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April 14, 2008

“Please come!” pled the email, “to my signing at the Barnes & Noble in Snellville on Friday, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.” Then my fellow author, J. L. Miles (Jackie, to me), added a one-word “sentence” that strikes terror into the heart of any writer embarking on a book tour: Mortification.

This word is one that my fellow authors and members of the Dixie Divas (Karin Gillespie, J.L. Miles, and Patti Sprinkle) and I have often whispered to one another as we tiptoe together toward the doorway of a library or a bookstore, trying not to notice the empty parking lot. It is shorthand for the fear that no one will come to your book event.

Mortification is also the title of a book by Robin Robertson, with a subtitle of "Writers’ Stories of Their Public Shame". These are authors who write about how miserably disillusioning certain aspects of their book tours can be; situations where at times the audience consists solely of the bookstore manager and the author’s mother.

“Of course I’ll be there!” I wrote back to Jackie. Her new book, Divorcing Dwayne was hot off the press. I was eager to read this new offering, but even if I hadn’t been, I would have gone to support my friend, because there is not enough space in this blog for me to tell you how much support Jackie has given to me over the years of my writing and publishing journey. She has inspired me, encouraged me, made me laugh, and also been there physically at so many of my own book events. I understood her fear all too well; her need of assurance that live bodies would be at her book event.

With hundreds of book events under my belt, many solo and many with the Dixie Divas, believe me, I have experienced my share of mortification. There are instances where I’ve driven hundreds of miles to a library, or a bookstore, with my well-rehearsed literary speech, a bookmark tucked into the scene I plan to read, my special signing pen in my tote bag, along with a bottle of water to cool my throat during my profound and entertaining literary talk, and my imagination overflowing with visions of my audience, my adoring crowd of fans, only to find that there are but three fannies in a vast sea of theater seats stretching out before me.

There can be any number of reasons the attendance at a book event is low or non-existent, mortifying to the author. Sometimes the event is not well publicized or even publicized at all, sometimes there is a conflicting community event such as Little League playoffs or a Miss Marigold pageant, sometimes it is the opening night of American Idol (this last one is the reason the host gave me for a disappointing crowd for my latest book, The Romance Readers’ Book Club.) Down South, holding an event on a Wednesday evening is a foolish thing, for that is family night at most churches.

Even authors who have books on the New York Times Bestseller’s List experience this phenomenon called mortification. I’ve spoken with big-name authors, and heard stories of big-name authors showing up for a book event where few or no one comes (I don’t want to name names for fear it might subject them to yet another moment of public shame).

But J. L. Miles needn’t have feared. I walked through the door of the Barnes & Noble at 7:00 p.m. and saw Jackie sitting at her signing table right inside the entrance. There were three ladies standing and talking with her, holding copies of Divorcing Dwayne. When they left she smiled and told me that before she’d even gotten to the store, they’d already sold a good number of books. There were only a few remaining copies on her signing table, so I grabbed mine and had her sign it quick.

I guess I should have known J.L. Miles and Divorcing Dwayne would have no trouble attracting customers. The blurbs on the back cover promise a hilarious romp through Pickville Springs, Georgia, and I have had a chance to read the first couple of sentences…“Me and Dwayne met at a pig-pull. I only married him once, but I ended up divorcing him twice – Dwayne’s a hard man to get rid of.”

Truly, Julie

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