My afternoon signing at Borders in Normal got off to a bad start. I walked in around 11:30 for my noon signing. Then I saw a display for my book that said I would be there... at 1 PM. Uh-oh. For the past week or two, I had been sending out reminders about my signing at noon. I went out to the car and looked at my e-mails. Yep, it was supposed to be 1 PM. But what if someone came earlier based on my e-mails?
Embarrassed, I found a Borders manager and asked if we could set up an hour early. I was disrupting their schedule, something my friend who used to work in a bookstore advised me not to do. It didn't matter, really -- no one showed up between noon and 1 PM as I sat there by the customer information counter in the middle of the store (notice that I didn't get a location in front). In fact, the store was pretty empty, no doubt because temperatures were approaching 100 degrees -- why go out in that heat to get a book signed when the air conditioning at home feels so much better?
That was the theme for Normal -- all the people who didn't come. With the rest of the afternoon open on my itinerary, I stayed until 3:30... and sold two books. Two books in 3-1/2 hours. I gave a business card to a woman who said she didn't have the money to buy it right away, but other than that I hardly talked to anyone aside from one friendly employee who asked me dozens of questions. Too bad he got stuck at the front register for most of the afternoon because I was pretty lonely. Another employee walked past, simply asking, "Your first book?" I understood the subtext: You naive fool, you think people are actually going to show up for your book signing.
Even my wife ignored me, burying her nose in a book on the other end of the store. Gosh, just because they only gave me one chair doesn't mean you can't say hi every so often. When she finally came to see me after two hours, I had to give her my seat to get her to stay. Some background: on Friday night, my wife noticed that she wasn't wearing her wedding ring. Since I was wearing mine, we decided that people would think she was my mistress, or maybe a writer groupie. Back to Saturday -- I told her if anyone asked why she was in the chair instead of the author, I would tell them that she promised she'd sleep with me if I let her sit there.
As I prepared to leave, I asked how many copies I should sign for stock. The manager flatly responded,"Well, considering the turnout today, two." Two? Two freaking copies? It was the first time I was told not to sign every copy, but I found two to be a rather insulting number. After all, most stores stocked five copies or so, and the guy in Davenport told me autographed copies sell 20% better than others. Later I said to my wife, "They should have just said, 'Here, sign this piece of toilet paper.'" Not missing a beat, she replied, "Yeah, so they could flush it."
The local bike club had posted an invitation from me on their Web site. An online acquaintenance had said she would come. But the only books I signed were for people who just happened to be in the store when I was. My promotional efforts were all for naught. Some Borders people said the oppressive heat was probably to blame, but I couldn't help walking out of there feeling like the biggest loser ever granted an ISBN.
My next stop was Peoria, where I had promoted my signing much better. Plus Saturday night would probably draw more people than a hot Saturday afternoon...