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.
* 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 ———————–