Thursday, June 22, 2006

And We Need This Signed…In Blood

Lady T sent me a link to a post by the author Barry Eisler called “Independents, Chains, and Drive-By Signings.” Apparently Eisler did a multi-author signing event at a popular Independent and then left to sign stock at a B&N. At some point during this interaction the son of the bookstore owner took offense to something (either his attitude or his belief that it was okay to ask the directions to the local B&N) and felt the need to write Barry about his feelings. Eisler has posted the entire exchange, sans names, and I would suggest that you read it over. Not only does it bring up points about signing etiquette, signings vs. drive-bys, and street dates, but it illustrates the Independent vs. Chain tension. I don’t know if the Independent felt slighted because they’d set up this author event without the urging or help of Barry’s publicist, or that they’d put co-op dollars to do the signing and wanted exclusivity. None of this is very clear, but this series of letters provides great jumping off point to discuss some things.

I’m not going to pass judgment on whether I believe the tone of the first letter was appropriate. Y’all can do that over at Barry’s place if you want. I wasn’t there at the signing, and I have no idea what work went into putting it together. What I do what to know is a.) are you more likely to buy a book if it has been previously autographed and b.) does an autographing have more value/meaning to you if were actually at the event and any other books you happen to buy signed are just gravy?

Do author signings/events appeal to you at all?

What makes you go to one bookstore instead of another? It is the events they have? Convenience? Speed at putting their stock out?

And for the authors out there, have you had an experience similar to Barry’s, whether at an Independent or Chain? If you don’t feel comfortable answering this with your name, please use the names Bob or Sally as I’m particularly fond of them (and not at all fond of Anonymous which takes too long to type).

Let’s hear your thoughts, people.


Jane said...

I have no desire to buy a book just because it is signed. I don't really understand the whole idea behind autographs as an adult. As a kid, I thought it was wayyyy cool. But I will be interested in the author who is signing and has a line. Its the herd mentality in me. I think to myself, "hmm, this must be a really good author if all these people a) are standing in LINE and b) she is signing autographs because only famous people sign autographs, right?"

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

This all seemed odd. I sell antiquarian books. So, we don't have signings. I don't deal with this. If I have a signed book in stock, the author certainly didn't sign it in my store! He or she is probably moldy bones by now.

I wouldn't have liked it if an author was signing in my store and made it very public that he was going down the street to B&N, not that I don't love those folks. Nice people. But, still, I wouldn't like it if an author mentioned them in my store in a very public way. (That being said, I send people to B&N and they suggest us when the occasion arises.)

I wouldn't have been upset if an author privately asked directions or simply told me, “I'm signing stock there too today, and I have to leave at 3 p.m.” or some such thing. That's a fact of business life.

Maybe we used/antiquarian sellers just approach things differently. In our rather smallish town (under 250,000) there are four bricks and mortar used book stores. (There are two Internet only stores, one of which is planning on a physical presence come next summer.) Of these, only one is a direct competitor in that they sell very much the same kind of books we do. If we have a customer who’s looking for something we don’t have, we all feel free to get on the phone and call the other store and check.

I will also freely check abe or one of the metasearch book sites (bookfinder; addall) to locate the title. If I find the title online, I encourage my customers to buy directly from the other bookseller. If they have me order for them, it costs more. About 30 percent have me order anyway.

The point of this long, discursive post is that I see less of an issue than the independent seller did, but I understand that there is less direct competition between the used/rare booksellers in this area than there is between the new booksellers. Hastings and B&N helped shove the one independent into retirement. It was a shame. I loved their store.

Samantha said...

I wouldn't buy a book simply because it had been autographed. And even if it was an author that I enjoyed, I guess the skeptic in me would be skeptical whether it was a true autograph. I do have a handful of autographed books in my collection. All of which I obtained in person from authors that I already knew and liked or new authors I was trying out after reading them read. My main reason for standing in line to get the autograph was just to get the chance to talk to the author for a moment and tell them how much I enjoyed their work, I really didn't care about the autograph. The real treat came from one of the authors when he saw me a year later at a second book signing said 'hey you were here last year' - that's worth more than any signature in a book.

Susan Adrian said...

Fascinating link, BSC; thanks for posting it.

I would probably not be any more likely to buy a signed book sitting on the shelves. I buy books for reading, not for value, so the author's signature doesn't mean too much unless I know them.

However, I do value a signature at an author event. I enjoy making a personal contact with an author (even if only for a few seconds at a signing!), and would definitely be more likely to buy a book I was only mildly interested in if the author was there to sign it and chat with.

I'm well aware of the independent/chain tension, but I don't think the authors should be caught up in the middle of that mess. We're just trying to write and sell our books, people...

Marta said...

Ms. Bookseller Chick,

It seems that G blew up the perceived slight because of his frustration with the chains selling before the release date. It must be frustrating to play by the book, then have someone cheat to the finish.

An author's signature does not matter to me one way or the other.

I will go to any bookstore in sight, but when I want to browse, I select a store where the stock fits my mood. I'm not going to find Harm De Blij's books at a chain, and I'm not going to find light, fluffy bunny reads at a quality independent.

I prefer to shop independents, because they carry books that have been carefully selected for their reading community. The independents near me have friendly and informed staff, wonderful selections, and individual character.

I do shop at chains, too, and my general attitude is: the more bookstores, the better. I am concerned when chains edge out independents.

Kendall said...

I don't care about autographs. Like Samantha, I stand in line for an author I like, but for the chance to tell them so; the autograph is incidental. I usually don't get in line if I'm not buying (store) and/or don't have a book (SF convention). But once, I stood in line (SF con) just 'cuz there was only one person in front of me and I really loved the author and wanted to do the fanboy gushing thing. ;-) Then at a panel later that weekend, she paraphrased part of our exchange as if it were a regular thing. Highly amusing....

My other half likes autographs, though I'm not sure if he cares as much if he's not present to get it signed. Another friend of mine definitely likes autographs; she doesn't mind if she's not there to get it signed, but really loves personalized autographs (i.e., "To Sally, Enjoy! Author XYZ").

lady t said...

I've had books(and even some ARCS)signed by the author and the best part is getting to speak to the writer to tell he/she how much I like their work.

I originally saw this story at Galleycat and it really made me mad. I feel it was just so wrong of G to lash at an author who didn't mean to slight anyone and who even after getting sniped at,said he would do another signing for his store! It makes me sad that civility seems to have fallen by the wayside here.

Thanks for talking about this,BSC.

Saralee said...

I'll go to a booksigning for the chance to meet the author and get their signature on their latest book. Then the book becomes a memento of the event.

But picking up a previously-signed book from a shelf doesn't mean anything to me. I think it's a waste of time for authors to sign stock in such an impersonal way.

I like to go to readings and lectures by authors. I especially like to frequent bookstores that specialize in the genres that I prefer, not just general-interest bookstores.

My ideal bookstore would specialize in a particular genre and then invite authors to lecture and sign, have book clubs, and host other similar types of events. It would be a social gathering-place as well as a store.


quiche said...

I think G needs not to be so thin skinned. Our big chain store loses some sales to the few independents when they do author signings there and vice versa. I don't think making veiled threats is a good way to encourage an author to return (unless he's coming to avenge his honor as well).

My big chain store is scrupulous about street dates. I've pulled books that were mistakenly put out a week early before customers got to them. Around here Wal-Mart is the worst when it comes to selling stuff before its official laydown date.

SallyBob said...

My take is that maybe the writer was a little tactless to ask for directions at the indie bookstore (a few minutes of mapquest could have kept him from said tactlessness), but the bookseller's reaction really bothered me. This guy gave the bookseller his time and helped him run a successful event--while all he gave the chains was a few signatures on books on their shelves that they'd already ordered.

And instead of thanking the author for his time--and most authors do do signings on their own time, and their effect on sales is debatable--the bookseller emails him a "we can bring you down if we want to" email? What's up with that?

As a writer, I respect booksellers tremendously. But this one needs a bit of an attitude adjustment. Writers and booksellers (and librarians, for that matter) work together to sell books. I have no patience for writers who think they're better than those they work with and rely on--and I don't think this sort of attitude is any more appropriate coming from a bookseller.

I also suspect most of the readers who find the books at B&N will be different readers than the ones who sought them out at the signing. I always think of and talk to the indies first; but I can't afford to ignore other parts of my reader base simply because they choose to shop elsewhere.

Eileen said...

I love the opportunity to meet the writers of books I enjoy. Just because a book is autographed doesn't mean I would pick it up- but it might draw my attention and in this time of competing demands on our attention I imagine anything is a good thing.

I most likely wouldn't ask one bookstore how to get to another bookstore. I wouldn't hide or lie about it- but wouldn't bang the drums. Great post- interesting.

Maya said...

While I have a few autographed books in my collection, they have no more meaning to me than the rest of my books. I bought the book because I liked it; I'm not planning to sell it so the signature is a non-issue.

Having said that, I do attend bookseller events to get books signed. I keep track of my family and friends' taste in books and will stand in line to buy and get a signature as a birthday or Christmas gift. I've done this with books by Carl Hiaasen, Michael Connelly, Jodi Picoult and Janet Evanovich.

I think Eisen was a tiny bit thoughtless in asking where the B&N was, but apparently he didn't do so in the hearing of patrons of the bookstore so I think G's reaction was way out of proportion. I also think G's not-so-subtle threats were not humorous. He had a legitimate point about the violation of street dates, but that point was lost in the disgruntled tone of the rest of the letter.

Independents are fighting a losing battle, which hurts my heart because they are always my first choice when it comes to buying a book. When Wal-Mart can advertise a book at 50% off the list price, it's easy to understand the independents' defensiveness.

Diane P said...

Before blogs author signings were the only way to see & hear more about an author you admire. I haven't been to that many signings, but when my favorite authors make the time to come out to the NW, then I jump at the chance to see them.
I don't care about books being signed if I am not there to see the author.

I love all kinds of book stores. My children used to say that I could not pass by one without going in if only for a peek.

Cora said...

I don't particularly care for author signatures. Of several hundred books in my collection, only about five are signed. One of those was bought that way (at a used book store - I didn't even notice that signature until I got home). The others were all signed by the respective authors while I was present. In two cases, the authors were pals of mine. In the other two cases, I was involved in organizing the readings/signings.

As for the Eisler case, I don't live in the US and am not really familiar with the way bookselling is organized over there. However, it seems to me as if G overreacted. Particularly the none too subtle threats were uncalled for.

Serenity Now! said...

G's comment, "Some in particular that we know would simply stop carrying your books without comment" is beyond dumb.

It has a 'cut off your nose to spite your face' flavour to it.

I am sure that Barry could have been more subtle about going to B&N to sign stock when he's at an event organized by the Indie. But in the publishing world an author has to look out for his/herself. Now we are supposed to ensure no one's feelings are hurt while we aggressively market our work?

Or are we supposed to not market our work so aggressively and just smile and meekly shrug our shoulders when we don't get the sales we'd hoped for?

I don't buy a book just because it's autographed, but I will buy autographed books by my favourite authors. For example, Joshilyn Jackson sets up virtual signings at a local Indie and many of her fans purchase the signed books online... she goes in, signs them, and the Indie ships them to us. I love it. I adore it. I can't get to Georgia from Alberta... so there's no way I could make it to a signing. Joshily has come up with a way to support Indies and make her fans happy.

Ally Carter said...

I like to stop in and sign stock whenever I can not just because some people will pay special attention to autographed copies. The big advantage I see is that I get to meet the staff and usually once you make the effort of signing a book they'll move it to a table or an endcap which is what REALLY matters in my opinion. After all, a book shelved spine-out in fiction is very much like a tree falling in the forest, no one's there to hear it so probably won't make a sound.

great discussion as always,
Ally Carter

Doug Hoffman said...

I think it's nice to have signed editions, and yes, I feel even better about it if I'm the one handing the book to the author to sign. Just something cool about the whole thing.

Kerry said...

The autographed books I have mean a lot to me - but that's because they are a momento of when I got to meet the author rather than anything else.

Living way down in New Zealand, there aren't a lot of opportunities for author signings so the signed book becomes part of the recollection of what is a fairly significant event.

On the whole though, it's something I'm not fussed about, so the above examples are the exceptions where I like an author enough to go to the effort to meet them.

Kate R said...

I have a copy of Roots signed by Alex Haley and I think that's way cool--but my pleasure with it has little to do with the signature.

It's because my mom stood in line like a groupie to get the signature and that just amuses the heck out of me because she was the least groupie-like person I know. Alex and mom are dead now and I have this great momento beyond a copy of a book.

It makes the book way personal and I'll never sell it. Unless someone offers me a big load of cash.

Ummmmmm what was the question again?

Lisa Hunter said...

RE: "I think it's a waste of time for authors to sign stock in such an impersonal way."

Actually, it's not a waste of time. Autographed books can't be returned to the publisher for a refund. There's a cynical advantage for an author who signs as many stock copies as possible.

ello said...

I thought this email exchange was fascinating because of the sharp civility that veiled the anger underneath. In fact, I really enjoyed reading the correspondence because you could feel the tension behind the polite words, they snapped at me as I read them. I loved it!

I really see both sides of the equation here and really can agree with both the bookseller and the author. I grew up in New York and saw alot of independent bookstores that I loved close as the chains ran them all out of business. I now live in Maryland and there isn't an independent anywhere near me, unless I was willing to trek 40 minutes into DC, which is not convenient for me when there are two Barnes and NObles within ten minutes of my house. I am lazy by nature and will buy what is convenient to me, but I will truck my lazy ass over to Politics & Prose for alot of their great author and non-author events.

All that said, was G right to berate the author like he did? Probably not, but I think there was alot going on and he took some frustrations out on the author. I don't think he meant to threaten the author in any way, I think he was only striving to make a point about the power of the Independents. Perhaps if he had more time to think about it he would have worded it more carefully, but that is the problem with email, sometimes you hit send when it behooves you to stop, sit on it and reread before sending it out. I have alienated people in the past for just this same thing so now I'm careful to stop and not send a hot email out before I've reread it several times in a cooler frame of mind.

WAs the author tactless for asking for directions to the nearest B&N? Absolutely yes, but again, I think he spoke without thinking, had he only thought, geez, perhaps I shouldn't ask these nice independents who just hosted my signing and bought me dinner where the nearest B&N is, he would clearly not have asked and he would never have received this fascinating email.

BuffySquirrel said...

Signed book? Nope, don't care. Since I started reading on boards, blogs and other places where books are discussed by publishing professionals, among others, I've begun to feel like a bit of a maverick. All I'm interested in is the story. Authors don't much interest me. Signings don't much interest me. 'X, Y or Z loved this book' doesn't impress me (altho I do pay attention to in-store recommendations). I don't see a signed book as having any greater value than an unsigned one. Is all that as unusual as it's beginning to feel?

Funnily enough, the only signed book I have that was acquired at a book-signing I attended is one I got as a little girl from an author who was later prosecuted for molesting little girls.

Since the bookshop that offered a neat computer system to its customers closed, I tend to go to whichever of Waterstones or Ottakars is closest to where we're parked. If there's a signing at Ottakars I may walk away, because the queue sometimes winds out the door into the street and going in feels like pushing in.