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Book Signings: Survival of the Fittest
by Joe Lee

    My first book signing surpassed all expectations. John Evans and the great staff at Lemuria in Jackson [Mississippi] couldn’t have been more supportive, and my friends bought over forty copies of my debut, On The Record.

    Next stop: Books A Million in Tupelo.

    “Saw you on TV pitching this,” a grumpy old man said that day. “You got an actual publishing deal, or is this one of them do-it-yourself jobs?”

    I created Dogwood Press to publish other Mississippi writers as well as my own novels. We haven’t put Random House out of business, but I now have three authors under contract and six books in print. I tried to explain my long-term strategy to Mr. Grumpy. He cut me off with a snort you could hear clear across Lee County.

    “Yeah, I’ll pray for you, boy,” he said. “I self-published a book.”

    No one would review his book, he said, although the gift shop at the Tupelo airport bought copies. He knew some had circulated because he got a call from Bill Cosby.

    Yes, that Bill Cosby.

    Who, it seemed, wanted to make a movie out of it. Alas, the deal fell through when Mr. Grumpy demanded complete creative control.

    Did I believe any of that? No.

    Did he buy a book after bending my ear for half an hour? No.

    By the way, if you want to make one of my novels into a movie, just buy me a Happy Meal.

    On The Record is a legal thriller. It’s set at the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office. Because of the subject matter, some at signings assume I’m just dying to talk politics.

    “You a Republican or Democrat?”

    “Sorry, but I don’t talk politics.”

    “Well, you was to him over there.”

    “We were discussing my book, sir.”

    “I’m just asking if you’re a Republican or Democrat.”

    “Sir, one of my imaginary friends is a lawyer. He insisted I not talk about it.” The guy didn’t think that was funny and walked off. Like Mr. Grumpy, he didn’t buy a book.

    Dead Air was next. It’s about a slain TV anchor in the Jackson market.

    “Is this about current anchors in Jackson?”

    A news anchor in Jackson actually asked me that on camera and was dead serious. Before there was too much dead air of the broadcast variety, I assured her it was fiction.

    In the middle of 2006 I took the plunge and published another author. John Floyd’s Rainbow’s End is a fabulous collection of mystery-suspense short stories by a master storyteller. John’s also a good friend, and we’ve shared many stories from the road.

    With that in mind, picture me at your local public library or mall store.

    “Hi, I’m a mystery novelist from here in Mississippi,” I say. A brochure for Judgment Day, my most recent novel, is in hand. “Have a look: this is Part One of a series that—”

    “Hey, you published John Floyd’s book,” the guy says. “I know something that’d make you a ton of money: my autobiography. I’ve had dinner with four U.S. presidents, been in fifty foreign countries, started several Fortune 500 companies, and actually discovered the polio vaccine before Jonas Salk. It’s written, man. All I need is a publisher.”

    I’ve been approached by conspiracy theorists that make the Unabomber sound sane. They want me to publish them, too. It’s not easy to extricate myself when I spot actual customers, but I must. The conspiracy theorists do a lot more talking than buying.

    In all seriousness, I’ve met hundreds of nice people at book signings. I’ve run into old friends I never thought I’d see again. And as much fun as I have pitching books at the mall stores, you can’t beat the warm receptions at Mississippi libraries in Aberdeen, Eupora, Pachuta, Winona, Tylertown, West Point, Brandon, and my hometown of Starkville.

    You never know what people are going to ask, no matter where you go.

    “Did you write all these books?”

    That was posed to me by a little girl as her mom inspected a copy of On The Record at a mall store. It was my only book back then, and perhaps 15 copies were left to sell that day.

    “Yes, I did,” I said. “I wrote every single one. That’s pretty incredible, isn’t it?”

    Her eyes bulged with childlike amazement. Her mom laughed and bought a signed copy.

    “Are these free?”

    I’ve been asked that one several times. All were serious inquiries by adults. Absolutely, I want to say. Help yourself, and while you’re here, take whatever else you want from the store.

    Then there’s this helpful query:

    “Where is everybody? I thought this was a book signing.”

    “They’re waiting until I’m famous,” I reply.

    “That may be a long wait, young man.”

    “Random House wasn’t built in a day.”


    Joe Lee is originally from Jackson, Mississippi, and has a background in radio, television, and journalism. He owns and manages Dogwood Press, a small but traditional publishing company based in Brandon. Dogwood Press has six titles in print and will publish Brookhaven author Mike Windham's David Earl's ABCs in June and Joe's own The Magnolia Triangle in October, 2009. Six of Joe's short stories, including "Intersection" and "The Saint and the Sinner," are available for download via Amazon Shorts. His novels include On The Record, Dead Air, and Judgment Day.

    Joe is a Starkville High School graduate and received his bachelor's degree in Communication in 1987 from Mississippi State University. He and his family live in Brandon, where they swelter during the humid summers but enjoy the Mississippi Braves being just minutes away.


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    Read more of Joe Lee's stories:
    Take A Tip From Me
    The Temp

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