Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Humor Me: Signing day at Barnes & Noble

By MATT WIXON

So I was sitting there at the front of a Barnes & Noble, parked behind a table loaded up with my books. Lots of my books. More than I could ever imagine selling in one hour without appearing on Oprah or changing the title from The Great American Staycation to How to Achieve Financial Freedom and Have the Best Sex Ever.

(Although my book doesn’t directly address achieving financial freedom or having the best sex ever, those things could possibly be achieved by reading it. Reading the book might even help people solve their problem thighs. Please feel free to spread wild rumors about the book’s magical properties.)

Back to the signing day:

At Barnes & Noble, I was sitting directly in the line of sight of people walking into the store. That made sense, because it allowed everyone to see me, and when somebody was talking to me, it was great. But when I was finished talking with a potential staycationer, book-buyer, curious passerby or a lonely person looking for conversation, I was sitting at a table looking straight at the store’s entry.

When people walked in, I didn’t want to stare right into their eyes. If I was a customer, that would definitely scare me away. But I also didn’t want to be looking down, and thus appear to be disinterested, rude or a slightly overdressed member of the shoplifting-prevention team. I needed to give out a vibe somewhere between uncomfortably aloof and borderline stalker.

I’m not sure how successful I was at that, but at least I looked legit. Next to me was a sign with a picture of the book (good!), a picture of me (ugh) and an announcement that this was a Barnes & Noble “event.”

Hmm … I’m not sure I would’ve called it an “event.” Sounds a little grandiose. Sure, some people who had bought the book came out for the signing. And I met some other nice people who asked about the book and then bought it. But the book signing, the first of two this month, was kind of awkward.

Other authors had prepared me for that. If you’re not a well-known author, they said, expect some slow times. And don’t expect to sell a lot of books, either. People walking into a bookstore probably aren’t going to impulse buy a book they haven’t seen before. And how many people in this world want to start up a conversation with someone they don’t know?

The real value of a signing is that the “event” is promoted in a store for several weeks, which means potential buyers walk into the store seeing a display for your book. This is a good thing, of course, because there are currently 14 quadrillion books sitting on shelves, lost in the masses, gathering dust and getting overlooked for something like A Mother’s Gift, the novel written in 2001 by noted author Britney Spears and her mom.

Among the customer reviews for that book:

“A part of me has died after reading this book.”

Perhaps it wasn’t the best book. But I can only hope that my book will earn the sizzling sales of Spears’ novel, or perhaps sell as well as Terrell Owens’ Little T Learns to Share (surprisingly unavailable is "Little T Learns to Throw a Tantrum"). Spears and Owens would bring in some big crowds for a signing.

As I looked around me during a break in the storm of people trying to talk to me –- two at one time can count as a storm, right? -– I noticed some other books that would pack the house for a signing. Next to racks of magazines were books such as Tori Spelling’s Mommywood, James Patterson’s 8th Confession and another titled Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven. Yes, that title will sell. Maybe what I need is a title like that and one of those romance-novel covers featuring a slightly modernized Tarzan and Jane preparing to get it on.

I had lots of time to think about these things because I’m not a well-known author. But I did learn a few things from the book signing.

1. Patience pays off. After waiting through some slow times, I sold a few books when people approached me after I had found the comfy space between being uncomfortably aloof and a potential stalker.

2. When the sirens go off for a tornado warning in the area, the book signing is officially over. (I was packing up a few moments after the Cowboys’ practice facility was demolished by high winds).

3. There is a magazine called Glutes. Yes, seriously. I could see the current issue from where I was sitting, and the cover included a headline “Your Best Butt Ever!”

Coincidentally, that headline is also part of the title of my next book:

How to Get Your Best Butt Ever While Achieving Financial Freedom and Having the Best Sex Ever.

As seen on Oprah, I hope.

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