On booksignings and BEA

I had the pleasure of attending BEA in NYC last week, joining the whirlwind round of publishing parties, panel discussions, and of course the author signings.  Although everyone I spoke to said the convention was quieter than usual this year, things certainly seemed to be bustling as I got out of my taxi at the entrance to the Jacob Javits Center.

The first thing I saw was a humongous two-sided billboard for Karin Slaughter’s upcoming book.  It was stunningly gorgeous and absolutely unmissable by anyone entering the building. 

Once inside the building, it took only a glance to see which books are getting big money thrown at them.  And judging by all the posters, the big title this year seems to be Justin Cronin’s hefty post-apocalyptic novel, THE PASSAGE.  Just in case convention goers missed seeing the posters, the title was plastered across all the plastic badge carriers you had to wear around your neck, turning every participant into a walking mini billboard for THE PASSAGE.  I guarantee, there isn’t a single convention goer who didn’t walk out with that title branded in their brains.

Other big names were, of course, getting big promotional splashes.  John Grisham.  Jon Stewart.  Marlo Thomas.  Barbra Streisand.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any of their presentations because those were hot-ticket events.  The one speech I really wish I could have witnessed was the one by Sarah Ferguson, in what had to be an excruciatingly uncomfortable presentation by a celebrity doused in the fresh reek of disgrace.  One editor told me, “Thank god I didn’t buy her book!  What a nightmare it must be, trying to promote it at this moment in time!”

I had quite a bit of free time to wander the convention floor, and stopped in at the Mystery Writers of America booth, where I got a sweet hug from Margery Flax.  The most eye-popping booth was sponsored by Saudi Arabia, a gorgeous mini-Sultan’s palace with artfully displayed books.  Workman Publishing also got my vote for a fun display that made you want to sit right down on the floor and play with the merchandise.  In what looks like a peek into the future, there were quite a few booths offering services to authors eager to self-publish their e-books.  And plenty of booths were devoted to graphic novels. 

What astonishes me every time I visit these book shows is the vast range of what’s being published, from books about fly-tying for fisherman to books about — well, everything.  If there’s a subject that wasn’t covered by some book, somewhere in that convention, I can’t think of it.  As usual, I found myself drawn to the quieter corners of the trade floor.  Instead of fighting the crowds at the Hachette and Harper Collins booths, I wandered past booths where authors sat with displays of their self-published novels.  It was sobering to see how few convention goers seemed to take any interest in stopping by those booths, or even making eye contact with the authors.  The  self-published books offered a few interesting possibilities.  I lingered over a promising YA advice book about what it takes to become a doctor, and a few woo-woo books about the occult snagged my attention, but there was a wide range in how those self-published books were packaged.  Some looked absolutely professional; others were downright pitiful.  

On my last day, I took my place at the authors’ signing booths, where we gave away 100 copies of ICE COLD.  These signings can be excruciating for a new author who sits and stares at empty space while a line snakes around the corner for the hotshot author sitting next to him.  This time, I was happy to see a line waiting for me.  But that certainly wasn’t the case in times past.  One bookseller who came up to get her book signed reminded me of the first time she’d met me at a book fair years ago.  “You didn’t have anyone waiting in your line back then.  I felt so sorry for you, sitting there all alone.”

And that’s how it usually igoes for every new author.  The days when you just have to grin and bear it as you sit with your stacks of unwanted galleys, waiting for someone — anyone — to take pity on you and ask for your book.  (Did I mention these are free books?  Oh, the humiliation, when no one wants your book even when it’s free!)

If you’re a new author, it helps to remember that John Grisham went through the same humiliating ritual when he was starting out.  So did we all.  There’s nothing like being a writer to experience the sting of rejection.

Want to know just how humiliating a book signing can be? Watch this video.  It’s a riot.



16 thoughts on “On booksignings and BEA

  1. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Tess

    Glad you had a good time – and a long line – at BEA. Last time I was in London, your latest book cover and your name was splashed all over the Underground!

    The Parnell Hall video is great, but sadly true. Somebody said that writers have to take more rejection and criticism in a year than most people have to suffer in a lifetime…

  2. Barbie

    Tess, can I just say I LOVE this time of the year??? It’s when my thriller books come out. I spend most of them year reading romantic suspenses and other romances but, then, Tess Gerritsen AND Karin Slaughter have new books around the same time, and I get kicked into the thriller mood, and YAY!


  3. tess gerritsen

    Spencer, if your publisher asks you to participate in their sponsored events, it’s definitely a good place to network. One of the big reasons that I went was to meet booksellers at several cocktail parties sponsored by Random House. Another way is to take part in signings at booths sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America or Romance Writers of America. But an author on his own, without an organization or publisher to back him up, may have a harder time actually getting to meet booksellers and librarians.

  4. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    What a great video! Parnell did another great video at the Left Coast Crime banquet that made everyone laugh this year, too. What a great character!
    Thanks for the perspective on BEA. I wanted to be there this year, but I’m saving up for Thrillerfest. Hopefully I’ll be at BEA next year.
    I did a great signing at the Poisoned Pen last year, where they paired me with the wonderful F. Paul Wilson. It was like being at a Star Trek convention where he was Captain Kirk and I was one of those red shirts who dies in the first act. He signed about three hundred books, and I signed two. A great lesson in humility. Not for him, of course.

  5. Louise Ure

    Tess, thanks to both you and Parnell for this. I, too, had the unhappy fate of signing next to MHC, in my case at the LA Festival of Books. She finally took pity on me, and not only signed a book for me but bought one of mine.

  6. Robert Gregory Browne

    Stephen, when Brett and I were at the Mystery Bookstore booth at LATFOB this year, we were sandwiched between Robert Crais and T. Jefferson Parker.

    Want to guess how many books we sold?

    I went to BEA a couple years ago and quickly realized that it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by it. Sooo many books, so many publishers, so much promotion. Plus I could barely walk by the end of the day.


  7. Joe McIntosh

    Thanks for the laugh Tess. So sad but true. I have done many radio remote broadcasts where it was promoted all week to come meet me! Three hours after arriving, I pack up my stuff and one of the salesman comes over and says, "Hey Joe, can I have a CD and a T-Shirt? Looks like you have plenty left over." Been there on a much smaller scale, but the feeling is one and the same.

  8. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I LOVE the image of Paul Wilson as Kirk. In real life he’s more like Spock. No, Bones. Maybe both. But he can PLAY a mean Kirk.

    Can you tell I’m doing copyedits? Aaaahhh…..

  9. Colby Marshall

    As one of those in a long line for your signing, it was so nice to meet you at BEA last week as well as to have a chance to ask you a question at the suspense panel. It was nice to hear I’m not the only one without wildly detailed outlines for my writing! Thanks so much for signing my book- I’m anxiously awaiting my UPS delivery so I can read Ice Cold!

  10. Dave Clark

    One of the several no-interest bookstore appearances I made was at one where I was told by the staff that Dan Brown had a signing there once, and he didn’t draw flies, either. I was so thrilled to be in the same company! I didn’t find a lick of the whole author-thing discouraging in the least. I had plenty of time while the crickets chirped to write notes on a book idea that people may actually buy, so I found it productive in some fashion. And I figured out how to schedule a store signing near friends and relatives on days that they’re free.


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