This past May, my publisher had me go to a neat trade show in Washington, D.C. called BookExpo America
. They were giving out advance copies of my book
in their booth (each publisher gets a booth ? it's a monstrous event, hundreds of booths, thousands of people, tens of thousands of free miniature candy bars and M&Ms that publishers were giving away for no apparent reason, hundreds of thousands of display books meant merely to sit on shelves untouched and illustrate that publishers indeed publish books, and that's not even counting what must have been millions ? or, okay, at least some small fraction of a million ? of advance copies of books that publishers were giving away to anyone who would take them... I had to start turning some away, like "Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul
" ? really, that's a book) and they wanted me to spend an hour in the booth signing copies. Thought it might be cool, since this is a book blog, to post my thoughts on the event.
First, it's strange to sign books. I didn't think about it before I went, but I'd never signed books before, and I really should have practiced my signature. It got progressively less legible over the course of the hour. It's also hard to write while someone is spelling their name for you, and not end up making a mistake. It's easier to let them spell the whole name first and then write it. But when you do that ? when you wait before you start writing ? they look at you like you're stupid. My publisher's marketing guy told me to ask who to make it out to before I signed, partly because it's nice to offer to make it out to someone, and partly because the people who just want you to sign your name are only there to collect autographed books and sell them on eBay. While personally I find it flattering to think that someone wants to bid on an advance copy of my book, and spent a few days after getting back from BookExpo tracking how much my book was selling for ($9.50), I guess that's not what publishers want.
I ended up mostly just writing "To [name]" and then signing my name. Later, I got someone else's book signed for a friend, and the author wrote a whole paragraph about how it's too bad the political system is all screwed up (oddly enough, it was a cookbook). I still haven't come up with a standard message to sign, even now that the book is out. For all of my stepdad's siblings, I signed their books, "To my stepdad's favorite sibling." I thought that was funny. It probably isn't. I don't know.
They gave out a lot of books at BookExpo. Most big publishers featured two or three titles and had lots of copies. Walking around, you're confronted with plenty of opportunities to take free books, and sometimes you don't really want a copy of The Second Coming of Christ, Now With A New Afterword. Nevertheless, it still hurts an author's feelings if, while he's signing his books, you walk by, pick up a copy, look at it, put it down, and walk away. I'm sitting right there. If you pick it up, please, pretend you want it, let me sign it, and then put it down somewhere later, when I can't see you, like in the bathroom. That's what I did once I realized I couldn't carry all of my books. Like the one woman who picked it up, looked at it for a while, and then when I said, "Would you like me to sign it?" said, "No thanks, I'll pass," put it down, and walked away. Thanks.
Also, try not to ask an author to sign someone else's book. Oops. It's probably an innocent mistake, but really. I'd sign it, but you won't be happy when you realize what you've done.
And, it's probably bad form to say to someone who's trying to give you a copy of his work of fiction, "I'm trying to write a history book. You know, fiction's a lot easier to write than nonfiction. Fiction's a piece of cake. You can dash a piece of fiction out in no time, but nonfiction requires real research. I have thousands of pages written, but, you know, I've just never put it all together."
That was in response to my related comment, "Oh, you have a shopping basket for all your free books. That's convenient."
His shopping basket was indeed convenient, compared to the people dragging four canvas bags filled with books they were bringing home to sell on eBay. But not as convenient as the woman in the scooter, with a cardboard box in the back that she was quickly filling up. I bet woman in scooter didn't even need the scooter. Woman in scooter probably owns a bookstore and this is how she gets her entire stock. Woman in scooter nearly ran over two people when she backed up. Woman in scooter seemed like the kind of person who moves non-sale items onto sale racks to get the sale price, and steals food from babies.
Oddest sight while I was signing books: man with two oxygen tanks. He must really like books. (If "manwithtwooxygentanks" is an eBay seller name, now you know where those books came from.)
Before signing my books, I walked around the Expo for a little while. I ended up with about a dozen advance copies. I only took things I actually wanted to read. I turned down Uncle John's Golf Bathroom Reader, Dining Out Seattle, and a whole bunch more. I noticed that booths with candy usually didn't have free books. It was like the candy was an apology. "We don't have any free books, sorry. But we do have mini Nestle Crunch bars. Enjoy. Although you can't sell them on eBay."
The publisher of a book about Twinkies gave out Twinkies. The publisher of a book about landfills… didn't give out anything. I feel like my next book should be about cookies, because, if nothing else, at least my publisher will have a perfect giveaway at the next BookExpo. And no one will turn down a free advance copy if it comes with a snickerdoodle.