July 28, 2021
Speaking as a published writer I have a confession to make. One of the obligatory duties of my profession has made me feel like the lowest of the low and it has taken years of therapy to recover my self esteem. Of course, I am speaking of the in-store-book signing.
On paper it seems like such a glorious enterprise. You show up at your favorite book store and there is your book in the window and as you walk inside, you see a gaggle of customers waiting at the check out counter and when they spot you they say your name out loud and clamor and shove to get you to sign your book to their husband, their father and their best friend (in my experience, women buy 90% of books). After about ten minutes of this, these people leave and then you are ushered to a small folding table with a pile of your books on it, and you are instructed to sit there and sign books for whoever wants one for the rest of the time allotted (usually two hours). The mad crush at the beginning gives way to a quiet loneliness. Book browsers come by and pretend not to see you. You notice the ceiling needs serious repair. Someone comes by and asks where the restroom is. You tell them you don't work there and they look at you like, "Then why are you sitting here in the middle of the store?"
When my Wyatt Earp book was first published (1993) I did a book signing at the Phoenix Public Library. Someone there came up with the groovy idea to put me outside on the front steps during a rodeo parade to cash in on all the potential book buyers watching the parade. Short version: not one person watching the parade ever turned around or came to my table. However, an aging hippie on in-line skates did glide up to my table and he looked curiously at my wares. He had ear buds on with Lynyrd Skynyrd blasting so loud I could hear the lyrics to "They Call Me The Breeze." Flipping thru the pages, he looked up and said, "What's this?" I said loudly, "A book on Wyatt Earp!" to which he said, "Wider herd?" Before I could tell him again he skated away, uninterested. Like I meant to say earlier, marrying a therapist has saved me so much money.
Photo courtesy of Paul Andrew Hutton, who apparently has great book signings that invariably run over the alotted time and he never suffers the ignomy of an upstart like me.
People, if we are ever going to get kids to start reading books again, I think we have to expand our efforts and I would call this venture Operation Wider Herd.
"And long may his story be told."
—Ending lyrics to the theme song for the TV show "The Life & Legend of Wyatt Earp"