When you’re banging away at the keyboard, working on that manuscript and harboring dreams of becoming a published author, there are certain sacred notions you may hold to be true where publishing is concerned. You may, for example, believe the publisher will send you on a multi-city book tour, where you’ll be thronged at events by large crowds of wildly enthusiastic readers. It’s a nice fantasy.
The hard truth is publishers don’t have the budgets these days to send authors off on national book tours—unless, of course, the publishing house has invested a large amount of cash in a particular book or you’re a major bestselling brand. That said, every author I know has not only arranged for their own book-signing events, but has personally funded their own travel. But is all that worth your time and effort? The cold answer is probably not—unless, of course, your book has received a large amount of publicity or you’re a recognized name. Think about it. How many times have you been in your local bookstore and witnessed a lonely author sitting at a table, surrounded by stacks of his or her books, imploring passers-by with a silent, pleading stare?
Take it from someone who knows.
There’s nothing more humbling than showing up at a reading and seeing that of the twenty chairs they’ve set up for the event, only three are occupied. Wait—scratch that. It’s even more humbling when two of the three people are there because you invited them. In a way, having one or two people show up is worse than having no one attend. If no one makes an appearance, you can scurry from the premises, retreat to the nearest bar, and get lost in a bottle. If just one or two people show up, it’s awkward for all involved. The attendees are either embarrassed for you or feel slightly foolish no one else is there, while you’re embarrassed only two people turned out to hear you blather on about your book. Of course, you’re still thankful they made the effort.
At one event I did several years ago, the only people in attendance were two high school girls who, for an English assignment, had to hear an author speak. Dutifully, I read a page from my book, In the Dark, while my audience smacked chewing gum and seemed totally disinterested in the whole thing. When I finished, they both got up from their chairs and—without saying or purchasing anything—left. I drank several scotches after that one. I did another event several years later, where a homeless guy came into the store, took a seat in the last row of mostly empty chairs, and fell asleep. At least it meant a warm body in a seat.
Here’s some advice: Instead of book signings, consider a speaking event somewhere that has a ready-made audience, such as meetings of your local Kiwanis or Sons of the American Revolution chapters. These organizations, and others like them, often host speakers and are always on the lookout for someone interesting to address their gatherings. I did this to help promote my recent book, Human Game. The audiences were not only attentive, they were extremely appreciative. The feeling, I must say, was mutual.