Exogene by TC McCarthySome people treat genre fiction as if it’s a dirty diaper – to be held at arms length and stuffed in a pail as soon as possible. At least that’s the impression I got on Friday, September 23rd. It all started when I went downtown to hand out fliers for my upcoming book signing and to let local representatives have free copies of my debut novel, Germline, because it seemed to me like civic organizations might want to help a local author. My expectations were a little unrealistic (see the moral of the story at the bottom)…

First stop: the Visitor’s Center, which my tax dollars support, and which I reasoned “would surely want to help a local author, especially considering not many local authors have had a shot at this kind of gig.” Not exactly. The lady behind the counter glared at me when I interrupted her knitting, and even my explanation that she could have a free copy of Germline if I could leave a few fliers for my book-signing did nothing to change her mood. She sighed and handed the book back. “Leave the flier with me,” she said, “I have no place to put them but maybe there’s room on the table outside.” OK, I thought, fine; so I tried to hand her a stack of fliers but she shook her head and went back to knitting; “I’ll only need one of those.”

Second stop: the Center for the “Arts.” Going in I thought “here I’m sure to find like-minded people who understand how hard it is to get ahead in an artistic field, and who will want to give me a tiny spot in the window where I can hang up a poster; hell, they might even read the free copy of my book and tell their friends about my signing.” Wrong. The lady at the desk listened to my sales pitch and took Germline between two fingers – like it could infect her – and said, “oh no, not one of these kinds of books!”

“What kind?” I asked.

“You know, one of those, uh, what do you call it?”

“Science fiction?”

“Yeah,” she said, “but like Contagion or Outbreak.”

I shook my head, trying to make my laugh sound convincing. “Uh…no, it’s not like those at all. Could you guys maybe hang up a poster, though? For my book signing?”

“Hmmm.” The chick’s smile faded as she shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

“But I thought you guys supported local artists; some might call writing an art.”

“Yes, but we’re a 501(c)(3), a not for profit. I’ll have to ask the woman in charge.”

I nodded, pretending to understand, and said on my way to the door. “I can assure you; I won’t be making any profit from a book signing.”

“Oh, I believe that. You won’t see a penny until you sell a million.”

Third stop: the local Library. Librarians are people who “get” books: the literate, the initiated, the readers. But at this point I was tired of rejection and at first didn’t offer a free book, instead just asking to leave a stack of fliers. “No,” the librarian said, “you’ll have to talk to the Library Director, and he’s out to lunch right now.” When asked if it would be possible to leave a few free copies of Germline for patrons, she repeated “you’ll have to speak to the Director.” At this point I detected a pattern and scratched my head, wondering if I had forgotten to put on deodorant that morning before retreating to my house and locking the door.

OK, you got me: with the exception of my reception at the Arts Center, these experiences have nothing to do with genre vs. literary fiction, and everything to do with preparing ahead of time. The fact is that nobody gives a damn that I’m an author; these people have day-to-day concerns. Also – and this may be a southern thing – the prevailing attitude around here is that initiative can get you in trouble, so it’s better to say “no” and avoid taking any responsibility. What’s my point? I was an idiot, maybe a little arrogant, and should have made appointments with the managers at these places to explain who I am, what I’m trying to do, and what’s in it for them. So if you’re a new author (like me) takes this lesson to heart: unless you’re a critic’s darling at the NYT, WSJ, and Entertainment Weekly, selling thousands of copies a week, chances are that you care deeply about your book but NOBODY ELSE DOES. So do yourself a favor and prepare ahead of time for these types of activities.

Then again, I live in a very small town and there’s one thing that still bugs me: not one of the people above, who work for organizations that should show some support for local authors, said anything positive. It’s not like this town is churning out a new Faulkner every week. The bright side is that the manager of Books-a-Million has been incredibly helpful, and made calls to other authors she knows, going above and beyond the call of duty to help draw people in and put together posters to advertise my book. There’s not enough thanks for her, and if this signing goes well she deserves all the credit.

Long story short: you’re all invited to my first book signing at Books-a-Million in Aiken, South Carolina, on October 8th, 2011, from 1 to 4 pm. I hope I’m not the one twiddling my thumbs, but you never know…

Written by T.C. McCarthy

T.C. McCarthy

T.C. McCarthy has lived in lots of places (the SF Bay Area, Australia, and places he'd rather not mention) but he always seem to wind up back in the south because it's just like the third-world - except with good barbecue. And, he's a writer; his first novel is scheduled for publication in 2011. For more information check out Pharmacon, follow him on Twitter, or check out his bio from the Hachette Book Group.


  • Michael McClung September 28, 2011 at 2:32 am

    Hi, T.C.! I’m in Singapore, but I’ll be with you in spirit! Hope your signing goes well, and don’t forget your deodorant and witty asides :)

  • Bibliotropic September 28, 2011 at 2:46 am

    It’s terrible that you were met with such lousy attitudes. I can understand, on some level, people wanting to check with their superiors before handing out books to library patrons (I’ve worked jobs before where taking initiative like that could actually get me in trouble), but sticking up a few fliers? Or just taking a couple so they could ask later? Where’s the harm in that? Worst case scenario is that you don’t get the publicity, which is exactly the same as if they did nothing in the first place, only you at least leave the building feeling as though somebody gives a damn. You’d figure the library, at least, would have been willing to put up a notice or two…

  • […] and violent tale you may want to check it out), shares his thoughts on book signings in Book Signings: How Not to Garner Local Support at A Dribble of Ink. Visit Amazon.com! Some people treat genre fiction as if it’s a dirty diaper […]

  • notyan September 28, 2011 at 8:20 am

    because it seemed to me like civic organizations might want to help a local author

    Wow. Entitled much?

  • Mark Lawrence September 28, 2011 at 8:31 am

    Sounds rough out there. I simply didn’t try local promotion. I’m not that guy. My winningest smile would have those people reaching for their purse or their mace depending on their nature. My local library is 50 yards away. I emailed the boss to see if they wanted a free copy – then dropped it in. It was accepted without comment. I’ve done one signing where the staff of the local Waterstones treated me extremely well, and the public by and large ignored me :) The thing I have noticed is that Joe Public has no concept of the odds you overcome to get published. They would be as impressed if you’d come first in a pub quiz.

  • Bets Davies September 28, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    I did an MFA in creative nonfiction. If being in memoir didn’t make you enough of a red headed stepchild in an MFA program, try mentioning genre. Saying I used to write fantasy got me laughed at. Thank God I’d grown up. The atmosphere was so overwhelming, I told myself, thank God I’d grown up. I was over that fantasy thing. Three months after a grueling two and a half years of reality, I opened a file to one of my old fantasy novels, and cracked. With a silent apology to all those who had taught me, I read, and then wrote.

    My MFA training made me a lean, mean, fighting machine as a writer and it showed up when I started writing fantasy again. I feel it gives my writing an interesting edge, but I have to admit I am still a little ashamed of myself. Perhaps because over half the time I admit to be a writer, I still half to wince at the raised eyebrows and suppressed laughter when I say “fantasy.” If the average joe is supercilious about fantasy and science fiction, the so called “literary establishment” is brutal towards genre.

  • T.C. McCarthy September 28, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    Michael M: Thanks!
    Biblio: I know; I agree completely. But next time I’ll know to make an appointment in advance.
    Notyan: Not so much.
    Mark Lawrence: You need to walk around dressed as the guy on the cover of your book; then everyone would know who it was!
    Betsy: Holy cow do I get that. I tried to get into my university’s creative writing program as an undergraduate and made the mistake of submitting a science fiction story in my writing samples…

  • T.C. McCarthy September 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    Shoot! I meant Bets – not Betsy; sorry.

  • Dave Wagner September 29, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Well, you certainly present yourself well on the page (if this blog post is any indication). Guess I’m gonna have to go grab the Kindle version of your book and see what’s what! Soldier on, TC.

  • […] keep it vague, he dearly deserves more praise and readers. And he clearly does not deserve this. And did I mention he has a great personality on Twitter? Great guy. Releases August […]

  • t.c. mccarthy September 30, 2011 at 2:56 am

    Dave: Thanks!! And I hope you enjoy the book.

  • Andrew Van Wey September 30, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    I’m with Mark. I’m not cut out for local promotion. In my experience few things cause a conversation to grind to a halt and result in more vague discomfort than saying: “Oh, I write horror.”

    Still, I’m really impressed you went out and about to promote. As a SF Bay Area native, you probably wouldn’t be laughed away in Silicon Valley. You might even find a few around here that would talk your ear off for hours on end about the technological side of it. Even at my geekiest best I find myself struggling to keep up.

    And, as they say… Write On!