Saturday, June 5, 2010

Booksigning Hell

Parnell Hall is a mystery writer who has been around the block about as many times as Thriller Guy. Parnell began his career in 1987 with a mystery, Detective, featuring a reluctant private eye named Stanley Hastings. This is an ongoing series with 17 entries so far. Parnell shared a publisher with TG, Carroll and Graf, for a few years back at the turn of the century when the estimable Kent Carroll was running the company. Oh, those were heady times. TG hasn't read a Parnell Hall book in years, not since TG became the goto thriller guy for many, many review outlets and hasn't had the time to read for pleasure. TG assumes that Parnell is just as funny and astute as he was back then, and recommends his books without reservation. All of this is leading up to a very funny film/tape/internet clip where Parnell sings a song about the trials of the book signing. It always sounds somewhat churlish to complain about this aspect of Big Time Book Publishing, at least to those who would sever any number of appendages just for the opportunity to publish a book with a regular book publisher, but, really, and TG would never lie to you, doing a book signing can be one of the most excruciating experiences that a human writer can experience. And TG, in the guise of his alter ego, Allen Appel, has done plenty of them. More than he can remember. More than he wishes to remember.

TG can relate many stories of sitting in bookstores with a monkey-like grin plastered on his face, watching patrons entering the bookstore and scurrying along the edges, hiding behind shelves, staying as far away from the dreaded author table as they could possibly get. God forbid they would engage the author in conversation, find him and his book interesting and actually buy a copy. A signed copy. Civilians hear about Stephen King and Neil Giman and other Triple A authors making bookstore appearances and having buyers line up around the block. But the norm is that the lonely author sits there in the bookstore for two or three hours and if you sell ONE book it's deemed a success. Welcome, Little Ones, to the world of Big Time Publishing. The experience is mortifying and boring in equal parts; the bookstore owners look at you with pity and sometimes anger at having shelled out for a crappy cheese, salami and Triscuit plate that no one, not even the most underpaid staff is interested in. On more than one occasion when there was cheap wine, TG has been known, sadly, tragically, to get drunk all by himself, watching the slices of American cheese begin to curl and the salami sweat. All alone at his stupid table, books piled high around him, has favorite pen at the ready.

One of the worst was an interminable hell TG spent in a downtown mall in Charleston, WV, at a table off to the side on the basement floor under an escalator where there was absolutely no foot traffic, where there was only Bob Denver, the guy who played Gilligan on Gilligan's Island. He was flacking some book he had written about his experiences, (TG is not going to bother looking this book up for a link, anyone who feels they want a copy can do it themselves.) Gilligan was wearing his stupid little hat and every once in awhile someone would wander up and shake his hand, and finally he sold a book. TG didn't sell any. Denver spent his time sort of talking to himself, striking odd poses in his chair, and acting as if he were drunk, which he may have been, or maybe he was just goofy. Hey, you wanna be a writer? Do you really want to sit next to Gilligan? And have him outsell you?

Any professional writer can tell you any number of these stories. The only time TG ever beat this system was when his alter ego, Allen Appel, wrote a book called Old Dog's Guide to Young Pupswhich sounds dumb but which is actually very funny. It's out of print, of course, but can be found on the Web and TG recommends it as a great gift for any dog owner or dog lover. TG even has some copies lying around that he'd be glad to sell you. First person who requests it gets a free copy. Anyway, for a brief period, Appel would do signings for this book and take along his old dog, Duchess, who was a rescue dog and a real mess (if anyone expresses interest, TG will put up an essay about this crazy little dog.) Duchess would sit in a chair alongside Appel in a bookstore and people would flock in and crowd the table to pet the dog and buy the book. Appel sold a ton. He even had a little dog footprint stamp so Duchess could sign as well. Cute! Then the publisher discontinued the book, because that's what they do. God knows why.

Does TG sound a mite peevish? Ungrateful? Let's hear from some other authors out there. Writers who have sat at the Table of Shame. Who have been scorned and shunned by those who slink by, looking at you as if you should have a bell around your neck. Leper! Leper!

TG's advice to author's contemplating a store signing? Adopt a dog.

That way you'll have at least one friend at the table.


  1. This in from a reader:

    It's all so sad, but true, Thriller Guy. I once went to see Ross Thomas and I was the only one there for the first hour. Ross fucking Thomas!

  2. And readings where bookstore personnel corral defenseless customers to sit in your otherwise empty book chat corner. Said victims wide-eyed with silent terror that I will direct my attention at them. Who the frig else should I direct my attention at?

    Yes, heady times of book promotion indeed.

    And yes please please please share with us tales of Duchess.

    Your Great Fan and Fellow Sufferer

  3. Just posted about this on Novel Journey & posting your video which is HILARIOUS and right on. I'm coming off a book tour and it's like giving birth. The only way I can ever do this again is if I forget how awful it was. Ha. Thanks for a great article.

  4. The fellow in the video is Parnell Hall, not Thriller Guy, though TG has been there man, many times. TG has never given birth (to anything much besides books) but he gets your drift, Gina.