Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The End of the Book Signing Battle!

"Borders, B & N?....!"

The battle is over, the bombs dropped, the shots fired, the smoke cleared, the dead lay scattered across the battlefield, the wounded picked up and carted out to the mobile hospitals. Me, I sit with my back up against the trench, face hot and dirty from the soil that sticks to my sweat, my breath beginning to even out, lit cigarette danging from trembling fingers.

Yesterday was the day I wanted to see if I could sell more books online than I could at a traditional signing. As you know, for eons, traditional signings have been an integral part of the writer's job in promoting his or her work. Remember the old stories about writers getting into their cars and traveling cross country to stop at every bookstore possible in order to "move units?"

Well, that kind of thing has not only become out-dated, it's become an anachronism in this the age of global media, internet, and social networking. Why get in the car and travel to a bookstore to move a few copies when you can move three, four, even ten times the amount by doing some social networking and pushing right from home?

Anyone who knows me, knows I've never been fond of book signings.
I've never had much luck with them. I remember once showing up in LA at a signing scheduled at a pretty popular mystery bookstore, and my books hadn't arrived yet. I recall others where it snowed and no one could make it. More recently, a bookstore owner purposely double-billed with an author she was promoting due to his local celebrity news broadcasting status. I was told to "go to the back of the store!" I signed books for the people who had shown up to see me, and then I walked out.

Perhaps it's me, but too often the attitude I've received from some bookstore owners and workers (not all, but some) was one of, "You need me, but I don't need you!" Hmmmm, shouldn't it be the other way around????

Last evening I was scheduled to sign books at the local B&N. It's like one of three bookstores left in the area, so in a way, I felt an obligation to sign there, even though I much prefer to speak at high schools, colleges, book clubs, even rotary meetings. As much as I loathed the event, I decided to put the situation to good use and advertise a push for THE INNOCENT just to prove that my time might be better spent selling books from my own computer than standing in a big chain store outlet for the Big 6, where I would almost certainly not sell very many copies of a small press production.

Now, as early as 10 AM in the morning, my built-in-shit-detector started whispering to me. It said, "Vince, there's gonna be a screw up with B&N and there won't be a signing." I even posted my sentiments on FB. Not 45 minutes later, I received this email from the Director of Public Relations for the Albany area B&N:

Hi Mr. Zandri,

I have a note here that we had discussed, before the holidays, the possibility of an author signing for this evening. However, I have not been able to get any copies of your book as it is still listed as unavailable to order, and there are none in our distribution center. I did not have a phone number to contact you, but was able to find your e-mail on your website. Can you contact me so that I know you received the message and we can try and set up a signing date when the books will be available?


Community Relations Manager
Barnes & Noble Booksellers

The prophecy, dear reader, had been fulfilled.

Mind you, this email was received on the morning of the signing. Invites had been sent out, confirmations of who would be coming received, not taking into account general public attendees. Naturally I immediately got on the horn with my publisher and was not only informed that the books had been distributed a month ago, he had the receipt in hand for their arrival.

So I went back to Ms. Community Relations Manager with the intel and received this email back:

Hi Vincent,
I checked with our Receiving Department. It appears that the book was received, however, the ISBN that was on the cover of the book was incorrect, and scanned the book as a title that was to be returned, and was sent back to the publisher. I apologize for the confusion. In any event, I do not have copies of the book here in the store. Without a physical copy of the book here, I can't check the ISBN to see where the error was. Regardless, we'll have to reschedule because I don't have anything here for you to sign.
Let me know what you would like to do.

So, by all appearances, because of an inner departmental screw up, I was SOL. What this ironically meant of course, was that my little competition between Kindle/E-Book sales vs. paper sales at a brick and mortar bookstore was already won by the E-Books....By default.

But a strong lesson had been learned by this experience. It told me that no longer would I seek out book signings in brick and mortar stores as a general rule. Only under special circumstances will I now do a signing. To further bolster my stance, online sales were brisk yesterday to say the least, not only with Kindle, but with Nook, and other E-Book readers. Not only did THE INNOCENT sell in bestselling numbers in three different Amazon categories, but many of my other "in print" titles told as well.

When I went to bed last night, and the B&N doors were locked up for the night, my books kept right on selling, while that box of books that was sent back by B&N sat gathering dust and mold in some warehouse, whereabouts unknown.

My books are selling. There's power in those words.

My books are selling right now. As they will forever and ever, thanks to paperless publication. Regardless of how many book signings I do or don't do, no matter how many bookstore owners turn their nose up at me, no matter how many I-don't-give-a rat's-ass B&N workers who decide to return my books to sender simply because it's a hell of a lot easier than taking the time to look into the ISBN problem.

I received two more emails from the B&N community relations person. The first thanked me for my understanding. But I wrote back telling her that it wasn't so much my understanding, so much as I wasn't surprised at the treatment I received. First, in not being informed of the screw up until the day of the signing and, second, in not making the effort to look into the problem in the first place. After that, she merely responded with the following:

I respect your feelings and wish you well with all of your writing endeavors.
Community Relations Manager

Simple and community relations-respectful. But also generic and totally blow-off.
In other words, instead of "Hey, let's work this out and get you back on this floor for a dynamite book signing," it was just, Good luck with the career and don't let the door slap you in the ass on the way out.

And you wonder why indie publishers and self-published authors are creating a virtual revolution? Listen folks, this isn't all about getting 50% off the dollar for each sale; it isn't about the ease of DIY; it isn't necessarily about mining the Kindle market for all its potential gold. In other words, if you think the revolution is about the money, you've got it dead wrong. The revolution is about authors no longer being slaves to the likes of B&N, to the likes of irresponsible and corrupt agents, to the likes of big corporate publishers who just assume toss you under a bus rather than honor a contract that won't guarantee hundreds of thousands in sales. The biggies aren't bankrupt in their bank accounts, they are bankrupt in their souls and have been for a long, long time.

The publishing revolution is about freeing the author from the chains that bind them to corporate slavery, greed, and irresponsibility. I'm a bestseller now. Shove that in your pipe and smoke it, Ms. Community Relations Manager!

And thank God I'm free! Free at last, Free at last... Thank God almighty, I'm free at last!


  1. How freakin frustrating!!! I would have been there in line with my Kindle or a napkin or anything for you to sign! ;) But, too far to drive from TX!

    Michelle V

  2. In the late 1980s I walked into a bookstore in San Jose, California, and noticed the Police Chief Joseph McNamara with his table, books and sign set up for a signing of his new crime novel. Other than the clerk, he and I were the only two people in the store. He looked really uncomfortable standing there looking around. We exchanged furtive glances the entire time I was in the store, and I know he was probably hoping I'd walk over and talk to him, so he wouldn't feel so stupid, but I really wasn't interested. So I looked over some of the books for awhile, and then left the poor guy standing there all alone.

  3. ironic that B&N is going under. Closed 50% of their stores already and looking to close another 1/3. Perhaps Ms. Community Relations should consider that.

  4. WOW Holy S__t....I would have been livid but on the other hand...once again...your experiment A+. So sit back in the comforts of home, write those best sellers and take mini "signing breaks via the internet". I have the same belief that you do that there are a lot of big corporate suits walking around with their heads up a part of their anatomy and not knowing where to turn or what to do. Even with us little old bloggers...don't think they get "it" that we have a "bit" of power with their authors. Little Ms. Public Relations..big title....little competency!!! Won't be long before the door hits her in the rear when B&N goes online only.

  5. Myself and another author have yet to be paid by our local B&N for a booksigning we did when we were allowed to bring our books in. Basically I was told by the CRM, after the fact of course, that the store was no longer supposed to do signings this way so Corporate could've cared less. Two years later, still no money. Ah, I just love giving away books.

    Oh and I posted a link to your blog on my blog at

    Personally, since chain bookstores are so unwilling to accept change in the publishing industry, I can't wait for them to fall. Large publishers will be next . . . unless they ask for a government bailout and get it.

  6. I actually feel sorry for the CRM. B&N created them to shut the small/self-pubbed publisher up. "Let's humor them," they said. "Let's let them schedule their little booksignings and events so they'll feel important." Most of these poor CRM's had no idea what their job was really about.

    Once B&N had to start cutting corners, the poor CRM got it first. They're moving them to do outside sales to libraries and such. No lie. That's what I was told by one CRM. She then said the plan was to do away with them all together. I've said it once, I'll say it again. The first thing you see of a sinking shipping sink is all the dead weight they've thrown overboard.

    Those CRM's are just as stunned as the poor employee's that work at B&N or Borders. Just innocent victims of corporate greed and plain outright bullying. I really hope those folks can find a job. And I hope that one day, in the not so distant future, I can actually make a living as a writer. That's all. Just make a living.

  7. Here's what I think. Imagine for a moment that books had ALWAYS been available electronically, but were only now becoming available in print. I know, it's ridiculous, but humor me.

    Imagine, as an author, being advised that now, since books were available in print, you should spend three hours of your time - four or more when you factor in everything you have to do to prepare - inside a bookstore, just in case someone might come by who would like you to sign a book for them.

    You would have told that person to go screw themselves, right? Why spend all that time for such a small potential return, when you could spend a fraction of that time connecting with your readers online, and maybe spend the rest of the time, you know, actually writing?

    Book signings are a vestige of an era when it was really the only reasonable way an author could make a connection with readers. They will soon go away entirely, with the possible exception being the mega-superstar authors, who might use signings as a way to demonstrate their popularity...