Thursday, March 17, 2011

Book Signings and the Midlist Author

by Denise Swanson

Phew! My newest book, Murder of a Bookstore Babe, came out March 1, and I’ve been on the road promoting it for the past two and a half weeks. Writers have to be a bit schizophrenic. We spend the majority of our time alone, in front of a computer with only a cat for company (okay, not every writer has a cat), then for six-eight weeks, when our new books hit the shelves, we suddenly need to become Oprah, or at least Dr. Phil. I’ve heard publicist tell authors they need to be warm and friendly, but still maintain an aura of celebrity. I’m not sure what that means exactly, and the concept of a midlist author as a celebrity makes me laugh so hard, I nearly have an asthma attack.

Writers go from wearing our sweats and jammies day in and day out, to getting gussied up in our best outfits for two months straight. The good part is we get to go shopping because, of course, we have nothing to wear . Our publishers want us to charm the booksellers, librarians, and readers, but caution us about being too pushy. Okay, I know what too pushy looks like—I once saw an author slip his (yes, it was a he) book into an unsuspecting shoppers basket. Like the shopper wouldn’t notice an extra $25 on her bill. But I’m not sure about charming. The best I can hope for is amusing.

In my eleven years of doing book signings, I’ve had turnouts of well over a hundred people to as few as eight (I’m hoping that was because it was the day before Mother’s Day and everyone was busy buying fabulous gifts for their moms). Still, that kind of experience makes every book signing terrifying. A little like, will I get the lady or the tiger?

So why do I do book signings? No one is convinced signings increase sales. My publisher only pays my expenses for a fraction of the appearances that I make. So, again why? Because there is nothing like meeting the people who read your books. Getting a chance to interact and hear their questions is what revs me up for the next ten months of staring at my computer.

When a day of writing feels like I’ve had to open a vein, I remember the teenage girl who had her father drive her all the way from North Dakota to Minneapolis to meet me. When I can’t figure out what’s wrong with a story and want to give up, I remember the grandmother, mother, and daughter who showed up at one of my signings and recalled more of the details from my past books than I did. And when I think the whole thing isn’t worth it, I think about all the people who are trying so hard to get their books published—because even though it’s been eleven years since my first book came out, I’ll never forget just how lucky I am.

Denise Swanson, the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author, decided she would rather write about villains than encounter them in her daily life. She was also shocked to discover that getting a book published was nearly as difficult as vanquishing scoundrels. Her books are set in Scumble River, a fictional small town in Illinois, and feature Skye Denison, a full-figured school psychologist-sleuth who is torn between a handsome police chief and an urbane coroner. Murder of a Bookstore Babe is the lucky 13th book in her Scumble River Mystery series.


  1. Denise, thanks for stopping by. Loved your post. We really are blessed and lucky to do what we do. Maggie

  2. Denise, love the post! And thanks again so much for joining us today. I'm with you in that I think book signings are totally worth it. I've met the nicest, most wonderful book lovers since I was first published in 1999. Some of them are now great friends. So keep doing what you're doing and continued success as you move forward into new (fun!) pastures!


  3. Thanks to the "gang" for inviting me. Susan and I used to do a LOT of signings together. ;)

  4. I think we did at least a hundred thousand. :-)

  5. Welcome Denise. Congratulations on your newest book -- as well as the many that have come before.

    Your blog is a wonderful reminder of how much authors learn from, and are supported by, our readers.


  6. Great post, Denise! As an author about to "hit the road" with over twenty appearances in the next three months, I needed to read again why all this schlepping is worth it. :)

  7. I enjoyed reading about what you're up to, Denise. I remember you from Mayhem and always loved hearing you talk about your books.

    I too love talking to readers, if it wasn't for them there'd be no need for any of us who write.


  8. Thanks, Marilyn (I remember you too).

    Thanks, Marian. It really is all about the readers.

    Good luck, Beth!

  9. *Waving to the all wonderful Stiletto Gang members! Hope you're all having a Happy St. Patrick's Day...*

    Denise, I got to meet you at the Warren-Newport Public Library (Gurnee, IL) a couple of years ago when you were part of a mystery authors' panel and booksigning, and I thought you were the perfect combination of authorly and approachable -- and definitely amusing, too ;). I just saw your recent NYT bestseller news on PASIC this week, and I was thrilled for you. Congrats!!

  10. I love meeting the authors of the books I read. I get to put a real face with the author and this is the chance you get to ask those important questions.

  11. Thanks, Marilyn! That was a great event.

    Dru, hope I get to meet you some time!



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