I’d have to say that the main thing that I found, during my first-ever book signing event recently, was that people didn’t really understand why it was so important that I signed their books. As I was reading a selection aloud, I could hear people asking each other, “What’s he doing behind that table?”
“He’s signing books.”
“Because he wrote them.”
To be fair, I’ve never been to a book signing either, really. For all I knew, book signings didn’t really exist, and they’re just something that you read about. It could be that authors made them up.
I mean, I’ve signed books, but I’ve never had the guts to do an official signing, in a book store. People buy books from me, usually at my house, and then I ask, “Would you like me to sign them too?” and they say, “Sure!” I think so I shouldn’t be insulted, except that I honestly don’t care.
To be honest, I don’t know why people like having writers sign their books. But it’s a real thing, so there must be a marketing reason. To me, it’s sort of like I wrote the words in the book, and now I’m signing it to show that I approve of what I wrote:
“I’m Mordechai Schmutter, and I approve of this message.”
Not that my writing has a message.
Plus a lot of the time, they want me to write a personal inscription, as if I haven’t written enough already, and I can never think of anything to write. I wrote the whole book!
And they’re like, “You can’t think of anything to write? You wrote the whole book!”
And I’m like “Not with someone standing over me.”
Now the truth is that if they really want to be part of my writing process firsthand here, they should know up front that the stress of not knowing what to write is a very big part of that. And they get to experience it! They can also experience the hours of pacing and talking to myself and coming up with a bunch of lines of varying quality, and then narrowing it down to the best ones, and then walking away from the project and coming back to it later to judge the lines again with a fresh perspective. But they don’t want that. They want me to write the first thing that comes to mind, with them standing there, poking through my stuff, and they want it to be good. I didn’t write the book itself that way!
So for the most part, I’ve been writing pretty much the same message for everyone. They don’t know. They’re not comparing. If anyone goes into someone else’s house and sees that same book on the bookshelf, they’re not going to open it anyway, because they already have it. That’s the last book they’re going to open. I just have to make sure to come up with a new inscription every time I publish a book.
Also, book signings in general are not really done a lot in the Frum world. It’s never like, “Oh, the gadol hador came out with a new sefer! And on Tuesday he’s going to sign it from a table in Eichler’s!” And he’s posing for pictures, and writing inscriptions like, “Keep shteiging!”
“Wow, that’s so personal! He knows I’ve been shteiging!”
But this recent signing event was not my idea – it was the book store’s. Basically, New Eichler’s was running something called “Book Week”, which was an event in which they decided that this was the week they were going to move some books. Finally.
So normally, I would never have had the guts to suggest a book signing, in fear of having a non-existent turnout, but since they brought it up, and they were having other writers in, I said, “Why not?”
I figured, “Look, if nobody shows up, the bookstore won’t blame me. Unless I’m the only writer people don’t show up for, which is not likely, because when they asked what time I wanted to do my appearance, I chose the evening. Half the writers were booked for daytime on a weekday. So there’s no way that my thing was going to have the fewest guests. At worst, the store would say, “We should have advertised this better.” They advertised it the week of, which is something the non-Jewish bookstores never do. They should have advertised it months earlier, so the yeshivas would know to give off.
I mean sure, I could’ve helped promote it, and I did, to some extent, but I didn’t exactly put up signs around Passaic. No one from New Jersey who could stop by my house to get their books signed at any time would schlep into Boro Park so they could find parking and wait in line to do the same thing. New Eichler’s is on 13th Avenue, which is a humongous shopping block that goes: supermarket, bakery, bank, restaurant, seforim store, appliance store, bank, clothing, toy store, bank, bank, supermarket, bakery, and so on.
But the store did have signs everywhere, promoting the concept of books. Basically, they took famous expressions and made them about reading. One expression was, “Reading one book is like eating one potato chip.”
“So in other words,” I said, “it’s addictive and little bad for you, but it’s not as bad as reading a whole bunch of books in one sitting and then saying, “What am I doing with my life?” I need to get some exercise!”
They were not very appreciative of that line.
They’d cleared out one whole part of the store and had set up a table full of my books, opposite which they’d set up three rows of chairs, which, when I got there, were mostly occupied by little kids. There were maybe three adults sitting, although there were more standing toward the back.
I know that a lot of my fans are kids, but these weren’t kids who were old enough to read my books. These were mostly 6-year-old Chassidish kids. Like their parents dropped them off at the book store and said, “Here, go see what they’re giving out tonight. I’m going shopping, and also to the banks.”
So I started with a reading, because everyone was already sitting.
When I finished, some of the kids were like, “Are you doing anything else?” And I said, “No,” and they said, “Oh.” And I said, “I might do a second reading in an hour!” They didn’t seem super excited about that.
So most of the people who heard my reading were kids who had no clue who I was and why I was there. I’m like, “These kids are not reading my book.” Yet I’m sitting there – because I have these excerpts chosen beforehand – reading them a piece about why married men don’t know more Hilchos Shabbos. Which was very funny piece, but I don’t think it was really hitting them as intended.
I’m like, “Come on, you guys! This piece kills in stand-up!”
After the reading, there was a session wherein people could come up to get books signed and also ask the writer any questions. I was expecting questions about how I come up with topics, and well as some that I can use as topics, such as “Why am I scared of elevators but not scared of roller coasters?” which someone actually asked.
But what I got was questions like, “What are you doing here? Why are you sitting behind a table? Is there gonna be magic?”
I think these were my most frequently asked questions, even by some of the adults. And it was very hard to answer some of these questions without sounding like a baal gaivah:
“What? I’m here so you can meet me.”
“Why do we want to meet you?”
“I don’t know! It seemed like a good idea at the time. I’m an introvert who learned to express himself through the written word, but apparently, this is where my life has led. I’m now rethinking my choices.”
“So what are you doing?”
“I’m signing books.”
“Look, I don’t know. People like their books signed.”
“Um, can someone parent this kid?”
In fact, one kid waited in line for the table so he could have a flat surface on which to color. His mother was talking to me, but when she walked away, he just stayed there. Then when I started the second reading, I had to get rid of him, despite not knowing his name and not wanting to turn off yet another fan. I don’t even think his mother was there anymore. She’d already said, “I’m leaving; let’s go,” and he didn’t move for that. There was no way he was going to move for me.
I also think that apparently one of the other writers had been giving out some stuff, because the kids expected me to do that too. What am I going to give out? I had a pile of business cards on the table in front of me that advertised my freelance writing. One of the kids thought that that was the collectors’ item, so he took a whole pile of them, like apparently, he’s going to hire me for a lot of freelance jobs in the near future.
Ok, so there were plenty of people who did know how book signings worked. They brought me a book and said, “Can you make it out to this person?” and I said, “Sure!” and then they walked away to pay for the book… hopefully. I didn’t keep track of them after that point. Maybe they thought that was the handout.