Last night, I went to Barnes & Noble in Buckhead to see Jim Butcher, author of one of my favorite series, The Dresden Files. He was promoting the new book in the series, Ghost Story (Roc Hardcover, 2011) and since I had seen him at Dragon*Con last year (yes, I’m a nerd) and enjoyed the heck out of the experience, I knew I had to get in to this event.
Let me start by saying that I have worked many book signings before. I was a Borders employee back in the day and I have worked some very popular/large events – Nancy Grace came to our store, as well as R.A. Salvatore, and Newt Gingrich. I know how a large well-planned book event can go.
I also know how quickly a poorly-planned book event can go to hell. Lack of books, lack of seats, lack of sight-lines for the author, lack of organization of the signing line. So many opportunities for people to get upset and upset people, especially passionate fans, are not fun people to be around.
So I had my concerns when I called the store at 9:30am to find out details about the signing and the guy who answered the phone already sounded frazzled. Tickets would be given out at 5pm for the 7pm signing. Many, many people had already called to inquire. Yes, he would be signing additional books. Please let me get off the phone, his voice seemed to plead.
For some reason, either because Jim himself is a fairly laid back kind of guy, or because scifi in general gets a low rap, folks seem unprepared for how popular Jim Butcher is. Dragon*Con scheduled him in a half-hour block for signing. When I got in line 2 hours before the signing, I was already too late. There were 50 people ahead of me when they cut off the line (after I’d been standing there for an hour). Jim’s books routinely hit the New York Times bestsellers list and his fans are passionate. And they are many. And willing to drive several hours to come see him.
Needless to say, I had Concerns. I managed to scoot out of work early and got to the store by 5:10pm. I got my signing ticket and I was in the 100-150 block for signing. 10 minutes after tickets had been released. I went back to the area where the speaking area was set up and my heart sank. They used a section between the Teen Paranormal Romance books and Nature Nonfiction, just in front of the kids area. There were maybe 30 chairs, all of which were filled. People were sprawled around any available floor space between different shelves and throughout the store. Now, I really started to get nervous. This had every possibility of folks fighting for view space or pushing to get into the signing line.
I managed to snag a chair when they brought out some extras, and this was when the staff proved their worth. One guy started making announcements regularly, stating the rules for the signing, what was going to happen and when, and pointing out additional staff to answer questions and concerns. Here’s the deal with nerds – if you give us set rules that are fair and you stick with them? We will gladly cooperate. We love rules! They tell us how things work! He and the rest of the staff were friendly and helpful and seemed genuinely excited to be hosting the signing and grateful to us for being there. Awesome.
Jim came out and answered questions for over an hour. He was charming, smart, hilarious and sharp as a tack, as per usual, and when he was done, everyone calmly stayed seated or moved over to the signing line in an orderly fashion. It was fantastic. I got my book signed within an hour and left ecstatic.
So giant kudos to the staff of B&N Buckhead for a great event. Next time, though, try to open up some more space. But overall, it was a great night.