Lessons from a Lonely Book Signing

Photo of a Man Sleeping on Books
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When I began writing I embraced a fantasy.

It went something like this:

I was going to write a knock-em-dead suspense novel that would rocket to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Once my novel topped the charts, I would then be besieged by a host of publishers wanting to sign me and offering outrageously large advances. After this, I would ride a huge wave of popularity, turn out a bestseller every few years, and have book signings where people lined up around the block just to have the privilege of meeting me.

As you probably already have figured out, none of that happened.

Oh, I wrote my novel. And a publisher picked it up. But the book signing?

That was another matter.

I arranged with my local Hastings to have a table and display and plenty of books. I didn’t want someone to walk away disappointed because I’d sold out.

When the day arrived, I positioned myself behind my author’s table, a stack of books at my right hand, ready for the hordes of eager readers who would soon rush through the door. Unfortunately, the reality didn’t match my expectations.

A few friends stopped by, but they didn’t buy books. And although some people stopped by my table, most of the other customers went out of their way to avoid me. I was positioned near the front door, and as people came in, they took a circular path away from my table. I began to wonder if they thought I had an infectious disease.

As I recall, I didn’t sell a single book that night. But I did begin to learn an important lesson.

It’s not about me.

Writing isn’t about fame and fortune. It’s not about big advances, awesome reviews, or people lining up at midnight to buy my book. It’s not about feeding my ego or bolstering my pride. It’s not about living at the top of the bestseller lists.

I’ve been writing professionally since 2000. I’ve had nine books published. I’ve never had a big seller. My name’s not on any bookstore marquis.

But over the years, I’ve gotten notes and e-mails from people who have read, and been touched, by my words. I’ve heard from people who were struggling with God’s goodness in personal tragedy. They’ve thanked me for telling a story that helped them in their trials.

Last week, a lady told me that my book, More God (about a young man who overcame a traumatic brain injury) helped her understand what her sister, who has brain cancer, is going through.

A writer’s success cannot be measured in bestseller lists, outrageous advances, and standing-room-only book signings.

There’s nothing wrong with those things.

But true success is measured by how your words impact your readers for good.

I began learning that lesson at a lonely book signing. Ten years and nine books later, I’m still learning it.

And every day I thank God that He’s letting me live my dream. And then I pray that somehow, somewhere, He’ll use my words in someone’s life.

What dreams of yours have been realized through a kind e-mail or note from someone who read your writing? What is your “book signing” desire–has it come to fruition, or have you realized that dream through another avenue? 

Have you ever worn the same outfit on your book jacket that you wore to your first book signing?

31 Replies to “Lessons from a Lonely Book Signing”

  1. James,

    This was a very good post for me as I’m wondering if there is true value in having book signings. Are they still part of your overall marketing plan?

    1. Thanks, Jordyn.

      I’ve pretty much quit doing bookstore-type book signings, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be worthwhile. I think a lot of different factors affect the success of a book signing: type of book, how well the author is known, amount of promotion in advance, to name a few.

      Personally, I find that I have more success selling (and signing) books at my speaking engagements. But I know of others who have great success with traditional signings.


  2. I got to shadow a NYT Bestselling author at a local bookstore signing (my town, not hers)… and her line wasn’t much longer than yours. I think that’s just the way these things go, even if the bookstore pulls out all the fancy banners, etc (like they did for her).

  3. James, Thank you for reminding us that it’s not about us, it’s about Him and obeying and fulfilling His call on our lives. I’ve done a few signings which went fairly well. I’ve also received notes and emails from readers that touched me deeply because of what they discovered in my book. One of my first readers told me how one scene in my book ministered to her and brought her closer to God. And God then told me that even if my book was never published, it accomplished His purpose because it brought her closer to Him.

  4. Lessons from a Lonely Book Signing | WordServe Water Cooler I was suggested this blog by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about my problem. You’re incredible! Thanks! your article about Lessons from a Lonely Book Signing | WordServe Water Cooler Best Regards Veronica Andy

  5. About a decade ago, I attended the Montrose Christian Writers Conference in Pennsylvania and met an author who had only written Bible studies. She and I rocked away an hour (or less) on the wide porch and talked about her dreams…to write novels. I was looking for a series for girls that featured horses, and Marsha Hubler had raised and loved horses all her life. A series was born. Today, the Keystone Stables series published by Zonderkidz is still a success. A few years ago, the covers were changed, and the series received more promotion. Marsha’s book signings are attended by girls who adore her books and are over the moon to meet the author. Kids also write lots of fan letters, and through the years they’ve made us laugh, and they’ve made us cry. When sales were slow, they gave Marsha and I a boost because we knew with certainty that God was rocking with us on that porch that day when the series was conceived. Keep writing, my friends, and don’t focus on the fame and fortune. You’re a success in God’s eyes.

      1. And I am eternally grateful for writers’ conferences where authors can connect with editors and agents. Four of my five book contracts were initiated at writers’ conferences when I met an editor or agent.
        With Barbara Scott as my editor at Zonderkidz, we developed eight Christian fiction novels for girls, THE KEYSTONE STABLES SERIES, that either presented the gospel or challenged tween girls to live for the Lord. He has blessed the series with over 100,000 in print. Amen.
        In my opinion, book signings and personal appearances still sell more books than social networking. But an online presence does help. 🙂
        God bless your efforts, James.
        Marsha Hubler, author of the Keystone Stables Series

  6. Great post, James! Yeah, most of my book signings are slower than I would like. The fast ones seem to happen when I speak, have a table at big events, or am stationed at a strategic place at a strategic time (like when Barnes and Nobles stationed me between their entryway and the food court at Christmastime!)

    I’m glad you have a good perspective on success. Yeah, I love getting those letters from people whose lives are touched and changed by reading my book. What a joy!

    When it comes right down to it, success is more than a numbers game. It’s a trust game. Writing books stretches our hearts to trust; and what a beautiful thing! For God, us and everybody.

    Big Kingdom-sized blessings on your books!

  7. Fabulous insights, and much needed reminders about the why behind what we do. The difference between being a Christian writer, versus trying to do it all on our own, is the push to continue past discouragement. God encourages us when we’re down, energizes us when nothing positive appears on the immediate horizon, and says, “Yes you can,” when doubt creeps in. Thank you, James, for directing our attention back on Him.

  8. Under my signature I have these words: “Writer ~ Editor ~ Encourager.” Although I enjoy all three of these aspects of the writing world, I often think I would make more of an impact if my books would get published. Your blog was my second confirmation today that I am where God wants me for a reason.

    Here was the first confirmation: “In His great love, God places us where He wants us to serve, and every task we undertake should be given our all, whether there’s one person listening [reading] or a multitude. We ultimately serve Jesus, and He is not concerned with the recognition we receive. He desires our obedience and our best effort.” ~ Dr. Charles Stanley, In Touch, February 2012.

    Love it when the Lord calls my name! Thanks for your honest post.

    1. Keep at it, Clarice. I began writing in 1989 but it wasn’t until 2000 that my first book was picked up by a publisher. During those years, a lot of published authors encouraged me to persevere and told me that it would eventually happen. Sometimes I didn’t believe them, but they were right.

      Stay focused on encouraging others with your writing and keep developing your craft.
      It’ll happen.


  9. Jim, Good words, and some I’ll keep and read after every book-signing I let myself get trapped into doing. Truly, it’s not about us…and when it becomes about us, it’s time to take a hard look at why we write in the first place.
    Thanks for sharing, friend.

  10. Jim,
    I LOVE your sense of humor. Can so relate and have been there! I take it that you DID wear the same outfit as on your book cover. How funny. The best book signing I had was at a Booksellers Convention where the book store buyers lined up at publisher’s booths as authors signed their books. That was a thrill. But Barnes and Noble etc is usually friends and family for me. I hadn’t planned to do any signings with my current series but I got invited by some people from the small town of my book’s setting so I felt obligated to do a little tour there. It hasn’t happened yet, and this is a good reminder to keep expectations low. LOL But those individual emails are the best reward of all. They keep us going.

    1. That was actually a question that I added. I don’t think that James every did this, but I did have another author friend who did. Thought it might be fun to add to the post. I am sure James wouldn’t do that!

      –The WordServe blog editor. 😉

      1. Lol! No, I definitely didn’t do that. Since the only recognizable “person” on the cover of the book I was signing was a dog, I would have either had to wear a fur coat or go…well I won’t go there. 🙂

  11. I’ve never had a book signing, but I do visit schools to talk to the students (my target audience) about my book and writing. These events have blessed me so much! After one event, a 5th grade girl came up to me and said, “You inspired me…” and well, that meant more to me than fame or fortune!

    My release party last year was a big succes because I sold some books…but mostly beacuse I had friends and family surrounding me.

    You are right…it’s the intangibles that matter in the end! 🙂

  12. This post makes so many great points. It’s amazing how much we can impact the lives of those around us with just a little kindness and time spent on them. James, thank you so much for writing this, it is very inspiring.

  13. “But true success is measured by how your words impact your readers for good.”

    I love that line and it echoes my heart, too. More than anything, I want my books to be known for gently renewing my reader’s thinking into God’s eternal truths.

  14. I’m not published, yet, but God brought someone to my blog from the blogosphere. I was working on the Christmas story one character at a time, when I posted the shepherds seeking Jesus in the stable. The commenter said that she was so into the scene that she could smell the straw. If that isn’t God telling a writer to keep going then I’m following the wrong calling.
    Thanks for the insightful post.

  15. “And every day I thank God that He’s letting me live my dream. And then I pray that somehow, somewhere, He’ll use my words in someone’s life.”

    When we lay our lives down out of love for others, we find them again.

  16. Thank you for sharing. All writers relate to your dream of being a best seller author. I like your humor and the eye opening conclusion that sucess is not the number of copies sold but in hearts reached and souls touched by His Love. Praying for you,

    Ed Shafik

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