Friday, July 3, 2009

Guest Blogger Elaine Viets

G.M. Malliet

Elaine Viets, author of two national bestselling mystery series, is our guest blogger today at Inkspot.

Publishers Weekly
called Elaine's Dead-End Job series “wry social commentary.”

“Killer Cuts,” her new Dead-End Job mystery, is about the intimate relationship many women have with their stylists. Her Josie Marcus mystery shopper series is set in Elaine’s hometown, St. Louis.

Elaine has won the Agatha, Anthony and Lefty Awards.

Today she asks, "Is the book signing dead?"

Premature Burial?

I’ve finally unpacked from a book tour that started April 30 in Arlington, Virginia, and ended two weeks ago at Ponte Vedra, in northeast Florida.

I’m not the only author asking that question. Some say it’s already been answered. Here’s why:
Publishers are cutting back on book tours, even for successful authors.

Fewer bookstores are holding signings. They’re expensive. The stores have to spend money for publicity, signs and staff. When the books don’t sell, stores have the extra cost of returning and/or stripping stock.

Failed book signings cost us writers, too. If we only sell five or six books, it doesn’t pay for our gas and takes us away from the computer.

We know, unless we’re literary rock stars, like Charlaine Harris or Stephen King, we probably won’t draw a huge crowd. Readers can watch TV, see a movie, even sit by the pool. Why pay $25 for a hardcover or buy a paperback for $7, the price of a six-pack – when books and movies are free at the library?

As e-books grow in popularity, book signings may disappear. It’s hard to autograph an e-book.
Right. And computers created the paperless office. That’s why I can barely find my wheezing word processor under the manuscripts, first drafts and letters on my landfill of a desk.
Let’s not hold a funeral for book signings yet.

Yes, I gripe about signings. I’m discouraged if I get a poor turnout. But I’d miss them. I’m a part-time hermit. I need to get away from people while I write. For four to six months, I stare at the computer and live on canned tuna. It’s a sorry life when the cat is howling for my lunch.

But when the book is done, I emerge from my cave for five or six weeks. That’s when I meet readers and talk to the booksellers who hand-sell my novels.

For me, signings are a celebration. My fifth Dead-End Job mystery, “Murder Unleashed,” was my first hardcover. It was launched with a party at Bone Appetit, the Fort Lauderdale dog boutique where I’d researched this job. In St. Louis, at a benefit signing at Three Dog Bakery, we had a “Best Dressed Dog” contest. A Lab in a hula skirt won. Personally, all Labs do the hula when they wag their tails.

Murder by the Book, the independent Houston store, invited Caring Critters, a volunteer group who bring their dogs to hospitals and other institutions. This was the only book tour where half my makeup was licked off by the end of the signings.

You miss those experiences when you download an ebook.

Now signings are evolving into events with presold books.

Joanne Sinchuk, founder of Murder on the Beach in Delray Beach, Florida, has author luncheons. Joanne partners with two nearby restaurants for fixed-price lunches. A group of 20 or more – often a charity, literary or social club – makes reservations with Joanne. For $25 or $32, each person gets lunch and a paperback.

The group goes to lunch first. Then I join them for the author talk.

Another local indie, Well-Read Books, has a similar program. For $35, the readers get lunch and a signed copy of “Killer Cuts,” my latest hardback.

A traditional author luncheon eats half my day. The new ones take less of my time. I live half an hour from the stores. I show up after the lunch, give my talk, sign the books, then go home.

Some writers say it’s not worthwhile to sell 20 or 30 paperbacks. But I have eleven novels in my backlist, and these talks keep them moving. The mystery Joanne Sinchuk features most often, “Shop Till You Drop,” is now in its twelfth printing.

Photo is of Elaine and Lulu, the "Murder Unleashed" dog.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Hi Elaine. Thanks for visiting InkSpot!

I enjoyed reading your post. Although I'm not a fan of doing a bunch of book signings, I'm sure I would miss not doing any of them. I hadn't really thought about that aspect of the e-book phenom. Interesting post, thanks.


Pablo said...

Gosh, I remember reading your columns in the newspaper back in my St. Louis life. I'm so delighted that you've had such wonderful success!

Sandra Parshall said...

Many people say they're more interested in writers they've met personally, and more inclined to buy their books. I have a friend who collects first editions that have been autographed at bookstore signings. But yes, signings are a big drain on the writer and often on the bookstore. It's a terrible feeling to go into a store for a signing with no inkling of whether you'll do well or fail miserably.

Jess Lourey said...

Ha! I want to go to a booksigning where my make-up gets licked. Wait. I don't. Because there's no dogs in my book, it'd just be that weird guy who always shows up and asks where the Harry Potter books are.

Thanks for your take on this important conversation, Elaine. I love and hate booksignings for the same reason you do, but for me, your most important point is that the signings are a celebration with the dressed world of the lonely work we've done.

Terry Odell said...

And if you're small press, the publisher puts NO dollars into things like signings, so it's almost always a money loser.

However, I've done signings at conferences where e-book authors have cover flats that they sign, and I've seen people come up and ask an author to sign their Kindle.

Jess, you're not a "real" author until someone asks you where the restrooms are.

Helen Schwartz said...

Thanks for the insights and the new trend idea. And thanks also for a wonderful, touching tribute to Barbara Parker in the SinC newsletter.

Terri Thayer said...

I truly enjoyed the Festival of Mystery in Oakmont, PA in May. Perhaps because I was sitting next to Elaine. That was a unique experience, being able to interact with loads of fans and authors in one spot. E-books can't compare to the live interaction.

Thanks,Elaine. Nice to see you on Inkspot.

Elaine Viets said...

I think most writers have a love-hate relationship with book signings. I like the idea of signing the Kindle -- sort of like a literary cast.
Yes, Pablo, I used to be a columnist in St. Louis and I still go home for signings. In fact, the Barnes & Noble Ladue should still have some signed copies.
PS: The restrooms are back by the children's department.

Keith Raffel said...

Thanks for the pep talk. (I'll be touring starting in October.) I remember the first signing I did -- at BEA. I was just so incredulous that people would line up to have me sign their books. The best thing then about touring for me then is meeting readers and (dare I say it) amazingly, even fans.

Alan Orloff said...

Thanks for visiting the blog, Elaine, and giving us some great insight about book signings.

I'm a little nervous about the whole idea of signing books in public. Will I have to think up witty things to write, on the spot? That's a lot of pressure, especially if my pen doesn't have a delete key to use when I goof up.

And thanks for the tip about the make-up. I think I'll leave my mascara and blush at home!

Nancy J. Cohen said...

I still get invitations to do events at bookstores, so the signing isn't dead at indies. I'll only agree if it's within an hour or so radius of my home, otherwise it costs too much in terms of time and gas money and maybe an overnight stay. For a new book, I'd probably try to do a bigger loop. I still enjoy meeting readers and booksellers and that's the real point of signings. As for e-books, I've heard that some readers will order the book cover and have the author sign this instead of a paperback.

June Shaw said...

Great ideas! Elaine, I believe you're right on with your lunch signings. I enjoy your books so much -- am reading Shop Till You Drop now -- and thoroughly enjoyed meeting you at Malice this year.

Deborah Sharp said...

Hi, Elaine ... my fellow Ft. Lauderdalean. Your comments are spot-on, as usual. I'm following in your footsteps (not as a stalker, tho' I'm sure you've had your doubts about me!), but in doing some similar post-lunch chats here in so. fla. If I can do one-tenth as well as you, I'll feel like I've arrived.

Beth Groundwater said...

Great post, Elaine! I, too, enjoy getting out in public to promote a new release, and your ideas about turning a signing into an event are right on. Food is always a draw, too. I offered cheese & crackers at a bookstore/wine bar that hosted a signing and had blue-frosted cookies (to match the cover of To Hell in a Handbasket) at my launch party.

Another hint is to contact the local newspaper's feature/entertainment editor and offer to work with a reporter on an interview or feature article. For the signing I did in yesterday Breckenridge, the setting for for my book, (a rainy 4th of July afternoon--perfect!), I worked with a reporter at the Summit Daily News on an interview article that she ran in the paper on Friday. Quite a few people who came to the signing mentioned the article.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Loved the post, Elaine. I still do store signing if they're fairly local, or if I'm visiting an area, I will try to set one or two up while there, but I don't "tour." However, I LOVE meeting my readers. I've found the luncheon or dinner type venues to be the best. And events where I'm a keynote rock when it comes to selling books and meeting people.

Thanks for dropping by Inkspot.

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