I had my first book signing at a real bookstore last week. Fiction Addiction hosted me. Jill, the proprietor has been very helpful and has given me some good advice and even though I started life as a writer through Amazon, which sends ice-water chills through independent bookstore owners, she agreed to host me at her shop. For a first-time novelist, it can be discouraging walking into a bookstore. There are so many books and so much competition and it seems that most of the novels in the front of a store have won some sort of award.
I thought I had done a good job promoting the book signing through Facebook, Twitter, email, coverage in the local paper and word of mouth. I even landed a TV appearance. That morning I was a guest of Jack and Kimberly on WSPA's Your Carolina. Kimberly gave me a great introduction, I made doughnuts, discussed the merits of my book and the WSPA folks even put a banner up on screen reminding people that I would be at Fiction Addiction from two to four p.m. I went home and prepared a very nice cheese platter, brought two magnums of chilled wine then headed off to set up and get ready for the crowds. My wife showed up and helped me get ready. When I arrived Jill placed a pad of sticky notes on the desk, "just in case you need to practice someone's name before you sign their book." Amy and I got everything in place and right on cue, five ladies showed up right at two p.m. I signed their books and chatted with them about the novel, they were so excited to meet me and they had some really great questions. We took some photos with the fans then Amy had to get back to work and the other ladies left as well. Then I sat down and waited, and waited. A couple of my friends showed up and we discussed old times and they also bought books. Then I waited some more. By three thirty I had sold six books, a far cry from the 24 I was hoping for. Fifteen minutes later I started packing up, I was pretty disgusted and feeling sorry for myself. Right as I finished cleaning up the front door opened and a woman I recognized from the skilled nursing unit at my previous place of employment walked in.
"Is that chef still here?"
Since I was in the back of the store she couldn't see me when she came in, so I walked up front and told her that I was still here. She introduced herself and told me that her husband wanted to come in so she walked outside to get him. When he got out I recognized him immediately. He had a stroke in December of the previous year and when he came to us he was on a puree diet and bed-ridden. He was with us for almost five months and when he left, he walked out of the building.
His wife and I helped him into the book store where he quickly sat down. His walk was so unsteady, his balance precarious but he managed a wink as he caught his breath. She hugged me and told me as she wiped her eyes how good the food had been and how much of a difference that made in his recuperation. As I signed the book for her she squeezed my hand, gave me a sincere smile and giggled that she should be buying a cookbook. She hugged me again then turned to Jill and said, "I'm so glad we made it, I was afraid John would be gone when we got here."
How should we measure success? I certainly wanted to have a line out the door but that was unlikely on my first bookstore signing. While the turnout certainly did not represent the success I have had, it was disappointing to have sold only seven books. Yet that one couple reminded me that our life here on earth is fleeting and that when we're gone, we'll be remembered by the lives we've touched and not by the thickness of our wallets.