Any author who was published back in the pre-ebook days can tell you stories about some horrible booksignings. I did a signing years ago in a now-defunct Newport Beach bookstore. Not a single soul showed up. So the store clerk plopped herself down in the seat beside me.
“This is great,” she said.
“How so?” I replied.
“I can read you some of my erotic poetry,” she flipped open a thick notebook filled with illegible scrawl, and began to read. “Hello, He throbbed…”
I looked at my watch. I was scheduled to be there another hour-and-thirty minutes. And my wife had my car…
“My wife should be here any minute,” I said.
“Her breasts swelled, waves of lust on a sea of passion…”
* * * * * *
Another signing, this one at a Waldenbooks in the South Bay, where I was stuck at a cardtable at the front of the store. Only one person even approached me. She wanted to know where the diet books were.
After two hours of boredom, I approached the manager and thanked her for having me.
“Would you like me to sign the stock?” I asked.
She looked at me in horror. “No way!”
“Why not?” No one had ever said no to me signing stock before.
“None our customers are going to buy a marred book!”
* * * * * *
I fictionalized one of my favorite bad booksignings for my short story REMAINDERED, which appeared in “Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine,” a few years back and was later adapted into a short film. Rather then tell it like it was, here’s a bit from the story instead…
The voice of a new generation sat at the end of aisle 14, where the house wares department ended and the book section began. He peered over the neat stack of paperbacks on the table in front of him and, once again, as politely as he could, told the irritable woman in the orange tank top and slouchy breasts that he had absolutely no idea where she could find wart remover.
“You’re not being much of a help,” she snapped, leaning one hand on her shopping cart, which was filled with disposable diapers, Weight Watchers Frozen Dinners, Captain Crunch, a sack of dry dog food, a box of snail poison and three rolls of paper towel. “Look at this, it’s doubled in size just this week.”
She thrust a finger in his face, making sure he got a good look at the huge wart on her knuckle.
“I don’t work here,” he replied.
“Then what are you doing sitting at a help desk?”
“This isn’t a help desk. I’m an author,” he said. “I’m autographing my book.”
She seemed to notice the books for the first time and picked one up. “What’s it about?”
He hated that question. That’s what book covers were for.
“It’s about an insomniac student who volunteers for a sleep study and falls into an erotic relationship with a female researcher that leads to murder.”
“Are there cats in it?” she asked, flipping through the pages.
“Why would there be a cat in it?”
“Because cats make great characters,” she dropped his book back on the stack, dismissing it and him with that one economical gesture. “Don’t you read books?”
“I do,” he replied. “I must have missed the ones with cats.”
“I like cat books, especially the ones where they solve murders. If you’re smart, you’ll write a cat book.” And with that, she adjusted her bra strap and rolled away in search of a potion to eradicate her warts.