Several days ago, I was met at the entrance of our local Borders by an Alaskan author signing copies of his first book. A sincere and no doubt talented man, he engaged customers as they came through the door, offering facts about how long he’d spent writing the book and a few tidbits about his specialized, regional topic.

Signings are a lot like middle school dances – unless your book and your signing have been heavily promoted, there’s a lot of sitting around, hoping someone will notice you and trying to pretend it doesn’t matter when they don’t. Handselling works, but it’s tough. When you think of it, what are the odds that a person looking for just your kind of book is going to wander into a book store during your three-hour time slot? Mix in a not-so-hot economy and you start to feel quite the wallflower.

It’s nothing personal. There are a lot of books out there, and whether they realize it or not, the reading public relies mostly on bookstores and publishers to guide their reading selections. In his recent post On Being Skipped, Marketing Manager Andrew Wheeler offers an indepth look at how chain stores decide which books to carry and which to skip, which lead of course to the continuing debate over chain stores vs. independents.

Authors have to put themselves out there. Handselling to individual readers is good. Handselling to booksellers is even better. Target marketing is better still. Above all, understanding the realities of this business – and it is, as Wheeler points out, a business – is a huge asset for writers and tangentially, for their readers.

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