The book signing as a fishing trip

I did a signing of Ecologic yesterday at our local Borders. They had done a great job, producing some excellent posters and a brilliant signing position with the sort of display of books you'd normally only expect for a big name. All in all, it was a good experience.

There are two types of book signing. There's the signing by the celebrity author, with a queue of people out the door, and there's the signing by the ordinary author like me, where most of the time there's no one at your table.

One of my customers (yes, I did have some) asked me if it wasn't dispiriting sitting there on my own with no one coming up. In fact, it wasn't. (Or at least it wasn't for me.) It had a rather similar appeal to that I'm told fishing has for many. It was a chance to sit and contemplate, to watch the world go by. I sat there for four hours, and it really was fascinating, just watching what people do in a bookshop.

But there were more parallels than that. I started spotting the likely candidates for buyers. I'd try to entice them with a smile. (Women smile back a lot more.) If they came and studied the display I'd say 'hello'. Sometimes this was totally ignored but if I got a response I'd then try to open it into a conversation. It really was like fly fishing, delicately trying to get the link in place without losing the fish.

I don't say this to insult the people who bought my book. They were all extremely intelligent, excellent people. But rather to draw a parallel with the experience.


  1. This is a great metaphor for the experience and very much like what I found on my tour. It's very hard work sitting there on your own and getting up the nerve to "accost" people, but I loved the discussions I found myself in. But I guess that ruins the metaphor eh? Unless you talk to your fish while hooking them....

  2. I'm imagining the conversation as being like the interaction between the fisherperson and the fish once the fly has been spotted but before the fish is hooked.

    I suspect in real fishing you don't see the fish and consciously interact with it - but every metaphor has its limitations!

  3. i was there yesterday and saw you sitting there by youself, then i saw the poster in the toilet and was really intrested how bmw 3 series are better than toyota hybrid?(as we have a 330ci and it uses up lots petrol!!)

    me and my husband were sitting in starbucks and talking about it unfortunally we didnt have time to stop by to talk to you...

    maybe when you come to london do the signing we could go to see you and we can find out why bmw is better hahaha

  4. I'm afraid I've already done the signing in London, though I am expecting to do a British Science Association bookclub on Ecologic there in April.

    I was rather impressed by the poster in the toilet myself.

    I'm afraid I couldn't stretch to supporting a 330, but the point about BMW 3 series versus Toyota Prius is that an reasonably fuel efficient conventional saloon (so bottom end 3 series), is greener than a Prius if you are mostly driving on motorways or country roads. The Prius comes into its own in towns and cities. But this is rarely mentioned, so plenty of people are probably feeling really pleased with their Prius as they cruise down the motorway.

    The other thing about the Prius is that there's a whole bunch of emissions from its production - and even if you are a town driver, you will need around 5 years usage just to offset the benefit over a conventional saloon in a town-based cycle. So anyone buying a new Prius every 3 years (say) also has a problem.

    Oh, and there are some conventional cars with lower emissions even on the same urban cycle (e.g. Polo Blue Motion).

    I've nothing against the Prius (and I drive a Toyota myself, though not a Prius as I'm largely a country road user), but there's a need to be clearer about just what works and what's all image. Which is what Ecologic is all about.

    Sorry for the long reply!

  5. Did you sell any copies at Borders?

  6. I did, Henry, but not a huge number.

  7. ... and you should have seen the one that got away.

  8. I remember doing a signing session for The Science of Middle-earth in the dealer's room at a Tolkien Society meeting... and sold nothing, not a scrap. Harumph.

  9. I've never managed absolutely nothing. My worst signing to date was 1 copy and two people given instructions on finding the toilet. This was rather better.

    At the other end of the scale was the signing of my Infinity book after my Royal Institution talk. The publisher brought 50 copies and they sold (and I signed) all of them, and we could have done more if they hadn't run out.


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