April 16, 2006

My Awesome Book Signing Experience


My buddy Lane Smith is on tour now, and he snapped this photo at a Barnes & Noble in St. Paul, Minn. This was the first evidence I'd seen of my book being in an actual store, and it was kind of thrilling.

People "in the know" recommend that authors visit local bookstores and offer to sign their stock. It's fun for you (the author) and the booksellers allegedly like it because people like to buy signed books. There's a sort of Machiavellian reason, as well: stores can't return the signed copies.

Now, I am the front man of a sort of rock band. I have done thousands of rock and roll shows over the years, standing on a stage jumping up and down screaming and acting like an idiot time after time. I have played to crowds of over 10,000 people; and to crowds of, say, four people, which is in many ways more embarrassing. But I'll tell you this: I have never had a case of stage fright as bad as what I felt when I walked up to the guy at the Berkeley Barnes and Noble and asked if they would let me sign my books. I almost chickened out. But in the end I took a deep breath and went for it. Machiavelli would have been proud.

The guy was British, which was extra intimidating, because I always assume that people with British accents are automatically smarter than me. And when confronted with such an accent, for some reason, I tend to slip into a kind of extreme Californiaism. Like I'm a male valley girl or something. I guess it's because I'm nervous. You'd probably be surprised at how often, for instance, the word "awesome" comes out of my mouth when I'm talking to my British university professor father-in-law. I even tell myself silently beforehand as I'm psyching myself up for it: "self, try to get through this one without any awesomes. You can do it!" But I can rarely do it.

"This is quite a good beaujolais, I should have thought. Don't you think?"

"Uh, totally. Totally. One of the best, like, you know, um, what's it called? Bo Derek? Beau Brummel? Beau Geste? Dude. Awesome. Crazy awesome." Damn! Bummmer...

The Barnes & Noble clerk turned out to be pretty nice about the whole thing. He also turned out to be the English translator of Jean-François Revel's Anti-Americanism, believe it or not. This came up because I mentioned how weird it was to see my book in a store, and he said that he knew the feeling. It was nice to be able to tell him that I'd read the book. Broke the ice a bit.

"Oh, so you're familiar with it?" he said. "Sold rather well."

"Awesome." Damn!

He didn't check for ID or anything, though he did look at the picture. So I guess anyone who looks kind of like how I do in the robot picture on the book jacket could go in and do it on my behalf. People have said Jello Biafra looks like me. If that's still the case he could go around signing my books and no one would be the wiser. I could do the same for his books, if he has any. (He probably has a book or two, doesn't he? You'd think.) That way we could cover twice the return-prevention territory. (For that matter, I didn't ask the Barnes & Noble guy to prove he was really the translator of Jean-François Revel's Anti-Americanism. I didn't doubt him for a moment, though. It's hard to describe, but he had that air of being the sort of person who was extremely likely to have been the translator of Jean-François Revel's Anti-Americanism.)

There were two books on the table by the graphic novels and two on the Teen Lit shelf. I gathered them and signed them at the counter. He put these peel-off-able "signed by author" stickers on them. We put them back on the table, and face-out on the shelf.

So it didn't go too badly in the end. And they're not gonna be returning those suckers. Awesome.

Posted by Dr. Frank at April 16, 2006 05:24 PM | TrackBack

I have always found it to be incredibly amazing that they don't ask me for my ID. Like I could waltz in there and just say that I am Jane Austen or something.

I was thinking that as a performance piece one day, a bunch of us could go into a store and sign each others books.

Hell, you could even say you were Cecil. How would they know I wasn't a boy?

My gut is that most people don't cop to writing a book if they didn't. So it's like 95% certain that you are who you say you are, you know?

Posted by: cecil at April 16, 2006 08:51 PM

Hey Dok,

I bought your book at the Philly Barnes & Noble, it was in the new releases for Young Adults section (I'm 26, i guess i don't hang out there much). i'm about halfway through and it is amazing. It feels like you wrote parts of it just for me, which is always the way I feel about really good books.


Posted by: Ryan at April 16, 2006 08:51 PM

'fraid you're wrong. we can't return books that are dated or personalized, obviously, but we certainly can return ones that are just signed.

we usually don't, because they sell through, but we can.

myth: busted.

Posted by: jennifer aka literaticat at April 16, 2006 09:40 PM

'fraid you're wrong. we can totally return things that are signed. not dated or personalized, obviously, but just signed is no problem.

we usually don't because they sell through... but we can.

myth: busted

Posted by: jennifer aka literaticat at April 16, 2006 09:45 PM

What's up Doc ?

Found two copies here on the East Coast at Borders.
Bought one, and when no
one was looking, signed and dated the other.
No worries of that one being

not busted in Boston.

Posted by: Raymeo at April 16, 2006 09:52 PM

OK, Jennifer - the scales have fallen from my eyes! They really do say that in all those "tips for authors" articles, though.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at April 16, 2006 10:18 PM

I just picked my copy up at Barnes and Noble in Kansas City, Kansas. It is surprisingly good, much better than I thought it would be (aside: I don't like teen fiction, never have even when I was a "teen"). Money well spent.

The only thing that Jello has ever had that was published was by AK Press; a few years ago they made a book form of all of his "Spoken Word" CD's (transcripts of his boring speeches from those releases, basically). That's the only book I know of that he has had published, and I am not even sure it is still in print.

Posted by: David Cummings at April 17, 2006 04:13 AM

Ummmm, have you ever heard Jello's "So I threw the rock" speech? If I could have that in book form I'd be happy.

p.s. In the end he throws a rock.

Posted by: MArk at April 17, 2006 09:06 AM

Heya, Dr. Frank--

I can completely relate--thanks for giving me my laugh of the day!

Me, I always feel like I'm committing a criminal act when I sign books at stores. I introduce myself first and the booksellers are always friendly. However, shoppers look at me like, "What's that woman doing defacing the books?!"

And I did have an incident once where a staff person approached the manager and told him (in a voice loud enough for me to hear) that he was pretty sure I wasn't the author because I didn't LOOK like an author. The manager, who'd enthusiastically asked me to sign the stock, suddenly didn't look so sure about it. I've always wondered if they stripped those books!

Posted by: Niki Burnham at April 17, 2006 02:37 PM

"...I always assume that people with British accents are automatically smarter than me."

My boyfriend: This is, of course, true.

Me: Hmmph. What's that got to do with you? You don't have an accent anymore.

Boyfriend: 'At's cuz I dumbed mahself down fo' y'all.

I bet your wife agrees about the accents. And her father would tell you it's "smarter than I".

Posted by: Angie Schultz at April 17, 2006 03:16 PM

Having lived in the US for about 6 months now I'm surprised how much my Scottish accent has changed. I hear myself sometimes or catch myself saying 'y'all' and spend the rest of the day speaking in a broad Glaswegian accent. Even though I'm from Edinburgh. It makes me feel better.

Posted by: Richard at April 17, 2006 03:41 PM

Hey, Dr. Frank.

I picked up a copy of KD at B & N on 8th St. in NYC. I finished it last night at a bar and on the subway to and from that bar. I loved it. It was hilarious and made me nostalgic for high school which really was kind of sort of a good time when you look back on it. In a despite everything, remember only freeze-framed moments of ridiculousness kind of way. I think I'll buy another copy and send it to my own personal Hellerman for his birthday. Or was I Hellerman? Hard to say. I think friends always see each other as slightly superior to themselves as well as displaying a marked, but well-intentioned duplicity in protecting the other's interests. Unless they're psychotic normal people, that is.

Posted by: jeff at April 17, 2006 06:21 PM

hey frank,

i found it in the heart of new york city (barnes & noble on 22nd st and 6th ave). in fact the picture in your post looks exactly the way it did when i found it. the guy said they had sold the other 4 or 5 copies too! booya!

i just started it but its great.

Posted by: ric at April 17, 2006 09:48 PM

Ok...so you just have to personalize them. But impersonally. Like... "If I know you, you'll especially enjoy page 18." or "Hey buddy, love the shoes." or "Sorry we didn't get to talk more. Keep in touch!"

Posted by: Dave Bug at April 17, 2006 10:00 PM

Today is Easter Monday.

Posted by: j. francis at April 17, 2006 10:57 PM

I went into the local Borders and asked for the book, but they said it hasn't shown up yet. They said next week maybe. I also pre-ordered it on Amazon last year but it hasn't shipped yet. (I wanted 2 copies, one to read and one to collect. I guess I should also buy a third to lend to friends...)

Next time you're in San Diego, I'll bring you one to sign, OK?

Posted by: Don at April 17, 2006 11:12 PM

MArk, I never heard that speech. It sounds interesting, though. The one speech that I did hear of his that I liked A LOT was "names for bands," which I thought was hilarious (he was riffing on the appearance of "youth" in hardcore band names, like "Wasted Youth", "Youth of Today", "Suburban Youth"). I will say that Jello is a better "spoken word" guy than Henry Rollins.

Posted by: David C. at April 18, 2006 05:52 AM

I feel so happy for you, Frank, like you are so totally my homie united in hominess.
I've been telling my friends "Oh, Dr. Frank's book is out, I'm going to pick it up this week," and they don't know who you are until I explain, but they're happy for you too.
Can't wait to read it. Maybe I'll see you down in L.A. sometime soon.

Posted by: Megan at April 18, 2006 06:25 AM

Darned, Don, I ordered the book at my local Border's Tuesday the 4th of April and they had it on Satuday the 8th. I was surprised because I thought it was supposed to come out on the 11th by which point I had it read already.

Posted by: Zaphod at April 18, 2006 01:45 PM

DoctorFrank, you never fail to provide me with a chuckle. Haven't read the book or heard much of the new music, but have many fond memories of seeing the band, while playing the same bill or just watching. I plan on reading the book when it gets to the library where I work. (Shouldn't be long now.) Anyway, here's hoping it sells enough copies so that you can keep writing for pay, or at least upgrade your cat food choices.

Ed (formerly of Pounded Clown, Los Huevos and No Kill I.)

Posted by: ed at April 18, 2006 11:08 PM

I had the exact opposite experience when i worked at a chain bookstore about 12 years ago and this author and his ( i assume ) lit agent came into the store and asked me if he could sign some stock. for some reason i sort of chuckled to myself and notified my manager who okay'd the signing. i'd never heard of this being done so i almost laughed in their face. ironically the guy was a brit. i told you it was exact opposite. i don't remember who that author was now, but he seemed very humble.

Posted by: mikeme at April 20, 2006 04:20 AM

No Kill I is a very obscure name for a rock band. I like it.

Posted by: Angie Schultz at April 20, 2006 04:32 PM

A few people on the knockknockrecords Pop Punk Message Board have reported seeing the book in NYC bookstores, sometimes with a sales display.

Posted by: Jim Testa at April 20, 2006 04:45 PM

Can't wait to read King Dork. Cool that it is already nominated for BBYA!

Posted by: D at April 20, 2006 06:48 PM

For the record, when I picked up my copy at Borders here in Jackson MS, I took the liberty to grab a couple copies to place on the "featured" shelf and faced the other one out.

Posted by: bvalentine at April 21, 2006 02:52 PM

I just picked up a copy at my local borders here in Reno, NV... I know... Reno... They only had two instock, so either they only got a few copies, or more people are buying it!

Posted by: Patrick at April 21, 2006 05:27 PM

"No Kill I is a very obscure name for a rock band. I like it."

Glad you like it. We're the first Star Trek band that I know of. (Not counting The Shatners, who don't count.) Check out Trekkies 2. We're in it and so are some very disturbing people from Germany among other countries.

Posted by: ed at April 21, 2006 08:47 PM

The BN I work at got 5 copies of King Dork. They are just on the shelf right now but I THINK they are slated for "future promotion." I also used it as my latest staff recommendation.

Posted by: jackie at April 21, 2006 10:04 PM

"so this is oregon eh,tolerant oregan?"

you'll forgive the digression,but i love that bit,i didn't know he called it the threw the rock speech but i thnk i know to what you are referring and it would be great.

i feel that way about the bay area sometimes(the quote) but that's an entirely different digression.

Posted by: just me at April 25, 2006 02:46 AM