(April 14, 2000)
Who among us, if we are honest, has not pictured herself slim and tanned, perfectly coiffed and manicured, dressed in a stunning outfit that hints of Chanel and Givenchy, with matching shoes and purse for that subtle touch of Audrey Hepburn, seated behind an elegantly-draped table signing hundreds of copies of her latest novel for her legions of readers?
Ah, yes... The brief, brilliant light of a camera-bulb glitters every few seconds on fine crystal goblets filled with complementary champagne provided to quench the thirst of the crowds that began lining up hours before my arrival. Journalists prowl hungrily at the edge of the scene, desperate to get an interview, or at least a few charming off-the-cuff words from me. A television crew waits outside the store to film a glimpse of me getting into a stretch-limo which will whisk me off to the finest hotel in the city, all of it paid for by my publisher...
Picturing this along with me, some people may wonder why I never do signings anymore.
Of course, if you know any professional writers intimately, you may well think you already know why I don't do signings anymore. After all, most writers have had certain common experiences: dealing with indifferent booksellers who'd rather be working in a video store but couldn't get a job there; meeting customers who sneer at you on their way to buy real books; depressing days when, despite the best efforts of your supportive local bookseller, you only sell 7 copies of your new novel; or making the exhausting and time-consuming efforts of convincing everyone who's ever known you to please! please! come buy your book at your signing, even if you have to pay them back later, so it won't be a complete flop.
Yes, all of the above turned me into a disillusioned young writer well before my time. But it was a particular event which pushed me over the edge, an event which I still re-live in my nightmares.
The signing which changed my life was scheduled for two hours on a Saturday afternoon several years ago at a new-and-used bookstore in another city. A blizzard began just as I arrived at the bookstore, and it continued for the next ninety minutes, turning the community into an arctic tundra.
Not a single customer entered the store during this time.
The heater wasn't working very well, and - dressed in the best clothes a self-supporting midlist novelist could afford - I started shivering after twenty minutes or so in this small, dark, not-very-clean store.
The bookseller, probably made uncomfortable by my morose demeanor, started chatting nervously about the previous signing she'd had there, showing me pictures of a writer who was much thinner than I, and commenting enthusiastically on how pretty she was, how popular, how charming. The store had been flooded with people just dying to buy her book, and the bookseller had sold soooooooo many books that day! Moreover, the author was so sweet, she had even brought homemade cookies to the signing! (I, need I even add, had shown up empty-handed.)
I confess, as I huddled in my coat in the corner, lonely and unloved, I briefly wished a bad case of shingles on that other writer. At my previous signing, which a well-publicized affair in a busy new bookstore run by an old friend, no one had bought a single one of my books. My only consolation was the fact that the same was true of the writer who'd been sitting next to me at that signing (in fact, someone even came to the store to return one of her books that day).
Anyhow, the blizzard finally died down and - lo and behold! - a customer came into the bookstore.
A customer! Glory be! Hallelujah! Oh, frabjous day! The customer looked at me. She asked who I was. She looked at my new novel. Then she snorted and disappeared into the bowels of the store.
When she surfaced a half hour later to pay for her books at the cash register, she had one of my books with her: a used copy of an earlier novel. The bookseller saw the expression on my face and quickly suggested to the customer that she might want to try my new novel.
"No," the woman said stonily. "I don't want to pay full price." The bookseller smiled nervously and suggested that perhaps she would at least like me to autograph the second-hand book?
While I examined and discarded cutting refusals to this suggestion, the woman turned her head, looked me up and down (pausing rather significantly on my shoes, for some reason), then turned back to the bookseller and said, "No, I'm sure I'll be trading it in next week."
And that, my fellow booklovers, was the moment I decided never to do another signing.
Friends who've never been to one of my signings, and who still imagine me nibbling caviar and sipping champagne in between signing books for hundreds of adoring readers, admire the way I've sacrificed my ego-boosting public appearances in favor of staying home with my computer. And I... well, I've decided it would just be needlessly cruel to disillusion them about my life of glamour - cruel to myself, that is.
Laura Resnick is currently not signing her fantasy novels, In Legend Born and In Fire Forged. Or any of the romance novels she wrote as Laura Leone. You can visit her website here (this is a "jump" link that will open a new window in your browser).
Click here for our interview with Laura Leone