Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Don't Mean to be Rude, but . . . My Booksigning Dilemma

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Last Thursday I went to an appearance/booksigning for Brandon Mull. As I previously mentioned, my son and I had read Candy Shop Wars together and thought it would be nice to top off our book club reading by going to see Mr. Mull and perhaps having him sign our book. Unfortunately, it was not what I expected.

It started off well. We got a great place in line and had great seats where we could definitely see all the action. Posters were being handed out and my son got one that he thought was “cool.” We sat down to wait for Mr. Mull to arrive and watched as more and more people squeezed into the room. Soon, there was nowhere to sit at all and people started lining the aisles and halls. It soon became a madhouse of children and parents and nowhere to sit. Hundreds of people had come to see him. When Mr. Mull got there, he was greeted with lots of whistling and applause, but quickly launched into his presentation. He talked briefly about how he got into writing, then took questions from the crowd, which was difficult because the crowd was quite large (half of them children) and it was hard to hear. After fifteen minutes, he stopped taking questions and headed to the auditorium where he was going to sign books for everyone. I was happy that it had been short and sweet. I didn’t want to be away from my newborn baby for that long and hoped we could get in quickly and head home.

So here’s where the problem came in. Mr. Mull had hundreds of people there to see him and have him sign something for them. HUNDREDS of people. The sponsors who were putting on the booksigning had obviously not prepared for such a huge showing and seemed at a loss for how to handle it. They put people in a line that never moved and didn’t seem bothered by it at all. It took my son and I TWO HOURS in the line to move from the room we were in to the auditorium where Mr. Mull was signing books, and it was another hour before we made it to the front of the line to write down on a little card what we wanted him to write in our book, and then have him sign said book. The man in charge of the line joked that it was just like Disneyland, but honestly, I've never stood in a line for three hours at Disneyland. And there was no fast ride at the end of this wait. But when I finally got into the auditorium, to join another line and wait some more, what I witnessed surprised me. Mr. Mull was sitting at a table, casually talking sometimes for ten minutes and longer to people as he signed the four books they’d brought, the poster, and the bookmark.

Does anything seem wrong with that picture to you?

Mr. Mull, as an author, was between a rock and a hard place. He doesn’t want to seem rude by cutting anyone off, especially the kids that have come to see him, so he talks to them and when they keep talking, he does, too. But, on the other hand, he has hundreds of people standing in a line for hours while he does so. Several of the mothers around me in line were upset not only because we were waiting in line for THREE HOURS and longer, but also because it was a school night, and at that point, it was 10:30 p.m. (Some people were in line until 11:00 p.m.)

I politely suggested to one of the ladies in charge that with such a large group still waiting for Mr. Mull, that perhaps they have someone stand beside him to move things along so he doesn’t get caught talking to people for ten or fifteen minutes when he has such a huge line, and limiting how many books or items he can sign, just so we could move the line faster. She frostily informed me that if Mr. Mull wanted it that way, he would have told them that. She also said that Mr. Mull is a very friendly person and if he wants to talk, they’ll let him talk and that he would talk to me when it was my turn.

I was surprised at her attitude because she could see the frustration on the faces of everyone who was standing in that line, trying to corral their kids as we waited. But she raised a valid question. Mr. Mull apparently hadn’t said anything about how to run the booksigning and so the people in charge just let it go and tried to calm people down. (Yes, there were a lot of upset people who finally just left). So who is supposed to say how a booksigning will run? If there are hundreds of people, should the author set down specific guidelines so that kids and parents aren’t standing there waiting for hours and hours? Should the people running the booksigning be in charge of that?

I’ve known fans who have gone to Stephenie Meyer signings and been disappointed because she only signed her name in one book, with no personal message, and couldn’t really talk very long. At first I was thinking, how lame. But after standing in a line for hours and seeing how it was handled there, I now see the merits of that idea. Either way, you’re not going to please everyone, but I think that, truly, an author needs help in that situation. I imagine that after four hours of signing hundreds of books, posters, and bookmarks, that Mr. Mull’s hand was shaking. I am sure that after talking for literally four hours straight without so much as a break, that his voice was almost gone. I did think it was gracious of him to stay the entire time until all the people had seen and talked to him, but I wonder if it had been run more efficiently if the whole experience could have been better for him as well as those of us who came to see him.

But the question for me is, who should run it more efficiently? The author or the ones sponsoring the booksigning? Maybe an author who has hundreds of people come to see them for booksignings could chime in with their opinion. (Jeff? Kerry?) Or, if someone who has run a booksigning before has an answer, I’d love to hear that, too.

The happy ending to the story is, that even though it was far past my son’s bedtime and he was tired of standing in line for so long, when it was our turn, Mr. Mull briefly chatted with him about the book we’d read and basketball, then took a picture, and signed our book with a personal message to my little boy. Was it worth over three hours in line? To my son it was and maybe that’s all that matters.


At 9/25/2008 4:10 PM, Blogger Just_Me said...

I'm sorry, but it's just not worth the aggravation. I have authors I adore, but this kind of aggravation is ridiculous. Unless you're a collector who wants first run, signed, copies of a book there is no point in going to one of these things to wait for hours.

With a smaller crowd and a more personal atmosphere, maybe. But the experience you described sounds miserable.

At 9/25/2008 7:41 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Well, I did meet a nice woman who was in line behind me and we discussed LDS fiction for quite a while, but I agree with you, a smaller crowd and more personal atmosphere for a booksigning is definitely better and something I would rather have.

Thanks for the comment Just_me. :)

At 9/25/2008 9:10 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

Julie, I haven't had a signing on that scale, but I've had a few where the line was awfully long and it took a half hour or more of standing in line. At one particular such signing, my daughter-in-law was with me. She stepped right in to help by wandering down the line, introducing herself, answering questions about me, and asking people to have their books open to the page they wanted me to sign. She was cute and charming and people waiting in line seemed to appreciate her efforts. It gave me a chance to spend a few seconds more with people who wanted a picture or to chat a moment. One book signing (I wasn't the only author signing at this one) we were advised to spend no more than thirty seconds with each person. It's surprising how much you can say in thirty seconds and since the organizers let the crowd know the time limit, no one seemed upset.

At 9/26/2008 11:17 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Oh my goodness, Julie, I would have been so frustrated after waiting that long.

Now I'm scared to go to Jeff's signing . . . it's a school night . . .

At 9/26/2008 11:43 AM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Jennie, your daughter in law had a great idea. And I'd stand in a line for you, for sure!

Stephanie, I can't wait to hear how Jeff's signing goes! And congrats on your new book!

At 9/27/2008 9:19 PM, Blogger Kent Larsen said...

You were right to be frustrated, and you should have been frustrated at the bookstore.

This is entirely their fault. What makes them think that Brandon Mull has any idea how a book signing should be run? And even if he does, he doesn't know the bookstore's customers and expectations, nor what is possible in their space.

No question about it, this is inexperienced or lazy bookstore management. They should have known better.

And this is especially true if the store was part of a chain (in Utah Barnes & Noble, Deseret Book or Seagull Book). Well run chains have suggested procedures that the store manager or employee in charge of events can follow for events like this.

I hear your pain, and you should complain to the store management, and complain loudly.

At 9/30/2008 3:32 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

I think the responsibility lies with both parties. An author can be gracious and friendly without taking ten minutes with each customer. Also a bookstore rep can do the things that Jenny's daughter-in-law did at her booksigning. Setting a time limit sounds like a great idea.


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