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My Book Signing October 29, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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I once wrote a book called HTML: The Definitive Guide.  As the title implies, it is not so much as blockbuster bodice-ripper as it is a technical book.  It covers everything you ever wanted or needed to know about creating web pages using raw HTML.  When it first came out in 1996, HTML was all the rage and the book was favorably received among those who know their attributes from their end tags.

But this is not a tale of technology, but one of humility.

Needless to say, when my book was first published I was very excited.  The book even hit #1 on Amazon’s technology book charts for a while, which was kind of cool.  So you can imagine my excitement when my publisher, O’Reilly & Associates, called to say that my local bookstore wanted to sponsor a book signing.

A book signing!  This was the real deal! I imagined sitting at a table, a stack of books to the side, a line of people trailing off into the store, engaging in brief but fascinating small talk as each prospective web author came up to get their book signed by the Author.

So the big day came.  I arrived at the store and found that they even had a sign announcing the big event.  Wow!  There was my table, and a stack of books, and a few pens.  I took a seat and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And no one came.  No one.  I sat and smiled, hands neatly folded on the table, as shoppers came and went, buying real books that they would actually read.  For over an hour, I sat.  Most people awkwardly looked the other way as they passed by my table.

And then, a woman approached.  Yes!  She paused, looked at my sign, and asked, “Is your book about the Internet?”

“Yes!  Yes it is!” (sort of, but at this point, my book would be anything she needed)

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Absolutely!  How can I help you?”  (By now, I actually had a pen in hand)

“I have a computer at home, and it has one of those modem cards in it.  And on the back of my computer, where the card is, there are two places to plug in the phone wire.  One is labeled ‘Line’ and the other is labeled ‘Phone.’  Which one do I plug the wire from the wall into?”

“You should plug it into the one labeled ‘Line.'”

“Oh.  OK.  Thanks!”

And she was gone.  I put down my pen.

No one else came.  I never signed a single book that night.

Sometimes things that mean a lot to us don’t mean so much to everyone else.  And sometimes things that mean very little to us mean a whole lot to someone else. And sometimes we can have a very difficult time telling which is which.


1. Jason VanDyke - October 30, 2008

When I was in elementary school 2 of my schoolmates and I wrote some short articles about an historic house in our community. This was originally for our school’s yearbook, but somehow made it into some NC-based book. All 3 of us were published, and were asked to go to a book signing at the closest mall (30+ miles away in Asheville, NC).

Obviously we all jumped at the chance. When we got there, it was a little different in that there was some local marketing buzz that went along with a number of local school-aged “authors” being there to sign the books. All of us present ended up signing at least a handful of books, but in the end the signings had everything to do with the promotion and nothing to do with what we wrote.

We all still left feeling some thrill, but for only the marketing aspect of the whole event. Like you said – what seems to mean a whole lot to us to begin with meant very little to other people. The attraction was more that a bunch of young local kids did something versus the message or information that we delivered.

Still kind of cool – but for all the wrong reasons.

2. Mark Korey - November 3, 2008

Nice moral to the story (there must be some analogies in there between what is important to users and what’s important to programmers).

But Chuck, that was back in the 90’s – Web 1.0 days. With Web 2.0, you, your publisher and bookstore could/should have the tools and technologies to properly find and attract the right [niche] audience with targeted marketing campaign promotions.

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