers, and ways we can give back to our communities. Selling books will always be an issue because of Pure D Simple: Business, but there has to be a better more efficient way to handle the Money side of it all.

As for me, I’ve cut the bookstore book signing cord and have released myself from the pressure it brings. After a moment of “Oh dear! But . . . but . . .” it feels rather freeing.






I’m looking forward to seeing how I can interact/meet with readers and give back to my community in other ways.

You all tell me. Readers: what do you think about author book signings? Bookstores: what is your take on this? Authors: what are your experiences/thoughts?


KAT’S next project is an anthology with Sarah Addison Allen and others.