15 December 2023

All I Want for Christmas Is This Post on Your Author Website

One of my pet peeves is a question that pops up often at this time of year: Where can I get your books? Granted, publishing is an opaque business, but I don’t think people ask the same sort of question when they are contemplating the purchase of automobile tires or mayonnaise.

Often, the question is framed as if the asker is genuinely concerned about my financial welfare: “What’s the best place to buy your books?” they’ll ask, implying that they want me to get the best bang for their buck.

This one, I sort of understand, and appreciate. “Well,” the only correct response is, “if you buy my book at the local bookstore, I’ll get ten bucks more than if you bought it online.”

Only writers laugh at that one.

Once, at a book event in a historic gift shop, a dimwitted paterfamilias suddenly announced: “Oh! You guys are the authors of the book!” Folks, he said this minutes after my wife and I signed and inscribed a book to his entire family, at the request of his two kids. Dad was standing there the whole time, beaming but apparently oblivious to what was happening.

I wanted to say: Sir, do you routinely let strangers scrawl their names on your purchases? If so, break out your automobile tires and mayonnaise jars right now because I’d be happy to Sharpie the heck out of them for you!

All this to say that when it comes to books, you cannot assume civilians know a damn thing. Which is why, when Denise and I first moved to this town, we made friends with booksellers at the local bookstore, and then promptly inserted a paragraph on the contact pages of our websites saying that if anyone wanted autographed copies of our books that they should contact that store. We gave them the link, the 800-number, and explicit instructions for ordering. In other words, we made it stupidly simple. You have to.

At this time of year, it is wise to remind yourself that you are marketing your books not to readers but to buyers. Many of the books bought during the holidays will never be read by those buyers; they are intended for other people entirely. Thanks to a shadow career as a ghostwriter, I have witnessed business people who have not cracked a book since The Catcher in the Rye buying stacks of signed business books to dole out to their compatriots, thinking it makes them look smart. Non-reading grandparents routinely snap up books for their grandchildren, regardless of the season. 

So, thanks to that paragraph on our website, the local booksellers at Malaprop’s will occasionally shoot us an email if they get an order, and we have grown accustomed to stopping by the store to sign/inscribe when running errands. Predictably, Denise is summoned far more often than I do. I get maybe two or three requests a year, but that’s still cool. Those sales live forever in the store’s system, gently reminding the store that my books are worth keeping in stock.

Simple instructions on our websites have also helped short-circuit the creepy thing that was happening, where strangers would mail a book to our home asking my wife to sign and return it. (I need not comment that privacy does not exist; you know that already.)

Another idiot shipped one of my wife’s books—in an Amazon box—to our local bookstore, with a note asking her to sign and send it back. This triggered a hilarious phone call from the Hungarian-born founder of this legendary indie store, which has been in business 41 years. “Come pick up this disgusting box,” she said in her thick accent, “before I vomit on it!” When we arrived at the store, we found that she had draped a paper bag over the box, neatly hiding the Amazon logo.

Now the note on Denise’s contact page says that any books shipped this way—to our home or the store—will be donated to charity. People must follow the rules.

Some years ago, I spotted another clever book-signing post that we have since stolen and made our own. John Scalzi, the bestselling SFF author, posts an annual message on his blog—believed to be the world’s oldest—with instructions for getting his books for the holidays. He urges fans to order his books from his local bookstore, Jan & Mary’s Book Center, in Troy, Ohio. Chuck Wendig, another well-known author, has started doing the same thing in his own wacky way, sending buyers to the indie store near him in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

Study the language in their posts, and maybe also have a look at mine. You’ll notice that I avoid the word “signed” in favor of “autographed.” I do that because, given my experience with Doofus Dad (mentioned above) and others on the road, I think some buyers need things spelled out much more explicitly. I’ve also noticed that some buyers don’t quite understand what “inscribing” a book means. I stole the word “personalized” from Scalzi, but I still go to lengths to describe what that means. (See No. 2 in my instructions.)

Every year, I duplicate the same holidays blog post I’ve been using for nearly a decade, tweak the language slightly, and repost it. (During Covid, the language reflected the bookstore’s contactless ordering policies.) Beyond that, the most important information to give readers is the drop-dead order date.

This year, for example, the store told me that for books in stock, they could have orders gift-wrapped and shipped to U.S. addresses with a guaranteed Christmas arrival if the person ordered by December 14th, and we signed no later than 11 a.m. the following day. If the store did not have the book in stock, they preferred people order by December 7th.

Unfortunately, unless the indie bookstore’s website robustly reflects their inventory, the person calling or placing an online order won’t necessarily see if the book they want is in stock. Which is why it’s important to stress in your blog post that people a) pick up the damn phone, and b) order as early as possible. My post goes up on the website as early as possible in November, and lives on the front page of my site until January 2, when it’s replaced with a link to the non-holiday how-to-get-my books instructions.

Having said all that, I know that some of you will regard this effort as futile. This wouldn’t work for me, you’re thinking, for reasons such as:

  • I’m not a well-known writer. 
  • No one cares about my books. 
  • There isn’t a bookstore for 50 miles in every compass direction of my home. 
  • Or there is, and the crank who runs the place hates me because my books are self-pubbed or whatever.
I totally get it. I used to think along these lines, and still do in trying moments. But these days I regard these sort of posts as the easiest marketing I can do. It costs nothing to post this note on your site, and you never know how it’s going to play out.

I continue to be surprised by how such a simple effort helps my cause. One Christmas a buyer ordered a dozen signed copies of my children’s book. I was flabbergasted and asked the booksellers for the person’s name, thinking it must be a friend or colleague. The bookseller who took the order over the phone told me that the buyer was a former librarian. That, and the woman’s out-of-state address, was all we knew. No matter. I have since built a shrine to this obviously perspicacious stranger in my basement.

If you cannot envision a similar relationship with a store in your area, you could try…

  • Offering signed bookplates in exchange for a SASE. (The authors of Freakonomics did this via their website years ago, so now I do it too.) 
  • Selling signed books directly to readers via your website. That typically boils down to a PayPal link, and you driving to the post office to ship orders.
  • Selling signed books and other merchandise via a Shopify store. (This is the hot new thing everyone’s talking about in the indie-pub world.) It boils down to a website that practically runs itself, taking orders, printing books and other merch, and shipping it out without requiring any effort on your part after you’ve set it up. (You would probably not have the ability to offer signed, inscribed books this way unless you have really nailed your game.)

In the two days it took me to write and tinker with the post you are reading, another buyer—a professor who teaches screenwriting—ordered 10 copies of our personal finance book to gift to students of hers graduating in December. I can’t imagine why she would want signed copies, but who am I to argue?

On that note, I’ll share the following: At the arts school in North Carolina that my wife attended in her youth, a professor famously told his students—aspiring musicians, actors, dancers—that the world was filled with benevolent, often wealthy people who have money to spend on the arts. Your job, he told them, was to help them spend that money on your work. The first rule, he counseled, was educating them. He meant learning to write grants, but I have since come to see it differently.

Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to You All.


  • To create the images in the holiday post on my website, I used Book Brush, which is a paid service. You could easily use Canva, Adobe, or whatever design software you like. 
  • To create the one-page list of all my books, I used Books2Read, which is completely free and created by some very nice author-loving people in Oklahoma.
  • As long as we are celebrating imagination and creativity, I might mention that the images in this post are photos I took of displays of the winners of the annual Gingerbread competition held at the Omni Grove Park Inn in my town. Everything you see is theoretically edible.
See you in three weeks!



  1. By Joe, I think you've got it! Oh, and that professor was right on the money. Having written many (too many, I break out in hives just thinking about it) a grant in my life, I learned early in the game to just write the damn things, because if you don't ask, you don't get...

  2. Thank you, Eve! Yes, we always quote that guy around here. His words definitely made an impression on my wife, and she passes that wisdom along to many other friends of ours.

  3. Very interesting post, Joseph. I am always bewildered when people want my sig on a book. I understand it's because if I become another Agatha Christie, the book might be worth more? Otherwise, I don't get it. But then, I don't get a lot of things in this world...Melodie

    1. Dear Melodie: Please send me your signature on a piece of paper, preferably a blank check. Love, your biggest fan, Joe

  4. Interesting, Joe--and helpful also. Thanks!

    I believe we now have almost all your books, and Denise's too. It's always fun to find out more about the way you write (and handle the "business" of writing).

    1. Thank you, John, for the comment, and for everything you've done to help us in the past!


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>