Let’s admit it, for most of us, book signings are pretty damn foolish.
Signing one of my books increases its market value, by, oh, say, approximately… zero. Maybe if I were John Grisham or Steven King, my scrawl on the title page would fetch a princely sum, but I am neither of those people. Last time I checked I am also not Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Mark Twain, or Madonna. Not once has the president suggested sending out Man Martin autographs as a way to stimulate the economy. There is a reason for this; my signature except at the bottom of a personal check has no monetary value whatsoever. So given this, why do authors bother with signings? Why do readers and bookstores bother with them? Many readers fondly imagine writers are a breed apart. We live colorful lives, they think; they imagine us bleary-eyed and unshaven, working at a wobbly table, temporarily repaired by squeezing a copy of The New Yorker under the short leg, quaffing coffee as thick as tar from a chipped mug, staring at a blank page in mute fury before howling to the sky, “Why must I endure this torture that some call genius?” Our conversation is bright and sparkling, filled with bon mots and adverbs. We are dysfunctional and bitter, but our spouses love us anyway for our talent; we sulk and rage; we are frequently drug addicts, alcoholics, or worse. We smoke unfiltered French cigarettes and eat brie.
Meeting an actual writer, captive and on display at the local bookseller shatters this delusion.
The real deal turns out to be a poor doofus no more glamorous than your average gutter-guard salesman and a good deal more tongue-tied, sitting at a table stacked high with books and wearing the terrified will-you-be-my-friend? grin of the kid everyone picked on in third grade.
At book signings I invariably wear expensive blue jeans, a colorful starched button-down shirt, and a black jacket. This is how readers think writers dress, and it’s the least I can do not to disappoint them. It is pure costumery, of course, the standard uniform of male writers everywhere. If I attend a book signing with other writers and happen to forget my black jacket, at least I know someone is bound to have an extra one lying around somewhere he can lend me.
If people knew the way writers actually look, they would probably give up reading altogether.
I’m writing this blog – right at this moment – in my traditional writing wardrobe. Boxer shorts. Nothing else. Please do not envision this; it will only give you nightmares.
There are no French cigarettes anywhere in the house. I do drink my coffee strong. But my wife does not love me for my quirky genius. She loves me because she loves me, and my quirks she puts up with. Mine are not interesting quirks, either. They mostly involve spilling things and leaving other things where they don’t belong. My work habits are predictable. My life, for the most part, is sober and happy. I save my money and I floss. I pay taxes. I go to church and vote. I have two daughters, a mortgage, a dog, and chickens. I do have chickens. That’s something.
Not that being shockingly ordinary will prevent me from going to book signings. Hell, it’s like I always say, “I will cross a busy street against traffic for the chance to meet just one reader.” Sometimes a bookseller will apologize for a sparse turnout, and I’ll reply, “If the only one who shows up is a stray dog, then, by golly, I’ll pet the dog.” And I mean it, too. I put on my writerly black jacket, blue jeans, and button-down shirt, and sit at my table of books grinning like a fool until they throw me out. And I do my dead-level best to act like the exotic Faulker-Twain-Hemmingway bigger-than-life real-live celebrity author that people want to see.
And if someone is gracious enough to ask me to sign a book, I will whip out my marker andscrawl any sentiment that comes into his head. I just wish it meant more.
Maybe I’ll start signing, John Grisham.
Man Martin was selected Georgia Author of the Year for his novel, Days of the Endless Corvette. His current novel, Paradise Dogs, is represented by the Fairbank Agency. His commentaries can be heard on GPB's Georgia Gazette.