Remember my video about the nightmare book signing?

Well, bad signings make frequent appearances in author circles.

Recently a friend set up a table at a “free” outdoor event for parents and toddlers. She thought it would be a good opportunity to showcase her picture book and sell some copies.

No one approached her all morning. She was getting very discouraged.

Finally, a woman who had been manning another table walked up. “I’d like one for my son,” she said. “His name is [very unusual name].”

My friend picked up her pen, personalized the book to the woman’s son, wrote a special note, and autographed it. “That will be $15, please.”

The woman stared. “Oh, I thought it was free.”

My friend was taken aback. “Free? This is a picture book from [Big 6 Publisher].”

“But everyone here is giving away free stuff,” the woman said.

My friend then felt bad. SHE FELT BAD?! “Well, since you didn’t know, I will let you have it at cost. I paid $10 for it.”

“Never mind,” the woman said. “I don’t want it.” And she turned back to her table.

My friend was near tears. She hadn’t sold a single book and now she was stuck with one signed to “Jakellen.” What were the odds that another “Jakellen” would come to a future book signing? About a Jakellen-to-one!

This serves as a cautionary tale for both readers and authors.

Authors do not get their own books for free.

They are offered a very limited quantity upon publication, usually somewhere between 5 and 15 copies, most of which they use for promotional purposes. The rest they have to pay for themselves, typically at 30-40% off the retail price. Sometimes they do better purchasing from Amazon and not the publisher-direct! Free books are very rare.

And remember, that author has worked years to publish that book. And authors do not get paid while they are writing it. A lot has been sacrificed to get that book onto shelves. So please don’t expect a book for free. And don’t walk away from a book that has already been personalized. That author has now lost whatever they paid for the book, and the royalty they earned doesn’t even cover 10% of it.

While tempting, it may not be the best idea to do signings at advertised “free” events. People arrive with the expectation that they’ll never have to dip into their wallets. (And considering the economy, that’s the kind of feeling they want to experience often!) They are not in the mood to buy, and therefore may avoid you, even if what you’re selling looks good. They have not arrived with the mindset (or the money) to make a purchase.

And finally, it may be proper to let the reader know the price before you sign a book. Or else you might get stuck with a lot of “Jakellen” copies. And frankly, “Jakellen” isn’t even on the Social Security Administration’s List of Top 1000 Names. FOR ANY YEAR.

But who knows, maybe like “Splash” I’ve inadvertently begun a Madison-like name craze?!

My friend may be Jakellen-sellin’ after all!


Book and pen photo courtesy of Flickr user Jain Basil Aliyah.