Not Coming Soon To A Bookstore Near You


By Louise Ure


I had an email chat with an old friend a couple of weeks ago who said that her scheduled signing at a local bookstore on election night did not turn out as well as expected. “There was one person there, and I think he was homeless.” This from a woman who has published dozens of books in our genre.

I can understand her disappointment. The economy has taken a toll on the purchase of new hardcover books for many folks, the bookstore had not done a good job of publicizing her appearance in advance, and frankly, there were probably lots of people who just wanted to stay home that night and watch the election results. And who needs a signing to sell an electronic copy of a book, anyway?

Her signing failure is not uncommon. I remember attending one event for Laura Lippman several years ago that had only five attendees; all but one of us budding mystery writers ourselves.

The terror of my first book signing event is still with me. Yeah, me, the girl who had for three decades given hundreds of budget and strategy presentations to senior level clients all over the world. But that was easy by comparison, because all those years I was talking about/selling somebody else’s ideas or product. This time the product was all mine and I was selling myself.

Kirk Russell, sensing my angst, came over and said quietly into my ear, “Remember there is no one here that doesn’t want to be here. They’re happy to be here.” Kind of like that job at Dairy Queen I wrote about a couple of weeks ago: everybody who came in was happy to see me.

It got easier after that, whether I was doing solo signings, partnering with another author, attending conventions and panels or signing at libraries, clubs or festivals. I know I’ve done well over a hundred … maybe two hundred … appearances like that now.

But that doesn’t mean I like them.

I’m perfectly happy to converse with readers and get to know them as well as having them get to know me and my work. But I’ve become such a hermit these days that even telephone conversations – let alone a real social interaction – have become difficult.

And then you add in the money.

With my first book, published by Time Warner’s Mysterious Press (now Grand Central), I was treated like royalty. My book tour was set up and paid for by their PR team, and they even included media escorts to drive me around each city. My current publisher (St. Martin’s) does not offer those same kind of perks to many of their authors. My guess is that the big name authors still get a fair amount of PR support from their publishers, but ninety percent of authors pay their own freight on publicity tours. In my case, that’s meant thousands of dollars of contribution for gas, flights, hotels and meals, for little reward.

Is the two-person turnout in Portland or the one-audience-member-who-bought-six-books in a Seattle suburb justification for all those dollars spent? Not for me it isn’t. Not anymore.

And I’m not even sure who I was reaching with those book tours. With the first book, there were a preponderance of friends, acquaintances and family members who showed up. For the more recent books, many of the attendees already knew my work and came prepared to buy the next book. I don’t think it’s the way to reach a lot of new readers.

If I publish again, I doubt that I would do a book tour. Maybe I’d concentrate on conventions or libraries or a massive internet effort.

So what say you, ‘Rati ‘Riters? Do you continue to think book tours are integral to your marketing? Do you go to the same places with each book or different geographies? And does your publisher help with any of it?

And for our ‘Rati ‘Readers: are personal signing events important to you? Are you attending more or fewer of them these days?


PS: Have a great Thanksgiving everyone. I’ve got 31 people coming here. It will be the last of three decades of Ure/Goronsky household Thanksgivings. It’s somebody else’s turn now.


42 thoughts on “Not Coming Soon To A Bookstore Near You

  1. PK the Bookeemonster

    I understand the marketing idea behind book signings, I do. But authors are only hitting the big cities. There are readers in the smaller towns and other states that never get a visit except by their local writers. The closest an author gets to me in Montana is Denver. A 7 hour drive. So on the other hand I guess I don't understand the reasoning for it now with the expense and minimal exposure. With the ease of outreach (for everyone) and cost effectiveness of the Internet, I would think that authors can have a bigger impact going that route.
    Economically, the indicators are that we're going to get hit a lot harder in the next couple years so perhaps it may be wise to push with the libraries now, before the stampede. That may be the only route for most people for a while.

  2. Cornelia Read

    31 people. I am in awe…

    My most recent book signing, I had five people show up–if you include me. One was a friend, one was another writer I hadn't met, and two were just guys in the store. The nice bookstore owner said, "when this happens, I just take everyone out for drinks." Which he proceeded to do. That was great.

  3. Karen Olson

    I've cut way back on events. For my latest release in September, I did only three signings: one in my local independent bookstore, a library in the next town over from me, and a Borders (at which there were only five in the audience, and two of them were with one of the other authors on the panel and only one woman bought books). My publisher does nothing to promote my books, and I know it's all up to me, but I'd rather take that energy right now and write a really good book without the interruption of constant events.

  4. MJ

    I'm not attending any, though I'm buying and reading books at a good clip. Not attending because I work too much, so I'm either still at the office, or busy, or never hear of the signing at all, or it is 1 hour away in the college town and I'm too pooped to make the drive. But if I like the author, or hear good things, I still buy the book.

    I have some very fond memories of readings and signings back in the days when we had cool independent bookstores in the area, and the owners really made the event an "Event."

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Bookstore signings are generally wretched, but there are bookstores that consistently pull in great crowds and every author should know about them. At the amazing Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh, I consistently have dozens of people show up for my booktalk and signings. I go to a lot of signings, there and a poorly attended signing at QRB means 20 people. Think about it.

    I hate to do it, but I do well at big bookstore signings where I just sit at a table and talk with people who come through.

    Otherwise, I vastly, vastly prefer drop-ins to sign stock.

  6. Debbie

    Louise, it sounds like a busy day. There can be comfort in family close at hand and amongst the noise and confusion, may there be peace.
    Book signings, I'd love to meet an author that I was a fan of face to face, to have a book signed by them. If I'm jazzed about something, people around me seem to get caught up and if I ever met an author I admired I'd probably become walking PR! That said, I recently won one of Allison's books and, this will sound stupid, but I ran my fingers across her signiture, feeling the impressions left by the pressure of the pen. It for me, was a connecting point. I don't know that a signing generates many new readers but it is a connecting point for fans whose infectious praise spreads your name. As for translating to sales, if it did, wouldn't the publishers be promoting all their authors by paying for their presence?

  7. Sylvia

    I can understand the angst of a book signing. I recently took my 10 year-old to a book signing for a children's book that was out. The author was lively,chipper and lovely. It was exhausting to watch.

    Then there is the expense. Not much more to say on that.

    I will say that the bonus perks of the book signings are the general feel of creativity. The fact that we readers can talk to someone who has COMPLETED work. They have crossed the finish line. It's amazing and as a reader I sit there so proud of you, the author.

    Then of course if the author's friends show up… whoo-hoo! I went to Louise's signign and met Cornelia. Too much god damn, fucking fun. (yes, that was Cornelia inspired this morning).

    I can see book signings going by the way-side with eReaders on the rise but let's hope the don't disappear entirely. While writing is a solitary event, readers love writers and making a connection other than just leaving a review on Amazon. Promoting a book is hard (I'm guessing since I've never finished or published one) and the internet has helped in some ways but also put a weird facade between the reader and author.

    Here's to Thanksgiving!

  8. Kane Gilmour

    Louise: Best of luck with the dinner, but kind of a sad post. I'm sure many of your readers are unpublished authors like me. I have experience with public speaking, and I enjoy it quite a bit. I'm looking forward to the days I'll do signings. I'm also fully prepared to finance it myself, if need be. I also love to travel, so that probably helps matters.

    Alex makes a great point. How about a list of stores that each of you feel always produce a great turn out for you–or even a future post on it? I know I'd love to hear your thoughts on which stores are great and which areas of the country tend to work best for each of you.

    Thanks for the great blogging–all of you.


  9. Joni Rodgers

    I'm with you, Louise. Bookstore signings are the tenth circle of hell. My last one was at a store that was supposedly the best indie bookstore in the US at the time. When I arrived, the people working at the front desk didn't even know there was going to be an event that night. The event manager explained he'd been "super busy." The marquis out front still advertised a big name author who'd been there a week earlier. The sole attendee was a wonderful actress who'd recorded the audio versions of two of my previous books. (She'd seen the event listed on my website.) It was great meeting her, but by the time I returned that rental car, I'd resolved to never do another run-it-up-the-flagpole event for a bookstore that couldn't care less if anyone shows. It made me sick that Harper Collins had paid for my flight, hotel and car rental — a chunk out of my book's limited PR budget — and I'd taken that time away from my family. Pearls before swine.

    That said, last week I drove 90 minutes to visit a book club where my memoir was the October selection. It was a delight and well worth the trip.

  10. Barbie

    I've never really attended a signing, and, honestly, not really sure I would unless it was an author I'd known for a while and was at least acquainted with. I buy most of my books on my Kindle anyway. Oh, of course, I'm from Brazil, that makes it a bit harder to attend signings from the authors I like to read.

    Have fun with 31 people. Makes me feel claustrophobic just thinking about it.

  11. judy wirzberger

    I am so glad I went to your M is for Mystery signing. I got to meet Bruce there and get your book, double the pleasure.

    Just the other day I was thinking of asking you how you whittled away at the odds and ends of food that you had stored and you wrote so wittily about. I bet those 31 people are in for an interesting menu. Was it individual servings of canned oysters? Oyster Dressing.

    My thoughts are with you, but my appetite is taking me to my son's in Stockton – I'm in charge of the Razzleberry pie – lucky me!

  12. Tammy Cravit

    From my vantage point as an (as yet unpublished, at least in the fiction realm) author, I'm not sure the economics of book signings still work in an age where so many people buy their books on Amazon, or on their Kindle/Nook/Kobo/etc e-reader. I believe that bookstores just aren't the main place where people are buying books any more, so the return on investment of time and money for the authors just don't really make sense. When I can click on from the comfort of my living room sofa and download all three of Louise's books to my Kindle in 60 seconds flat, why on earth would I get in the car and drive an hour to a bookstore?

    Much as I'd love to meet some of my favorite authors, I don't think a book signing is necessarily where I'd be inclined to do that. Case in point – I live fairly locally to Sue Grafton, and though I met her a few years ago at the Santa Barbara Book & Author Festival, I've never attended any of her signings despite the fact that there's always one here when her new books come out. When I lived five blocks from a bookstore, it might have been a different story, but I think the reality is that, unless you're Janet Evanovich or someone with that level of visibility, book signings just don't reach enough people to be economically viable.

  13. Louise Ure

    Hi all, I'm getting a late start this morning.

    PK, you make me wish I'd toured in Montana. And Cornelia, five people (including you) plus drinks? I'd call that a success.

    Karen, I'm with you. Keep writing without the interruption of signings. Except that I'm not writing at all yet.

    MJ: I like the notion that attending a signing was "an event." That's gone by the wayside these days. Alex, that Raleigh bookstore sounds like a dream.

    And Debbie, can I tell you how wonderful it is to hear that you traced an author's signature with your fingers? I've done that before, adding to myself, "He actually held this same book in his hands."

    Morning, Sylvia. Nice to see you here. I do remember being inspired about writing when listening to an author at an event. But I also remember feeling dejected that I hadn't had the same level of creativity or drive.

    Kane, a list of the best places to sign? I'd have to start with Book Passage in Marin county, just north of San Francisco, plus the Poisoned Pen in Phoenix. If I only did two signings, it would be there.

    Joni, I love the idea of book clubs as an alternative. It instantly guarantees that everyone will have purchased or checked out your book from a library. And Barbie, alas, I never had Brazil on my touring schedule. My loss.

  14. Louise Ure

    Judy, I'm not subjecting my Thanksgiving guests to that same "eat it if it's in the pantry" diet I was on. I'm actually shopping for real food. But I'll go back to my Spartan ways when they're gone. Thanks for remembering that M is for Mystery signing. That was a great day.

    Hi Tammy. I can understand that author signings have become less important to readers these days. And I definitely should add the Seattle Mystery Bookshop to my "must visit" list.

  15. Dudley Forster

    Wow 31 people – We’ve had big Thanksgivings, but never that big. How big of turkey did you buy?

    I would love to go to a book sighing, but like PK said they are always in big cities. There are a few in Spokane at Aunties, but those are mostly by Seattle based authors. There are number of authors, include the Rati, that I would drive to Seattle to attend a signing (given it is not in middle of winter and the passes are a mess).if I knew about them. I have started checking tour dates for all my favorites to make sure I don’t. miss them.

    I agree with Debbie about how cool personalized signatures are. I too won a book from Allison. The day I received it I set it on my desk and my cat knocked over my coffee. I have one of those cups with lids, but it popped off. First thing I did was lunge for Allison's book and saved it from the spill, ignoring everything else until the book was safe.

    I'm sure most of you have seen Parnell Hall singing Signing in the Waldenbooks

  16. Fran

    Honestly, book signings can be like holiday gatherings: great successes or shuddering failures. And most fall in the middle somewhere.

    From a bookstore point-of-view, we love having authors in. It's part of how we stay in business, having youse guys stop by. But you're right, sometimes a stock signing is much better than a formal one, especially if your time is limited, or ours is.

    But part of what you're doing, in addition to meeting Adoring Public (you know, if they remember, or can make it in, or if the wind isn't west/northwest when the moon is full, or something) is you're meeting the folks who will handsell your books long after you've gone. Well, provided you're nice to us booksellers. And you'd be surprised at the number of authors who aren't.

    So it's a multi-layered thing. And now, with the cost of travel being so outrageous, and the economic downturn, often publishers don't send folks out. We do get that.

    But there's an interesting mind-set we fight with New York publicity departments, especially here in Seattle. There are several indie bookstores, and we really all do play nicely together, so sending an author here can make for wise dollars spent — a noon signing with us, an evening at Elliott Bay or Third Place books, and stock signings in between. But we can't convince NY folks that it's okay to have two formal events in one day; somehow they think it's counterproductive. But our demographics are different, and seriously it works.

    Of course, then the other downside are the publicity folks who schedule a signing with us at noon and a follow-up signing at 3:00 in Portland. Or Spokane. But that's another issue.

    Just know that some of us are always jazzed to see you even if the crowds are miniscule!

    Happy Thanksgiving, Louise, you brave woman! And know in your heart you're always welcome through our door, new book or not. We love you for you!

  17. Dudley Forster

    Fran – Which bookstore? I was kicking my self for missing JA Jance's signing. I know she had a number of them in the Seattle area. Also, do you have newsletter?

  18. JD Rhoades

    The only people who get a lot of visitors to their book signings are people who don't really need the publicity.

  19. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Oh, man, Louise…I can't believe you're throwing such an enormous Thanksgiving dinner. My hat's off to you–I wouldn't be able to do it. I hope it is a warm and loving event.

    Book signings…boy, that was the big thing for me before I was published…the idea of doing book signings, having my publisher send me all over the country, everything taken care of. Not.

    That's where a considerable amount of my advance money has gone. Paying for my own touring. I really reduced the tour for BEAT, after seeing my savings deplete from the BOULEVARD tour, which was pretty small in itself. I think the kicker was my signing at the Los Vegas Borders, where one person came, and she was there to see the composer of Wicked (also named Stephen Schwartz). Now I fill up my signings with family and friends and I'm amazed and surprised when someone shows up who I didn't already know. I definitely stacked the cards for the signing at the Beat Museum, which I did in SF just before Bouchercon. The stars all aligned for that one, and it'll never happen that way again. I'm getting the impression that book signings simply arent "sexy." They don't bring in the crowds, except for the big authors.
    I think in the future I'll spend all that book-tour money on coffe and croissants at the local cafe where I write, and I'll just….write.

  20. Fran

    Hi Dudley. We're Seattle Mystery Bookshop. Judy always signs with us; she was our first sale in the shop lo those many years ago, so we have a special relationship.

  21. Louise Ure

    Dudley, I love the fact that your first thought was to save the book from the coffee. (I usually try to save the keyboard first.) And Fran is from the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, one of my all-time favorite stops

    Hi Fran. Scheduling multiple signings in one day makes so much sense to me. Folks who would travel to downtown Seattle are not the folks who would attend a signing 45 minutes north of the city.

    JD, I'm with you. Folks who draw crowds usually don't need them. And Stephen, yes, save the book tour money for croissants. Or rent.

  22. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Dudley – I was just signing at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop – maybe two weeks ago. Thanks to Fran and her crew!

  23. Debbie

    "S/he actually held this same book in his hands." That is exactly the feeling and bears repeating. Maybe the future will include personalized signed copies mailed out by the publisher! And Fran's comment made me realize that I had overlooked the book seller in this equasion…sorry.
    Dudley, thank you so much for posting that…I've been wondering how to find it again and now I have it!
    Btw Rati, 'if you're signing (in TO) I will come!' …just let us know here. Maybe that could be added to the blog along the side?

  24. Fran

    I'm sorry I didn't get to meet you, Stephen! I used to be on the Saturday crew but got switched. Still, Janine, Adele and BIll reported FABULOUS things, which only made me miss my Saturday gig even more. Glad you could make it!

  25. Dudley Forster

    Fran – I started reading JA Jance with UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY right after it was released. At the time I was excited to see a mystery set in the PNW. I can't remember which book but IIRC Beaumont actually visited Pullman. Next time I'm in Seattle I’ll be sure to drop in to say hi.

    Stephan – Another shot in the foot, though a couple of weeks ago I probably wouldn’t have made it as I had a server install. That is one of the frustrating things about book signings, not hearing about them until after the fact. I have become more proactive by looking at tour schedules, but I still missed yours.

  26. Allison Brennan

    As a mass market author, we don't get sent on tour nor are we expected to do book signings. Indies, which are great for signings if you're in hardcover, aren't (generally–they are some terrific exceptions!) interested in mass market authors. And because we aren't sent on book tours, we'd have to pay for it ourselves–something I can't afford to do.

    That said, I usually schedule one or two signings locally. I've done group signings with both mystery and romance authors. Some are terrific, some are dismal. I don't sign books to make the sale–even a really good signing will have me selling only 20-30 books (and that's about $20 royalties for a mass market author) but I do signings because the booksellers have told me they like having authors in, it helps them across the board (not just that signing) and it's a good way to network. But truth is, I don't have the time to really do this effectively. I can't hit 30 stores in northern california, and scheduling and making sure books are there–even drive by signings are tough when they only have 6-8 copies of your newest release. If I see a store and have time, I'll pop in and sign stock they have. Unfortunately, with fewer titles on the shelves, they rarely carry much backlist. Even my local Borders which are HUGELY supportive of me and ALWAYS order extra copies only has one copy of each backlist title. Other Borders don't carry much, and BN rarely carries my backlist at all.

  27. Spencer Seidel

    I think this is why I'm positively obsessed with the idea of dragging my guitar and amp around (with a drummer and bassist if possible) and playing loudly enough that people MUST come over to have my book (or body part) signed. That's the theory, anyway.

  28. Louise Ure

    Debbie and Dudley, you've both reminded us that we can make better use of Murderati to announce our tours. 'Rati authors, we should remember to do this on the Twitter part of the blog, no?

    And Allison, your comment that the tours are good for the booksellers is spot on.

    Spencer, nobody has ever asked me to sign a body part. But I did get one younger reader who asked me to sign his skateboard.

  29. Laura

    Living in Australia our signings are either local authors or few and very far between. I work for an independent and we adore it when an author comes in for a signing. Sure we have had those events where not many people show up due to various reasons (and we've all watched and related to that Hall Parnell youtube clip) but there is something genuinely special about authors coming in, and the excitement of the staff does generate excitement with the customers. Authors have devoted their lives to writing, booksellers, we've devoted our lives to reading and selling the authors work. One needs the other. Handselling is one of the biggest turn overs in stock in our store. We have a personalised recommendations shelf, with all of the staff names and their book pick for the week, we run a newsletter to 4000 people upward in the community, glossy full colour with staff reviews. Generally speaking if a staff memeber likes an author, we carry that authors backlist, we make every effort to handsell copies of new (and old) titles. So although we know book signings and such may be impractical and expensive it's something that we as booksellers value. 🙂

  30. Susan Shea

    As a newbie author, I think I got good audiences because – whoo hoo, she finally finished the damn thing! – family and friends talked it up. Next time out, I'll be looking at crowds of one or two people, I fear. Yes, the book clubs are lovely and I'm flattered when a group takes on the book and we meet (in person or by phone) after they've read it. And it's different if you're trying to sell a smaller number in hard cover than a 15,000 run in mass paper. I love book events – I'm so impressed by all you stunningly good writers and you're always so friendly and encouraging. I think writers can sell books with their personalities. But even so, I only buy 1 or at most 2 copies, so what good am I to you? Damned if I know how to sell books, though – we need to keep talking about this! (31 people for dinner and you're a hermit?)

  31. Anonymous

    I would go to a book signing anywhere………if it featured Louise Ure launching her new work.


    Happy T-day. Hope they all appreciate the bird carving on the autopsy table nuance …….lovely !!!

    Take care. Hug your folks close and then send them on their way. It's been a ……."year" …….for you.

    I think of you often with concern, you know.

    Gobble gobble……..

  32. Reine

    Louise, the only readings and book signings I avoid are the very crowded ones with long lines. I prefer book fests and similar events, author readings to benefit the library, that sort of thing. It's really nice to meet authors who write my favorite books, but I've often wondered how authors feel about taking part in these events. When you read blogs, almost all authors talk about how wonderful it is to meet people who read their books. I am such an introvert, I know it would be hard for me to do. Then of course if only a few people came… see I just can't imagine writers like you and Cornelia and the others here only having a small group at a signing.

  33. Louise Ure

    Laura, I'll be in Australia the next two months on holiday. We may need to hook up.

    And Susan, I am so glad to see you here and welcome you to the world of published authors. You are too cool.

    Anon, you have my heart. And Reine, you can't imagine me and Cornelia with small crowds? Bless your heart.

  34. Cindy Sample

    Louise, you have more people coming for dinner than attend most book events. As a new author with a small press I assumed a book tour would not make sense. My 3 local book events went well primarily because my friends were not only willing to come, they dragged their family and local PTA members along. Because my publisher lets me buy books and sell them, I've sold books at wineries, art galleries, and during Girl's Night out. My sales have ranged from 10 to 25 books in 2 to 3 hours and I've met many people who then arranged for their book club to read the book.
    So my personal sales have been great but is this the highest and best use of my time? The jury is still out.

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

  35. Cara

    31 folks for Thanksgiving Louise? Hats off and hope someone else does the dishes!

    You raise excellent points as does Stephen. Think it's about choosing and weighing the options. When I visit Fran and the great folks at the Seattle Mystery next March, I'll do the Alliance Francaise that night and like Fran said it's about using your time to optimum advantage. I love indie bookstores and for me, whether a crowd or lack of one, it's about connecting with the booksellers and hanging out with them.
    Booksellers are my people, heck I married one, they're my tribe..
    Last week in France I lugged a roller bag of my books (furnished by Penelope from the Red Wheelbarrow a great English book indie in the Marais) on the train to Rouen for a daylong Noir/Lit conference at the University. I slogged up and down Metro steps with that roller bag and into Gare St. Lazare thank god I did…that night my big thrill was to give Penelope – who's struggling – the 550 Euros for the books we sold. I try to go the extra mile/kilometer for a bookseller because so many, many have done that for me.
    xoxo Cara

  36. Kagey

    The meet-the-author events I've enjoyed the most have been multi-author gatherings. The Los Angeles Festival of Books lets me and my husband have a blast, and each meet authors we read or would like to read. (We have divergent reading tastes.) We consider book signings like this a great date!

    Last month we went to Frank Delaney's reading in Denver. We planned ahead of time to buy his new one plus some of his backlist. His wife, Diane Meier, also read, and I decided to pick up her first novel as well. When we arrived at the table to sign, we had over $100 in books, since we decided some would make good gifts. (Delaney quipped, "You do know you can read the same copy twice?")
    I might never have picked up Meier's book without hearing her read. So perhaps, combo-readings are the way to go?

    And YA authors tend to do school visits, but that's hard because it isn't really a selling opportunity. Bookmarks or some other tangible are good, because those MIGHT make it home, the parents MIGHT see them, the kid MIGHT get the book. Too many mights in there, but then, the point of the school visits is also education and generally promoting reading.

  37. gayle

    What do you mean, IF you publish again. I hope it's more a question of WHEN you publish again. I have all three of your books and have enjoyed each of them. One I even have in e-book and p-book. As much as I love to read, I have never attended a book signing. I guess I'm not all that interested in meeting the authors in person.

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