The Agony . . . The Ecstasy . . .
Written by
Victoria Zackheim
January 2015
Written by
Victoria Zackheim
January 2015

Imagine the thrill of that first published book: your name on the cover, your words filling each page. Who needs a major publisher to promote and distribute when you are brimming with enthusiasm and have put aside a small sum for travel expenses? My novel, The Bone Weaver, semi-self-published by a small indie press, was going to sell; I would make that happen. And there would be bookstore readings and signings, flashbulbs (we're talking 2001, so no cell phone shots) and fans lining  up with my novel in hand.

Publish and they will come.

My first big invitation was from a writers' conference; I spent hours choosing the best passages to read, and then timing myself to avoid, heaven forbid, exceeding my limit by even ten seconds. Settled in with a panel of published (!) authors, I became confused when one of them grabbed the microphone and asked everyone to sing Amazing Grace. I was supposed to have a theme song and no one told me?  

My novel takes place in the present time, but flashes back to tsarist Russia. This might explain the small turnouts in rural bookstores. "Small turnouts," for those of you not yet tuned in to author lingo, refers to single digits . . . which includes zero. Which is almost preferable to standing before the only person in the room, a child of nine whose mother has left her there while she does her marketing. Not that this has ever happened to me . . .

When an emcee stands before 500 women at a major book event and announces, “Our guest has to catch a flight to Florida, where she'll be appearing tomorrow, so let's give her our thanks,” and you're escorted from the room amid robust applause, it's like winning an Oscar. Fame is fleeting, especially when you arrive at the next big event and realize that you were supposed to bring 100 books . . . and forgot. 

In an Asheville, NC bookstore, I sat at a table, ready to sign a stack of books. Why were people walking past and averting their eyes? Lesson learned: provide cheese and crackers. Set the food out on the table, people will stop by to sample. And then you pounce.

On my last day of a Florida tour, I arrived at a bookstore to discover that the events manager had fallen ill and no PR had been done. I stood at the podium and smiled at the crowd: an  elderly woman. I thanked her for coming, and she explained that her husband was in the reference area looking for information on prostate disease. Taking a personal approach, I sat beside her and discussed my novel. She removed a book from the pile and asked me to sign it. “I hope you enjoy the story,” I told her, offering my most endearing (and grateful) smile. “Oh, I probably won’t read it,” she told me. “But I feel so sorry for you.”   

If a great story doesn't sell the book, perhaps pity will. And you never know: that one face in the room could be the Books editor at The New York Times!


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  • Toi Thomas

    I've had some great small book signings and some horrible singings that were supposed to be large. I haven't figured out a pattern yet. It seems that sometimes people care and sometimes they don't. Sometimes everything goes great and sometimes it doesn't. You just keep on going hoping to strike gold, or even silver, from time to time. Great post. Thanks for sharing. 

  • Michelle Cox

    Thanks, Victoria, for such honest, albeit painful, insight!  This is my worst fear!  Thanks for taking a humorous spin on it.  It's a great way to start my day!

  • (Why am I laughing and nauseous at the same time?) Where are you located? I'd love to hang out with you for a couple of hours and pick your brain.

    Loved this blog post.

  • Eva Schlesinger

    Funny and heartening. Thanks for sharing your truth.

  • Liz Gelb-O\'Connor

    As a debut author last spring, and having now done a couple of large conferences and at least seven signings events, I can definitively say - you are not guaranteed an audience unless you bring it with you. I've done several multi-author events with well-established NYT & USA bestselling authors, and we've all been in the same boat - at the same events! The upside? I've made some wonderful author friends. Even super famous people in the room don't help provide you more book sales. Last year I signed with several 'big names,' they got the sales, the rest of us sat and chatted. It took me a while, but then I understood why the Community Manager at the B&N where I held my book launch was estatic with my event - there were 60 people there and it was standing room only. Now, I limit events to places that only guarantee an audience, or the promise of some very interesting conversation :-)

  • Victoria, I love your truth, and all responses are helpful and real. I have not published 'yet' and I am eagerly looking for agent/publisher and or to self-pub. I learned a piece of courage and resilience years ago, when a writing friend and I went to greet Allison Brennan; a #1 best selling author. My friend already knew Allison but other than for us only a couple of people stopped by and that Border's was packed. Still Allison talked to each of us and few others like we really mattered. I posted your piece and my comment on my blog, 

  • Patricia Robertson

    Been there, done that, except for standing before 500 women receiving applause! Maybe some day.

  • T.T.Huston

    I love the reality of this post. Rejection is part of the process and it sucks always. I admire the way that you handled every stepping stone and I wish you the best in your future publications :)
    # Happy Writing.

  • Carol Merchasin

    I may have to have "rejection therapy" before I do any events -- or maybe I will just print out your post and read it over and over.

  • Karoline Barrett

    I can totally relate. I've done a few author events/signings for my first novel, which was published by my agent's own publishing company. I think  I sold 5 books at my most successful signing. I noticed that for me, my fellow authors who sold children's books and occult/dark books, neither of which I do, especially dark! sold the best. Mine was women's fiction. Recently my agent got me a 2 book deal with Berkley books for my cozy mystery series. Not sure if I will be doing signings for them, but I'm glad to be at a big publishing house. 

  • Pamela Olson

    My worst turnout was at a really nice bookstore in my home state -- and included two people I didn't know and one friend from high school. Oh how I wish it had only been strangers to witness it. But that's when you take a deep breath, check your ego, and give the best talk you can to those three people. :)

  • I can feel your pain. Oh, I've been there, done that and remember it well with pangs of embarrassment. I sat at a Wal-Mart once with a stack of books on a little table and people whizzed by me, eyes averted and one woman actually said, "Hmmm, I didn't even know they sold books here." Ha, ha. Days in book stores where few people stopped by my table and fewer bought the book. Those days are long behind me (25-30 years ago). I don't remember them fondly. It was usually if I was begging people to buy my books. I hated it. Now I self-publish, have 22 novels out, sell A LOT more, and never do live signings anymore. Thank goodness.

  • Amy Ferris

    brilliant as usual. just brilliant.

  • Sally Ketham

    Victoria, this is awesome! I can relate to the feelings of the rollercoaster ride of writing/publishing. My book isn't even out there yet, but already I've had more ups and downs than I can comfortably stomach. Vacillating confidence describes my experiences thus far as well. Who knew that writing would have so many peaks and valleys? Thanks for your heart-wide open sharing (and for the good "I can relate" chuckle)! :) Cheers!