‘Join the club’: Stephen King, Margaret Atwood and more reassure debut author after lonely book launch

When debut author Chelsea Banning vented on Twitter about no one showing up at her book signing, she didn’t expect that some of the world’s most famous authors, including Stephen King, Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman, would respond with tales of their own nightmare public appearances.

“At my first Salem’s Lot signing, I had one customer. A fat kid who said, ‘Hey bud, do you know where there’s some Nazi books?’” King wrote to her.

“Terry Pratchett and I did a signing in Manhattan for Good Omens that nobody came to at all. So you are two up on us,” Gaiman wrote.

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“Join the club,” Atwood wrote. “I did a signing to which nobody came, except a guy who wanted to buy some Scotch tape and thought I was the help.”

Banning had arrived at Pretty Good Books in Ashtabula, Ohio, on the weekend for the event to launch her debut novel, Of Crowns and Legends. She was hoping that most of the 37 people who had RSVPed would show – but only two people turned up. They were both her friends.

“Kind of upset, honestly,” she tweeted afterwards, “and a little embarrassed.”

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Speaking to the Guardian a few days later, Banning said: “I was pretty bummed, honestly. I was happy to see the two that did, as they are my friends, and we had a good time chatting for a bit, but it was disheartening after a while and realising no one else was coming.”

But within hours of posting her tweet, bestselling authors were lining up to share similar stories.

“I have sat lonely at a signing table many times only to have someone approach … and ask me where the bathroom is,” Jodi Picoult wrote.

“Once sat out front of mall bookshop for a signing,” bestselling crime author Linwood Barclay wrote. “No one stopped, until the very end, when an old guy paused, looked at me, looked at the books, looked at me, approached and asked, ‘Do they sell flags here?’”

“I did a book reading where only my husband’s cousin showed up. One person. I’ll never forget that reading,” Pachinko author Min Jin Lee wrote.

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“Ooh, boy, too many to share. The one where the bookshop staff kindly pretended to be customers so I wouldn’t feel too bad, that stays with me,” One Day author David Nicholls wrote. “I should also add – don’t be downhearted, it’s a kind of rite of passage that happens to everyone, and congratulations on the book!”

“I was once invited to a crime writers’ festival. Colin Dexter was on at the same time. Only one person showed up for me. We chatted for a while and I told him how glad I was that he’d come,” wrote Jonathan Coe. “He said, ‘Actually I’m Ian Rankin and I was supposed to be introducing you.’”

The thread began to spread even wider than names in literature. “That is the beginning,” actor Henry Winkler wrote. “Then word gets out and they come!”

“YO,” rapper Flavor Flav wrote to her. “Here to hype up ya next signing!”

The warm response moved Banning to tears and completely changed how she feels about the lonely signing. “I feel elated!” she said. “And excited and definitely reassured. I’m not even upset about no one coming – I heard back from a lot of them, and they or their families ended up getting sick.”

She has since had almost 500 orders placed for digital copies of her book, and it has shot up Amazon’s charts.

Does she have any more signings planned? “Not at the moment,” she said. “But I am working on a few!”