Editor’s note: Although Chelsea Banning’s book signing story broke (in a big way) back in December, it’s worth another look not just for the insight it offers to new authors on promoting a first book, but the possibilities of writers supporting writers. In regards to the former reason, the story makes clear that if few show to your first book signing — or maybe just a guy wanting to buy Scotch tape — don’t let that stop you.
Chelsea Banning’s journey through writing and self-publishing Of Crowns and Legends, her first book, is not unfamiliar: ups and downs, stops and starts, and learning the business from the ground up. It was in promoting her novel that Banning happened on a road far less traveled.
The 33-year-old Ohio-based writer demonstrated how using social media can (with a stroke of luck, she says) pay off.
The Long March to Publication
“I started writing Of Crowns and Legends in high school, then put it down in college and picked it back up in 2018,” she told The Writer. “I finished the final draft in early 2022 and published it [in] late August. I did a lot of research on the self-publishing process. How to do it, where to do it, what platforms and distributors are best. I did that for about a year.”
@chelseawritesbooks #fyp #authortok #indieauthor #author #authorsigning #writertok ♬ Aesthetic – Tollan Kim
What Banning never imagined in the marketing stage was how a new author’s dream – a first book signing event – could be nightmarish one day, then, through a surprise social media twist, become “surreal.”
Writers Supporting Writers (and Stephen King Leading the Charge)
“Had my first author signing today at a local bookstore,” Banning wrote in a TikTok post on Dec. 3 of last year. “Only two people came and I was pretty bummed, but it was nice to see them!”
Banning tried to stay positive, but the disappointment she felt about the small turnout burned on. Against the advice of her husband, she decided to air her experience on social media.
“We had talked about it on the car ride home, but I was still feeling a little upset the next day and wanted to talk it out with someone who was in the writing community or just kind of ‘speak into the void’ and get it off my chest,” she says.
Banning took to Twitter, writing, “Only two people came to my author signing yesterday, so I was pretty bummed about it. Especially as 37 people responded ‘going’ to the event. Kind of upset, honestly, and a little embarrassed.”
It was some void: In a supercharged example of writers supporting writers, the tweet racked up more than 80,000 likes after sparking the memories of bestselling authors like Margaret Atwood, Jodi Picoult, and Stephen King.
Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, all you other guys–pass the word. https://t.co/VJc6EUhJvJ
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) December 11, 2022
King tweeted back, “At my first Salem Lot signing, I had one customer. A fat kid who said, ‘Hey bud. Do you know where there’s some Nazi books?’”
“Join the club,” Atwood wrote to Banning. “I had a book signing to which nobody came except a guy who wanted to buy Scotch tape.” TV and movie star Henry Winkler also got in on the effort to support Banning.
Unsurprisingly, the conversation went viral, attracting the attention of reporters from NPR, BBC News, and the Wall Street Journal, not to mention local TV stations.
Things got crazy, Banning says. “My inbox was full of interview requests and emails from other writers or people saying they bought my book for support. It was surreal.”
Banning’s “hope” had been to sell 300 copies of the book, and she dreamed of hitting the 1000 mark. After the tweet storm, sales zoomed past 3000. By early January, she had sold more than 8500 copies.
Banning had another book event on Dec. 19 at the local library where she works. Fifty people showed – 25 times the turnout for her first book signing.
We asked her: What’s the better promotional tool? Book signings or social media?
Banning says it’s a mix.
“Honestly, I learned that both are hit or miss,” she says. “Social media is pure luck as to what gets seen, and book signings can be tough. I do know that a lot of authors tend to have good luck at craft shows, literary festivals, or even Comic-Cons.”
One thing is for sure: Despite social media’s reputation for trolls and haters, it’s a place where writers can support other writers – a dynamic fully on display in Banning’s Twitter feed, @chelseabwrites.
T.J. Murphy is the editor of The Writer. In regards to writing supporting writers, he’s putting together a writing accountability group — writers helping each other to keep writing. Interested? Send T.J. an email.