What To Do When No One Shows Up at Your Book Signing

"Francis Noel Clarke Mundy and His Grandson, William Mundy" by Ramsay Richard Reinagle
“Francis Noel Clarke Mundy and His Grandson, William Mundy” by Ramsay Richard Reinagle

Okay, I admit it. That title is misleading, because there’s nothing you can do. Nothing whatsoever.

My first book signing for my first picture book for kids, (Mostly) Wordless, was in a comic book store. My book is not a comic book, but for a number of overly complicated reasons its main distributor was a comic book distributor, and at the time, a comic book store called Bizarro World was the only place in town that was able to get ahold of it. So Bizarro World it was. Bizarro World would be where I would have my book’s official release party.

Let me say here and now that I am forever grateful to Dan, its proprietor, who ordered an embarrassing number of books for the event.

Like many childless people, I have the irrational need to try to make children like me.

He did what he could. I too, tried to do my part. I made a poster for the window. I canvassed the local businesses with flyers. I promoted it on social media. At the signing, I laid out cookies, vegetables and dip. I had T-shirts and postcards and piles of books. I hoped for a little walk-in interest at least.

Then there were the Magic guys. I resented, to no end, the Magic guys. There was to be a Magic: The Gathering fantasy card tournament during the second hour of my signing, and there was nothing I could do about it. It was to be held at a series of tables directly behind me. I was not going to let those Magic guys have any of my cookies. No cookies for them.

But this didn’t turn out to be a problem. No one ate the cookies. Or the dip. No one but me.

In the first hour, no more than three people came up to the table—one, to ask me where the graphic novels were. I wanted to say that the graphic novels were everywhere but where she was standing at that moment, but instead I just told her to go to the front counter and ask them. I sold no books.

Then more nothing. And after eating a few cookies, I was starting to feel a little light-headed from the sugar intake.

In the second hour a nine-year-old boy decided to sit in the empty chair next to me.  I asked if he’d like to see my book. He said “Okay,” and then proceeded to tear through it like a baby bear investigating a fresh kill. The way he was pawing at it, I was sure that at any minute he would pick the carcass clean and there would be nothing left of it, but to my relief, he soon lost interest and threw the book back into the pile.

Like many childless people, I have the irrational need to try to make children like me, but have no clue how to do it. I offered him a cookie. Kids like cookies. I said, “The cookies and postcards are free.”

This was my first mistake.

“You’re joking with me,” he said.

No, I wasn’t joking, they were indeed free.

“You mean they’re free?”

Yes, they’re free.

“You mean they’re really free?”

And then I realized what he was doing.

“Okay, quit being silly,” I said with a strained smile. Heh heh.

“No, I’m being serious. You’re not joking with me? They’re free?”

Because he wasn’t going for the cookies and I knew that I would be all over those cookies if I were nine, I figured that maybe there was something to this, so we continued this banter until I finally accepted that I’d been had.

I ended up selling a total of two books to two guys in the Magic: The Gathering tournament. From now on the Magic: The Gathering guys can have all the cookies. All the cookies they want.

Public domain photo from WikiCommons.

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  1. After a half dozen signings in various venues and events, I concluded that, unless you’re Jan Brett or Rowling, this is the NORM, not the exception–and even those we think of as stars often generate very little interest with the general public.

    A few years ago, I was over-the-moon to see Scott Gustafson, Dean Morrissey and Will Bullas TOGETHER at a Borders presentation & signing in Roseville. Even with all that star power, only A HANDFUL of people showed up–most because they were already in the store. I doubt they sold more than a dozen books. (I bought one from each)

    In 2005, I eagerly anticipated my first reading/signing at a regularly scheduled storytime at the Folsom Borders. Some of the 20 or so mothers with young children who attended might actually have bought a few books–if, unbelievably, the store’s organizer who planned the event for weeks hadn’t FAILED TO HAVE A SINGLE COPY OF MY BOOK IN STOCK.

    Thereafter, I resolved to do signings only at larger events—like a couple of widely promoted Barnes & Noble “Educator Nights”, one at Arden Fair, one in Roseville. But with food, gifts, and multiple presenters (including one from the Sacramento Zoo), Even those were a disappointment—not enough sales to pay for the gas.

    The only time people lined up, and I signed 100 books as fast as I could, was in 2006, in my publisher’s booth at the Northern California Independent Booksellers trade show at the Oakland Convention Center: BECAUSE THEY WERE FREE to book buyers. By 2008, with the demise of independent booksellers, that show had shrunk to half it’s earlier size.

    In my experience, book signings were a complete waste of time, and I resolved never to do another one.

  2. That’s why I’m going to focus on school visits from now on! Anything where you actually get paid to show up. I’m putting together a multi-media presentation powerpoint thing that I hope will entertain.

  3. Hi, Jed–I deliberately didn’t have a book signing when the Purses book came out. I was too chicken that no one would show up. At least you were brave enough to attempt it! My suggestion: Next time, guilt all your friends and family (and AGENT) into going. Crowds attract crowds!

  4. Thanks Abi! I appreciate, and am heartened by the sentiment, but I think that’s at least an hour and a half drive for you! I’ll save my guilt for when we get a book published with a real publisher. Then I’ll try to drag you out here!

    1. Sounds exhausting! At some point, I’m sure I’ll try book festivals. School visits are the lifeblood of children’s authors. I have limited social stamina. It’s a hard road. But complaining about having any kind of career in publishing is a little much.

  5. This was delightful to read!!! I had my very first book signing tonight at a local library (they actually paid me to do it) for my very first self-published book. 5 people showed up. I was so grateful for those 5 people! No one bought a book or asked me to sign anything. As soon as I got home, I typed “noone showed up to my book signing” into my web browser to heal my broken ego. I loved this article! Thank you for making me feel better!!!

  6. I have a very good agent. And I’m very stubborn. And persistent. And a little bit delusional. You have to be. 20 years since i graduated from art school. 7 years pursuing children’s media. If you keep beating your head into the wall, eventually it starts to crack. I wish there was an easier way.

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