Il Faut Cultiver Votre Jardin

Pari Noskin Taichert

The title of my post today is in French. I figure a little erudition might start the work week off right. Voltaire put the above famous words into the mouth of Pangloss, an extraordinary optimist, in his book CANDIDE. It’s the character’s stock response to all trials and tribulations: "You must cultivate your garden."

I’ve been thinking about how so much of marketing involves this Panglossian focus — especially when it comes to book signings. I read the debates on listservs and blogs about their merits and disadvantages and am disturbed. Frankly, signings have gotten a bad rap because we’ve got our heads screwed on at a lousy angle when it comes to this subject.

Ah, let me put on my therapist’s hat for a minute . . . (For those of you who don’t know me, I actually have a nice chapeau ["hat" in French] with a tassel from the University of Michigan School of Social Work where I trained to be a therapist in grad school.)

To put it plainly, I think most writers who dis signings — specifically at bookstores — are victims of their own inflated sense of self-worth.

Ouch! I can hear the slings of anger already. But think about it. We’re perfectly happy to let other people sell our books for us at stores. Aren’t we? So why do we get pissy if we have to do it ourselves?

I think it’s because we expect to be worshiped. On some level, we buy into the idea that we’re special, that people should be impressed — that our work should zip to the cash register simply because OH, MARVELOUS WE have written it and are deigning to make a divine visitation somewhere.

Come on. The world’s a big place and, face it, most of us are little sprouts.

Somehow, though, our egos are the size of redwoods.

The reality is, when we get to bookstores, the majority of people there don’t care. They haven’t heard of us (this often includes the staff) — even if the bookstore has sent out notices, newsletters — even if we’ve gotten local coverage on television, radio or in print.

It’s a slap to our egos. Hence the raging discussions on the internet. We hide behind complaints to salvage our self confidence: My feet hurt. The taxi is dirty. My time is worth more than this. I only sold three books. Wah.

If it’s a formal signing — one with a presentation — we get upset if only a handful of people show up.

If it’s the sit-at-the-front-of-the-store variety — we moan and groan about having to peddle our wares to strangers; it feels like we’re shysters or hucksters.

We’re never really satisfied. We often forget to be grateful.

"Why bother?" we whine.

Well, grasshoppers, Il Faut Cultiver Notre* Jardin. That’s why. And, no garden grows without work and a vision. Book signings are among the hardiest seeds we can plant — the marketing seeds — to further our careers.

1. They help us know — and be known by — booksellers who then hand-sell our work long after we leave.

2. They introduce us to those folks who don’t care about us . . . but might, if given a reason.

3. If we get media attention, book signings help increase our name recognition so that someone might want to buy our books in the future.

And then there’s the YNK (You Never Know) factor that fertilizes possibilities beyond our wildest imaginations. YNK is my favorite part of the book signing process. It’s the sure knowledge — based now on tangible experience — that someone with whom I speak at a signing might become a friend, a reader, or a person who’ll go out and champion my books better than I can.

Okay, okay . . . I have a bit of a disclaimer: not every author should do signings. Painfully shy people should avoid them and concentrate on internet efforts. Intrinsically nasty, mean writers should decline offers, too.

But, for most of us, they remain effective. It’s time to stop the unbecoming whining and the sniveling short-sighted debates. Let’s get past our egos and cultivate relationships with our audiences (booksellers, readers) in personal ways.

If this sounds dreamy — too optimistic — I can only say that my steady efforts continue to grow my readership. Signings are part of the package — they’re a long-term investment like preparing and planting cherry pits with the hope of growing good, solid trees.

I see the seedlings gain strength everyday.


Panglossian Pari

* FYI: "notre" means "our"– just in case you noticed the change in the phrase the second time I used it.

—————– Speaking of optimism: here’s an uplifting website to check every once in a while for good news in the world ———————–

Steps to Peace

18 thoughts on “Il Faut Cultiver Votre Jardin

  1. Naomi

    How apropos for me to read this after returning from a four-day book tour! I was doing my share of wah-wahing, but your blog entry reminded me that we are indeed sowing seeds. Sometimes the ground looks pretty hard and rocky but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be planting.

    Naomi “Bighead” Hirahara

  2. Pari

    Naomi,I thought about this topic because of doing 3 events this week — two were at bookstores. Yes, I sold books (though I didn’t count how many )– but it really struck me how important it is to plant those seeds.

    Of course, sometimes I get discouraged, too, and have to remind myself of the power of the personal approach.

    I know you expended a lot of energy to get to your signings in N.Cal. and that the convention you intended to attend mysteriously disappeared — but, knowing you, I know that you did good work, work that will further your already impressive career.

  3. Louise Ure

    The one question I’ve never had to ask a bookseller at a signing: “Who do we have handling crowd control?”

    Good post, Pari. And a good reminder.


  4. Pari

    Thanks, Louise.

    I hope I didn’t sound too much like a scold.

    Re: crowd control — I wish that problem on all of us. Wouldn’t it be something to come into a standing room only situation. Actually, my launches have both been like that — but the bookstore was mighty small .

  5. Brett Battles

    Excellent points throughout, Pari.

    It’s hard for me to understand the feeling that I would be “above” doing signings. I’m just so grateful to be in the position of being able to do signings once my book comes out. Even if no one shows up, the idea of the alternate, not having a book in print, saddens me. I can understand getting down because they are a lot of work and often seem to have little payoff. But remembering, as you pointed out, that you-never-know what will transpire from even the quickest encounter, is extremely important.

    I’m going to print this one out and read it again prior to when I’m on the book signing train…

    Thank you.

  6. JT Ellison

    You make such a great point, Pari. Signings are a special way to interact directly with your readers, gain more and establish relationships with bookstores. I too have seen the complains about them, and all I can say is Hey, You’re Having A Book Signing. Quit Whining! I think that maybe some more established writers forget what it was like when they didn’t have a book to sell and were struggling to make a name for themselves. So only three people showed up. That’s three more than when you didn’t have a book deal.Personally, I’m nervous as hell about a book tour and signings, just because I am a little shy. But I’ll get over it. The lure of meeting new people is too much for me to pass up!Merci beucoups!

  7. Sandra Ruttan

    Book signings are important. Oh, sure, they might be a bit humbling. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s all part of the experience, meeting people, figuring out what works, getting to know booksellers. Besides, when I used to scoop ice cream a long long time ago, when it was slow, the owners had no problem with me writing. I used scribble nonsense back then, but I could sit and watch the world go by and watch people and get ideas. And that’s something anyone can do during a book signing. So, even if you don’t sell much, it isn’t wasted.

    And I believe publishers invest more in authors who are willing to promote.

  8. Pari

    I like all of your points about gratitude and making good on a situation that may appear — at first glance — to have little merit.

    Yesterday, my signing was at a bookstore in an airport (the nonsecurity side) and all I could think of was how the seeds I planted with the folks from other parts of the country would yield interesting fruit.

    I can’t wait to see what comes up.

  9. Pari

    Some airports have concessions that are local (or regional). The company that runs the stores at the Albuquerque International Airport invited me — after much hard work on the part of UNM Press — to sign at the non-security store. This place isn’t known for its books — it has all kinds of little touristy knick-knacks.

    I stayed for about three hours and met a lot of people — several of whom bought one or both of my books.

    I talked with the manager who told me that every airport has very strict rules about what the stores can–and cannot–carry. Also, the airports don’t want competition among the stores–so, since Hudsons carries mroe reading materials and fiction, it’s a challenge to carry the above in many locally owned stores on the premises.

    As a matter of fact, my books–and most fiction–don’t make to the airport store on the other side of security because of the Hudson conflict.

    Still, I think it was worth the effort and very much hope to be invited back again.

  10. Iden Ford

    “Let me wander in your garden, and sew the seeds of love I sew” Lyric by Robert Plant from the song “Houses of the Holy”. Isn’t that what you are doing really? I mean if someone buys, reads, and loves your work, is it not the beginning of a long relationship between you and your reader? Maureen does as many drop in signings as humanly possible in and around our fair city, and wherever she goes. We had a great signing event for her new book in Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto, She dropped into as many stores to sign stock and meet booksellers as well in those cities so there were those little autograph stickers all over her books, and last week she did an event with Peter Robinson and Jose Latour. In the end we have a bookseller named Rachel who works in The Words Biggest Bookstore here in Toronto, a big box bookstore. She is numero uno fan of Maureen’s and handsells hundreds of her books every year. If you can find somebody like that, who is not a traditional mystery bookseller, and works in a big box store, put them in your will!!

  11. Christine Kling

    Pari,Excellent post about the merits of signings. I think on my last tour I hit every independent and Hallmark card shop within 400 miles. I would love to do more in the chains, but sometimes it is difficult to set them up when you are a small fish – actually more like an amoeba – in a big pond. They say my corporate has to talk to their corporate and they don’t want to do two events in the same metro area that has 6-8 stores. Maybe it’s really about money -coop- I don’t know the business well enough to say. So here I am whining that I want to plant and they won’t let me!

  12. Carstairs38

    As a reader, let me second Pari’s post. Many of my favorite authors are from Southern CA. Why? Because I heard about them when they did a local booksigning. Their book sounded interesting, so I bought it at the signing. Then I read it and, if I liked it, continued to buy books by that author.

    With so many authors out there, it’s hard to hear about everyone. Book signings are a wonderful way to do it.


  13. Pari

    Wow. I go away to make dinner (tofu/shrimp stir fry in an orange sauce), drink a scotch, and play Clue with the family and there are several brilliant emails awaiting my return.

    Thanks for responding.

    Iden, I’ve had to cultivate relationships with booksellers because I can’t travel nearly as much as I’d like. The Borders nearest my house handsells my books, so do some of the mystery indies around the country. If not, I would never be known beyond a couple of miles of my house.

    Thanks, too, for your kind comment about Murderati. I’m feeling pretty happy with the venture so far.

    Christine, boy, I sure feel your pain re the chains. I’d love to have my books in more stores, but face the same kinds of problems you do. Plus, everyone thinks that UNM Press only publishes academic/historical works–so, I get overlooked that way, too. Wah.

    Finally, Mark, thanks for chiming in. Your post confirms what I believe with all of my heart. Actually, if I’m correct, we met at the LATFoB two years ago when CLOVIS had just come out; you took a chance on me that day and I’m so grateful for that.

    Okay, all, it’s time to read REDWALL to the kids and get some quiet — non-computer–time before sleep . . .

  14. Pari

    P.S.,Iden,I think Maureen is very wise. I can’t wait to meet you both at Magna.

    Okay, now I’ll try to turn off this thing.


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