For the last few years, my books have always been launched at Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh, and this year was no exception. Again, it was a nice crowd (and if you were there, it was good to see you even if we might not have had more than a minute to talk.) I had a few remarks prepared, but as soon as I looked over all those faces, I couldn’t help but remember my very first book signing at Quail Ridge, back when it was Quail Corners Book Store in a different location outside the beltline.
Death of a Butterfly, my second Sigrid Harald mystery, had just been published. Somehow the store owner, Nancy Olson had heard about it and invited me to come. I was thrilled. I was famous! I was going to have a real signing. How exciting!
At the store, there didn’t seem to be many cars around. In fact, that part of the parking lot was so empty that we could park right at the door. The store itself appeared to be deserted. There was a clerk at the front desk and Nancy soon came out from the back to introduce herself and make us welcome. I apologized for being a little early and confessed that I’d been too excited to come at the proper time.
Well, the proper time came and went, but no one else did. In the end, it was me, my husband, my mother, Nancy, and the clerk she probably had to bribe to come and sit and pretend to be interested as I talked about the book and even, at Nancy’s kindly insistence, read a page or two.
It was my baptism by fire. Every writer I know has a similar story. The times we’ve sat in malls and directed customers to the cookbook section or the nearest water fountain while our books sit unsold. The humiliation of entering the signing room at Bouchercon or Malice and seeing a huge line in front of our table only to realize that we’re supposed to sit between Mary Higgins Clark and Donald Westlake. Their lines, not ours. And feeling pathetically grateful if one or two people take pity and ask us to sign the program book.
My favorite signing story is of a friend who was booked into a small store somewhere in the southwest. His mysteries had begun to take off, he’d been nominated for major prizes, and he was starting to garner some attention. But when he got there, no one was in the shop except the two little old ladies who owned it. They set out a plate of scones and watercress sandwiches, and invited him to join them for tea. “And maybe you’ll sign some of your books for us?”
Embarrassed, he drank his tea, ate a scone and afterwards signed the four books they had in stock, which should have told him something right there. Finally, after another cup of tea, when it was clear that no one was coming, he prepared to leave. As he stood up to go, he apologized profusely that the signing had been such a failure. “Oh, no, dear!” said one of the ladies. “We didn’t tell anyone you were coming. We wanted you all to ourselves. And hasn’t it been fun!”
Happily, Nancy Olson didn’t keep Friday night a secret.
(Click here to read a sample chapter of Death's Half Acre.)