Book signings are one of those things that seem pretty groovy on the outside. “Oooh, you have a book signing?” I get the sentiment. I’ve only ever been to one signing, and it was groovy. Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman! She’d just come out with a cookbook and was stopping in Cincinnati for her book tour. I signed up a month in advance to secure my slot and still had to wait for over two hours until I reached the front of the line for my 15-second brush with fame.
Swap Ree for Chip Gaines, John Grisham, and every other author everyone’s heard about, and I’m pretty sure the book signings all look the same: pre-registration, lines, small talk, autographs. Lots of writer’s cramp, but it’s okay because Granny Hand = Books Sold!
But what does a book signing look like for the rest of us, specifically those of us who live in pocket-sized towns, know 50 people total, and have just published our first book by ourselves?
They look like Tiny Tim’s portion of Christmas dinner before Scrooge de-scrooges.
It helps to know this beforehand. Tiny Tim wasn’t expecting more than his fraction of a drumstick of a scrawny bird (to keep this metaphor going for another paragraph), and neither was I. The general author consensus is that book signings are the worst until you’ve “made” it. Before that happens, a book signing is you behind a table awkwardly smiling at passersby as they awkwardly return your smile while they pass you on by.
This was my expectation heading into my first book signing this past weekend at The Book Loft in Columbus, Ohio (read: where I know 4 of my 50 people). And I actually sought this one out. I took the writing of Lu seriously. I wanted to write the best book I could at the time. Writing Lu was a bucket-list item. Publishing Lu? Not so much. That’s more of a game I’m learning to play. I’ve read the directions, I’ve read the strategy, and each move I make is just trying stuff out – to see if it works, to see if it works for me, to see if I like it. As best I can, I try to hold the promotion of Lu with an open hand and laugh at myself as.much.as.possible.
For this signing, I controlled what I could. I used the book signing as an excuse for a night away for Matt and me. We stayed in the lovely German Village that houses The Book Loft and spent the majority of our time walking around the uneven, brick-paved streets, pretending we could afford to move into one of these houses someday. We ate good food and caught up with 2 of our 4 Columbus people while we drank tasty coffee. The Sunday of my signing, here’s what greeted me. How cool is this bookstore? Even if you aren’t a reader, doesn’t it make you want to be? And they made a little sign for me for the front door with a garish “Today!” blob. I got nervous. I thought how I’d much rather be entering this shop to buy books versus carrying a box of my own to sell, but I pushed on and set up my tables.
Thanks to the talented Emily Perry, Lu doesn’t need a lot to look good. Mostly I bring this stuff because it’s what I decorate my home with, and I like re-purposing. Grandmother would get a kick out of me using her silver candlesticks for my book tables. She’d prefer I shined them first, but then I’d tell her I was busy painting my nails and a girl’s only got so much time. My favorite part of this table is what’s holding my business cards. That’s one of the matchbox holders from my grandparents’ camp in Maine. The camp was off-the-grid and lit by gas lamps, so Grandpa nailed these holders everywhere. That part of Lu where she pockets a Zane Grey and reads it in the woods of Jackson’s grandparents’ cabin? I put that in there for my grandpa, who lined the walls of the one of the bedrooms in the cabin with shelves to hold all his Western paperbacks. He’d put Lu on that shelf even though there’s not a horse or a shooting iron to be found in it.
Do you know what I’ve noticed in this big book thing I’ve been up to these past couple years? The little things, like my parents’ yes to watching three crazy boys for two days and Matt’s parents’ yes to coming with us to Columbus to drum up some Lu support from their former church. My sister’s text that morning: Hey big-shot author – have an awesome book signing today. Every person who helped spread the word about the signing. My husband lugging a box of books to and from the car and bringing me iced coffee halfway through the signing. The friends who came to the signing after they finished running the Columbus half-marathon that morning. My male engineering friend (read: not your typical Lu demographic) who came to buy the book for his sisters. My best friend from high school who drove down from Cleveland. My writing buddy who texted me after it was all done. My other friend who came over with wine to celebrate and debrief. My oldest son telling his friend that his mom was away for the weekend because she wrote a book to help women know God is real.
I haven’t had two nickels to rub together for most of my adult life. I will never have enough time in the day. But my world is rich in people. They remind me that though writing is a lone effort, it’s not a solo one.
I expected to sell 6 books, and I sold …
6 to people I knew and 1 to a girl I did not. And I talked with many others, which reminded me of another little thing – this time about myself. I like to talk with people. My mama always said I could talk to a brick wall, but it’s more than that. I can make brick walls talk, and I heard a lot of stories at my book signing, my favorite by far with a brother and sister, aged 10 and 8. The girl told me how she’d just written a small moment story about building a sand castle with her aunt.
“Did you describe the difference between how dry sand feels different in your fingers than wet sand?” I asked her.
Her eyes got so big. Se wanted to know how I knew she’d done that, but I wanted to know how she did it because writing descriptions like that are so stinking hard for me. She shared her secret, and maybe I can put it into practice with the next book.
After the signing was done, I went to the room of The Book Loft that holds Lu.
I became a Christian 18 years ago and those portraits you see to the left and right of Lu were all I saw. There’s nothing wrong with them, except if they’re the only story we’re offering to women. There’s room for so much more – so many more stories to reach so many different types of women.
My mom was away for the weekend because she wrote a book to help women know God is real.
I sent The Book Loft four signed copies of Lu two months ago, so of course I thumbed through my small stack to see if any had sold, and …
I wondered who she is and whether she bought it on a Sunday afternoon like this one. Has she read it yet? Did it reach her? So many questions around the sale of one. So little, but so big.