Dylan Jones: A bad book signing

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The Independent Online

Two. That's right. Two. Not three, not four and certainly not five. It could have been worse, I suppose, but only by two digits. This was the number of books I sold at a signing I did on Saturday at the Notting Hill branch of Waterstone's. More successful authors had told me that book signings could be sobering experiences (a friend signing copies of his book in a store in Chicago was only approached once in two hours, and then only by someone who mistook him for someone else), but I didn't realise there'd be no booze at all. Not even a sniff of the barmaid's apron.

Having just published a book, I was keen to publicise it any way I could (as my agent always likes to say: publishing is largely self publishing), and although it was selling better than certain political autobiographies, it could obviously always sell a little more. I'd been asked to do the signing because I'm a "local author", and it was a request I obviously leapt at. Rachel Johnson had done something similar and her book - Notting Hell - had sold more than 700! In hardback! But I hadn't written Notting Hell, and nor do I look like Rachel Johnson, and it didn't look like it was going to be my day.

Curious shoppers would approach the table and stare at me as though I were in a cage, giving me the sort of looks that said, in extremely broad brushstrokes, "I'm looking for any book other than yours". Apart from two books that I'd been asked to sign by a woman who obviously had something better to do (she wasn't there in person), the only customer (and I use the word with some reservation) to speak to me during the first half an hour was a belligerent bloke who demanded to know what my book was about.

"It's an etiquette guide for normal men," I said.

"Ha, so what would you consider normal?"

"Well, it's for men like you and me," I said, slightly through gritted teeth.

"And what makes you qualified to write it?"

"I'm 46," I said, with a rictus grin on my face. "I've done most of the things in the book."

"So what!?" said my potential customer, before walking off with a comically angry look on his face.

And that was pretty much that. For the next half an hour I sat behind my trestle table, just in front of the crime section, flicking through The Cloudspotter's Guide, trying to placate my eldest daughter ("Daddy, why aren't you selling any books?") and trying not to sulk. Then, at five to three, having sat behind my table for a long and uneventful hour, a smiling man approached the desk, gesturing towards the bookcase behind me.

"Excuse me," he said, beaming. "You couldn't move, could you? I'd like to take a look at the Agatha Christies."

Dylan Jones is the editor of GQ