The Houston Writers Guild asked me to write a short piece about my recent book-signing tour for their newsletter called Scribbler (circulation 600). The piece just appeared today in the “From the Trenches” section of the September Issue, Vol. 12 No. 11. It carried the headline, “Mike Orenduff Conquers Texas and New Mexico on a Wild Book-Signing Tour.” I did not write that.
Here’s what I did write: On Friday, June 10th, my wife and I loaded three hundred copies of The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras and half a case of Bombay gin into my car and drove from Valdosta, Georgia to El Paso, Texas. Even though it was over 1500 miles, we never touched a drop of gin until we were safely in a hotel room, preferably one where no vermouth had ever been uncorked; we like our martinis dry.
The first signing was at the Barnes & Noble on the eastside of El Paso, and the publicist for our alma mater, Ysleta High School, had arranged for some of the students to come. They wanted to meet, in their words, “a live author.” I assume the ones they read in school are all dead. Unfortunately, the students were given the wrong time, so they didn’t make it to the signing. Neither did the books in my trunk; B & N was one of the stores that ordered from Ingram in advance.
Writers know about this dilemma. If the stores where you do a signing order from your publisher or Ingram, the sales count in your official sales totals. Books you buy from your own publisher do not. Thus, you can choose either higher official sales numbers by having the bookstores do the ordering or higher profits by taking advantage of the author’s discount and taking your own books. Sales numbers are my priority, so I took books only to those stores – usually small indies – who did not want to order even though I always pointed out to them that Oak Tree books are fully returnable and available to book stores at the industry standard discounts and terms from Ingram.
Despite the glitch with the students, the first signing was a success. I sold perhaps two dozen books, signed another dozen at the manager’s request, and met some nice people. The last signing on the tour was scheduled to be in another B&N in Houston, but it was cancelled for some reason I never understood. Those book-end events (actually non-event in Houston) typified the tour. I had standing room only at Bookworks in Albuquerque, and they sold out. I sat for two hours in Silver City, and the only other person I saw was my wife who graciously stayed by my side. At other venues she wandered the aisles of the stores with the result that she ended up buying almost as many books as I sold. More packed houses when I spoke to the Mystery Club in Taos and the library patrons in Questa, but Canyon, Texas produced a measly six sales. I had signings in chain stores (B & N, Hastings, Waldenbooks), indie bookstores, libraries, a restaurant called Cookin’ Books because owner/cook Maureen has a shelf of books diners can read and/or buy, and at First American Traders in Gallup New Mexico, an old-fashioned Indian Trading Post where I obtained an Indian pot. Unlike my protagonist, I bought
it. Because authors with small presses have to engage in Shameless Self-Promotion, I judged the highlight of my stop in Gallup to be the headline in the Gallup Herald the next morning: “Former professor may fill Hillerman's shoes with new novel.”
On the way home, I had only six books left. We stopped for lunch in Alpine, Texas, and I spotted Front Street Books down the block from our café. I stopped in on a lark, and the manager bought five copies. She might have taken the sixth one as well except for the fact that it had already been signed “To Summer.”
Here are the lessons I learned, not in order of importance:
1. Do not schedule 24 signings in 32 days.
2. Always ask how to spell a name before putting pen to paper (If anyone out there is named Summer, I have a book signed to you that you can have at discount. The one I signed just after that one went to someone named “Summre.”
3. Contrary to popular opinion, balloons, bookmarks, and lollipops do not increase sales at your signing table; they only increase traffic.
4. At the risk of stating the obvious, a bookstore staff person who likes your book will sell more books than a glowing review in the local paper.
5. Even with months of advance planning, some stores will be surprised when you show up. Of course this may be due less to bookstore incompetence than to their experience of the unpredictability of authors.
6. Half a case of gin is not enough.
In the section just below the piece, the Editor of Scribbler wrote: Mike’s book is available on Amazon.com. He promises to make it to Houston by Christmas so you can buy personally signed copies.