A good friend of mine used to work in a major high street bookstore. He recently told me a pretty embarrassing story. A celebrity who I will not name (I’m so known for my discretion, dahling) was booked to arrive in the shop one Saturday morning to sign copies of his new book. I can’t remember what the book was called and, to be honest, can’t be bothered looking it up on Amazon to find out. It didn’t win the Booker or top any of the best-sellers lists, so if you’re trying to guess you can rule a few people out there.
And no, it wasn’t Salman Rushdie.
So, Celebrity X turned up on time for his (so no, it wasn’t J.K. Rowling) appearance. In fact he arrived early, and upon his arrival was greeted by posters with his likeness on them and mountains of copies of his own book, tottering on tables like the Tower of Pisa. Each of them eagerly awaited his signature. The staff stood about awkwardly, nervously glancing at their watches and shuffling their feet.
They didn’t do this thing very often, my friend said, and there was a good reason for that. The shop was pretty badly managed. In fact, there were two managers, and they didn’t get on with one another. They were constantly squabbling and trying to annoy each other. On a different occasion, my friend was asked by Manager A to rearrange the travel section into alphabetical order by surname. He spent the entire morning doing so. Just before lunch Manager B came and demanded to know what he was doing. My friend began to explain, but Manager B told him to rearrange it in a different way. He spent the rest of the afternoon doing so. Just before hometime Manager A came and asked my friend what he was doing. You can imagine what my friend spent the following morning doing.
So the managers didn’t get on. To be exact, they fought like cats in a sack. You see, there had previously been two branches in the city, but one of them went on fire in the wee small hours one morning. Fortunately, there was nobody in it at the time, but books to tend to burn pretty quickly, so the store and its contents were completely destroyed.
After that, all of the staff were relocated to the other branch. They were not, it has to be said, welcomed with open arms. As it turned out, there was more rivalry between the two gangs of staff than between the X-Factor contestants. It did not make for a pleasant working environment, my friend said.
So, as the two managers argued over where to place Celebrity X’s signing table, disastrous news began to dawn on the bookshop underlings. Nobody was coming. There was approximately seven people waiting to meet Celebrity X. Two of them looked a little lost, so they might have just been looking for the Yoga section and got confused.
Nobody else in the shop seemed remotely interested in Celebrity X. Then again, it was around nine on a Saturday morning, so I can’t say I blame them.
Celebrity X signed all seven copies of his own book, which took approximately six minutes. He spent roughly another twenty signing some more, just in case “anybody who couldn’t make it that morning came looking for them”. To my friend’s knowledge, they remain unsold.
This story has recently come back to haunt me. I used to think that it was funny, but now I don’t find it quite so amusing. You see, I’ve been doing a few book signings of my own. I’ve been trying to sell more copies of mix., which means travelling from pillar to post, staying in more lonely hotels, generally flogging myself to the masses in random shops the length and breadth of the country.
The night before I went to my first public appearance, for want of a less grand term, the same bookshop drone friend informed me that lad’s favourite Abi Titmuss, did a book signing in Liverpool not that long ago. You know how many people turned up for that?
Yes, three. If the lad’s favourite can’t bring a few dozen perverts out of the woodwork, what hope do I have?
My friend is encouraging that way.
So, there I sit, picking at a dinner in a Holiday Inn beside a busy motorway, worrying that nobody will come to meet me the following day.
“Cheeky Chef Draws Smaller Crowd Than Naughty Nurse,” the headline would read.
That would be really annoying. I mean, as I’ve said before, I’m not a chef.
Besides that, signing a book is a funny thing to do. I mean, it’s not like I’m a celebrity of any kind. And it’s hard to know what to say to somebody who has just asked you to sign their book. There is no social training for that. It’s not really a form of etiquette you learn at school.
But I think I’m doing okay. I ask the person’s name, sign their book with a personal message, smile, chat for a bit (usually about meringues!). There’s not much to it, really. It’s just a matter of being friendly and not treating people as if they are deranged stalkers.
And no, I won’t tell you how many people have turned up before. Let’s just say that it’s more than Miss Titmuss and Dom Joly (whoops, gave away his name there) and less than Bill Clinton.
I’m happy with that.
If you want to come to a book signing, you can see where they are by looking at the events on my facebook page.
Bye for now!