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Not often a factor analyzed by the national media as it dooms the national and global economy, book signings may be holding their own --- at least around here. Even as my third novel, FRESH FROZEN, was enjoying an October 2008 book release just as the economy was really tanking (not a cause and effect relationship, I’m sure), I along with hoards of other authors and publicists was busy. The goal was to line up and confirm appearances at bookstores, gift shops, art galleries, museums, outdoor festivals, schools, business conventions, family reunions, or any other location where a crowd of potential shoppers was anticipated. (Considering the long lines of folks waiting to vote before and on November 4, it’s too bad that book signings are not allowed at the polls.)

While book distributors may encounter difficulty in moving the hardcover works of even the “major” authors, hopefully books and book signings may prove themselves recession-proof in the long run. Then, of course, there is the issue of e-books, Kindle, etc. However, I’m talking about the never-to-die, old-fashioned aspect of marketing novels and other real books – hand selling. Call me naïve (I’ve certainly been called worse), but this method of climbing the ladder to the bestseller list -- one autograph at the time -- may be the only way to get there.

And that’s just where book signings and other author appearances come into play. I live in what is termed the Deep South, a much-blessed geographical region, which includes a plethora of bookstores in its good fortune. The welcome of numerous hanging-in-there independent and never-will-go-away chain bookstores, as well as a smorgasbord of other bookseller venues, made for me a densely-scheduled book tour during the fall and holiday seasons. Not only was time away from my other career minimized while promoting FRESH FROZEN, but so was gas guzzling.

Again, I'm taking the high road of optimism for the survival of "the book." During my ongoing author appearances, I have sensed that the savvier shopper and gift-giver seems to be taking a closer look at books. One loyal reader shared that even though she and her husband had made a pact to cut-back this holiday season, she had left my new book and a bottle of her favorite cologne on her must-have list. Oh, oh, for only a million more such fans.

Keeping the concept of giving books as a holiday remembrance and if an author’s work appeals to both men and women readers, then the book signing table offers a ready-made gift for both Uncle John and Aunt Cindy, or even both. Of course, this appeal can apply not only to hardcover fiction but also to many cookbooks, collections of nature photography, or the multitude of personal memoirs. Once more, batteries are not required, unless one is trying to read under a flashlight. And while with proper care a well-bound hardcover should last several lifetimes, a first-edition autographed by the author could, and should, escalate in value. (Someone once told me that the true collector of first-editions acquires one signed copy to read and another one or two to put away untouched for investment purposes -- just in case. Occasionally, I’ve sort of jokingly pitched that concept at book signing events but have never had any takers that I know of. On second thought … maybe I have.)

Another illustration regarding the absolute value of books was made the other day while signing in an upscale gift shop: the retail price of a small, breakable, although certainly beautiful, Christmas ornament surpassed that of my hardcover mystery/suspense novels.

Two days after Thanksgiving, I was invited to two local business establishments for a book signing, the locations well apart from each other, and there were plenty of shoppers to go around so as not to create a duel between stores. (Anyway, I’m not sure that either considered having this writer to sign his books to be an exclusive event. One manager even forgot I was coming.) However, in the larger of the stores, the book signing table, which was warmly labeled with the signage Proud to Present --- Darden North, MD --- signing FRESH FROZEN, was located at the entrance in close proximately to the coffee shop. Immediately to the left of me was a similarly-sized table stacked with books written by or about President-elect Obama. Unfortunately, he was not there concurrently to sign his own books. I guess he was busy doing other things, but his presence sure would have increased the buzz in the store. Maybe I could have snatched a few readers away from him as they stood in his inevitably long line.

Politicians and economics aside, any author subjected to a couple of hours of hawking his/her wares must find a sense of enjoyment in the adventure, even if takers are few. For me, the truly most memorable, if not almost painfully humorous, book signing encounters have involved kids. The most recent example involved a grandmother who walked up to my book signing table located just inside the front entrance of another nearby bookstore. All three of my novels were alluringly displayed, including an out-of-print hardcover of my premier offering. The caring woman, who was apparently babysitting during an afternoon of shopping, greeted me with “I want to get your newest book for my daughter for Christmas. I bought one of your other books for her a couple of years ago, but I’m not sure of which one.”
The precocious eight-year-old granddaughter, dutifully standing at the table with her, looked down at the “rare” find of a first-edition copy of my first novel HOUSE CALL, lying there face-up, beaming to the literary world.

As the talkative young girl pointed to my baby, she blurted to her money-spending grandmother, “This one right here is the book my mom already has. She keeps talking about selling it at a garage sale.”

--- Darden

©2008 by Darden North, MD
All Rights Reserved

Darden North is a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist who lives with his family in Jackson, Mississippi. He is the author of three novels: House Call (hardcover 2005, paperback 2007), Points of Origin (hardcover 2006), and Fresh Frozen (hardcover 2008).


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