In <A HREF="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0151004358/ref=nosim/madhousemanor" target="_new">The Unstrung Harp: or, Mr. Earbrass Writes A Novel</a> by Edward Gorey (a book that contains more truth about writing than any ten consecutive issues of Writer's Digest -- what do you mean you haven't gotten a copy yet?) we see Mr. Earbrass attend a literary dinner: "The talk deals with disappointing sales, inadequate publicity, worse than inadequate royalties, idiotic or criminal reviews, others' declining talent, and the unspeakable horror of the literary life."
What, then, are these unspeakable horrors?
I shall speak of them.
Elsewhere I've said that readings and signings and book tours rank slightly above oral surgery on the scale of Fun Ways To Spend Time.
Here are a couple of links you might look at:
<a href="http://books.guardian.co.uk/posysimmonds/page/0,12694,1152704,00.html" target="_new">A cartoon by Posy Simmonds</a> (via the indispensable <a href="http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/005104.html#005104" target="_new">Making Light</a>).
<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/14/books/14HUMI.html?ex=1397275200&en=1a6d0536eb304c28&ei=5 007&partner=USERLAND&pagewanted=print&position=" target="_new">An article in The New York Times</a> (via the equally indispensable <a href="http://scrivenerserror.blogspot.com/" target="_new">Scrivener's Error</a>).
Yes, readings and signings really are that bad. They take you away from your keyboard, which is where your major money-making takes place. The way to sell books is to a) write a book, and b) write another book. Suppose you have a really successful signing. You sell fifty books. Say these are $8.00 paperbacks, and you're making 10% royalties on them. You've just made $40, minus your agent's 15%, or $34. Which will get to you ... eventually. After the book's earned out, after reserve-against-returns has been met. In the next royalty period after that. A year? Two?
Did that pay for your gas to get to the store? Did that pay for the time you had to take off from writing? How about food and lodging? But really, it's a great Ego thing if you sell 50 books. You want to know what you'll probably get?
Bigger names than you or me have had no one show up to readings/signings. When John Grisham gets no one to show up (as he did in freakin' downtown Boston on one not-so-memorable occassion), where do you think we're going to fit on the food chain?
Want to talk about ego-killers?
So: survival tips.
First, do a joint reading/signing with another author. That way you'll have someone to talk to.
Second, put a bowl of Hershey Kisses on your table. That way people will come over to at least pick up some free candy. (Don't forget to subtract the price of that candy from your profits.)
Third, do your own press releases and publicity. Don't rely on the bookstore/your publisher to do that. (Subtract the price from your profits. Are we below zero yet?)
Next, when someone comes by and asks you about your book (or asks you for directions to another shop in the mall -- I've had that happen to me) don't tell them what your book is about. They'll say "I don't like [science fiction] [romance] [mysteries] [quirky literary masterpieces filled with wonderful insights into the human condition]." Instead, ask them what kind of books they like. Whatever the answer, find a way in which you can tell them that your book contains exactly those elements they mentioned. I'm sure you can do this ... novels have lots of different things in 'em, you're intimately familiar with your book, and you're creative. Go for it.
Okay, two more things for you to do:
Get and watch <a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6304907621/ref=nosim/madhousemanor" target="_new">"Jose Chung's From Outer Space"</a> (X-files) and "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense" (from Millennium Season Two -- not yet available on tape or DVD). Those, too, tell the Truthiest Truth about being an author.