Chuck Wendig: Terribleminds

Apple-Obsessed Author Fella

Take A Bite: Black River Orchard Is Out This Week

And so we arrive at harvest time. The air has chilled. The trees are bursting with red fruit. The hinge of your jaw tightens with want as you can taste the apple even before you bite it, bringing with it not only juice and tartness but also, the promise of being better than everyone, of being the greatest version of yourself, perfect and special in every way, damn any who disagree, and damn any who will not dare to take a bite of this red-black apple.

Black River Orchard is out this week. (Next week in the UK.)

Let us get your procurement options out of the way, with special note that Your Local Bookstore is always the best, unless you wish for a book that I have mauled with both my signature and some crass personalization — in which case, you’re best getting from either Doylestown Bookshop or any of of the bookstores I will be visiting in the coming weeks. Finally, signed copies available also through The Signed Page!

Otherwise, your choices include but are not limited to:

Hardcover: | B&N | BAM | Amazon | Powells

eBook: Amazon | Apple | Kobo

Audio: Kobo | | Apple | Audible

And more ways to buy here, at the PRH page for the book.

Also come see me on tour, and I’ll A your Qs and we’ll even eat weird apples together — and check out the Ruby Slipper apple merch.

About the Book

A small town is transformed when seven strange trees begin bearing magical apples in this masterpiece of horror from the bestselling author of Wanderers and The Book of Accidents.

“Chuck Wendig is one of my very favorite storytellers. Black River Orchard is a deep, dark, luscious tale that creeps up on you and doesn’t let go.”—Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus

It’s autumn in the town of Harrow, but something besides the season is changing there.

Because in that town there is an orchard, and in that orchard, seven most unusual trees. And from those trees grows a new sort of apple: strange, beautiful, with skin so red it’s nearly black.

Take a bite of one of these apples, and you will desire only to devour another. And another. You will become stronger. More vital. More yourself, you will believe. But then your appetite for the apples and their peculiar gifts will keep growing—and become darker.

This is what happens when the townsfolk discover the secret of the orchard. Soon it seems that everyone is consumed by an obsession with the magic of the apples… and what’s the harm, if it is making them all happier, more confident, more powerful?

Even if something else is buried in the orchard besides the seeds of these extraordinary trees: a bloody history whose roots reach back to the very origins of the town.

But now the leaves are falling. The days grow darker. It’s harvest time, and the town will soon reap what it has sown.

“Wendig wows with this wildly unsettling horror tale… Wendig is brilliant at slowly raising the plot’s emotional temperature and making his characters, caught in a creeping nightmare, feel both real and empathetic. This masterful outing should continue to earn Wendig comparisons to Stephen King.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Wendig writes doorstoppers, but it’s safe to say there’s something for everyone here, from the creepy Eyes Wide Shut vibe (complete with sacrificial rituals) to the Stephen King–laced dichotomy between the world’s everyday cruelty and the truly grotesque carnage that follows. Both complex and compelling, a nightmare-inducing parable about our own wickedness.” Kirkus Reviews

“An epic saga that is at once a propulsive horror novel and a parable, a thriller and a cautionary tale, Black River Orchard is the immensely talented Chuck Wendig at his finest.”—Lisa Unger, New York Times bestselling author of Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six

“A gripping story of love and legacies gone rotten, deeply rooted in the landscape and as twisty and gnarled as an ancient apple tree.”—T. Kingfisher, USA Today bestselling author of What Moves the Dead

“This will undoubtedly be heralded as one of the finest horror novels of the twenty-first century.”—Eric LaRocca, author of Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke

“Enchanting, exquisite and dark, Chuck Wendig masterfully weaves a new horrifying fairy tale in Black River Orchard.”—Cynthia Pelayo, Bram Stoker Award winner of Crime Scene

“Creepy and insidious, Black River Orchard whets your appetite and then turns you inside out.”—Hailey Piper, Bram Stoker Award–winning author of Queen of Teeth

Black River Orchard should come with a warning label: You’ll never bite into another apple without remembering this dark, demented, and genuinely frightening novel.”—Jason Rekulak, author of Hidden Pictures

“Chuck Wendig’s Black River Orchard slithers and shines, its dangerous belly full of dark magic and accusations. I’ve been a fan of Wendig for years, and this is his best novel yet.”—Gabino Iglesias, Stoker Award-winning author of The Devil Takes You Home

“An essential for horror readers, and buy it for new horror readers—it will convert them instantly.”—V. Castro, author of The Haunting of Alejandra

“Plucks your heartstrings and preys on your fears at the same time . . . High-stakes horror meets peak emotional investment means Total. Reader. Devastation.”—Sadie Hartmann, author of 101 Horror Books to Read Before You’re Murdered

“A fresh and unexpected horror feat, expertly drawing from the ancient, endless wells of our greatest fears.”—Premee Mohamed, Nebula Award–winning author of Beneath the Rising

“A dark, frightening tale that will chill readers to the core.” Booklist

“Insatiable, passionate, weird, and creepy, Wendig’s latest is perfect for those who appreciate the slow-burning horror tomes of Stephen King and Robert McCammon.” Library Journal

What You Can Do?

I’m ringing this bell a lot, and I apologize — but while readers do not owe their authors anything beyond nabbing the story from a store or library, there are things you can do to help this book (and by proxy, me as an author) continue to exist in the world and not perish in a deep dark abyss of obscurity. Those things include:

  • Tell people about the book! Word of mouth really, really, reaaaaaaally matters, and it is arguably the best and maybe even the only truly effective way for a book to reach its readership.
  • Leave a review. Somewhere! Anywhere! Amazon, Goodreads, Storygraph, TikTok, Instagram, your blog, my heart, carved into an apple and thrown through the windows of your neighbors!
  • Call your local library and ask if they’ll carry it.
  • Come see me on tour. It helps, seriously. Bookstores wanna see you. I wanna see you. I want you to eat weird apples with me. It’s gonna be great. We’re forming a cult. There’s probably a creepy uhh I mean totally cool and not creepy van. Get in. Let’s ride to the orchard.
  • Send me bags of apples and money! I mean, can’t hurt to ask.

Ten Things To Know About The Book

1. It’s best to go in with minimal spoilers. (This is admittedly my belief with all books, but this is one where I think the less you know, the more rewarding the total reading experience will be.)

2. Yes, it’s a big book, but damnit, it has short chapters. I work very hard to make these books as easy and addictive to read as possible. Not to say that always works, that’s on you to decide. But I do make every effort.

3. The audio is amazing. It has a wild array of narrators, including: Xe SandsBrittany PressleySean Patrick HopkinsCindy KayKalani QueypoGabra Zackman & Victor Colomé

4. The cover is also amazing. US cover is designed by Regina Flath. Fuck yeah, Regina Flath. If there is a Regina Flath fanclub, I wish to join. Check out her Insta, and follow her there.

5. I don’t have any particular trigger/content warnings conjured (outside, well, this is a horror novel, so expect some of that horror up in there). Storygraph is always a good place to go to look for community-curated content warnings, where you can find or add them accordingly.

6. This seems like a “fall book,” and it is, in the sense it’s very apple- and harvest-focused, but the book itself (roughly) comprises a year of time, from harvest to harvest.

7. It takes place in Bucks County, PA, but also, not there, exactly. Readers of The Book of Accidents will pick up what I’m laying down.

8. Speaking of that, as always, I like to connect my stories in curious little ways, and you’ll find those Easter Eggs here, too. Readers of The Book of Accidents might even realize there are some hints in that book about this book written in all the way back then…

9. Lately I’ve taken to using the acknowledgments portion of my books as an afterword to talk about the book itself, and you’ll find that in this one, too.

10. Hey, at the very least, you’re gonna learn some shit about apples.

And that’s it. I can only yell so much about this book. I’m really happy with it. It’s the evil apples book that has lived in my heart for like, five years now, and it’s gonna be out in the world and from here, it’s yours. Yours to love or hate, yours to carry forward or kick into the dirt. I hope you love it. I hope my weird finds your weird and the intersection is this book. I hope its roots dig in. I hope it bears fruit.

I hope you’ll take a bite of my apple.

*eyebrow waggle*

Maybe I’ll see you out there in tour.

Enjoy the book.

William Sterling: Five Things I Learned Writing String Them Up

When Barker Davis wanders into Hollow Hills one day, blood-soaked from head to toe, the town immediately blames the deranged toymaker living in the woods nearby. But arresting the toymaker leads to more questions than answers and the bloodbath is just beginning. Now, it’s up to Sinclair Redman to figure out what’s really causing the carnage before bodies pile too much higher.

When I first wrote String Them Up it was early 2022 and Murder Puppets weren’t really a big deal on the market. Billy, from Saw, seemed to be sidelined after Spiral. Annabelle was three movies deep, but seemed to be losing steam despite Annabelle Comes Home being surprisingly fun. Puppetmaster got a spinoff that nobody paid attention to. Really, only Chucky seemed to be getting much mileage through his TV Series and/or movie which was confusing. String Them Up got picked up by Crystal Lake Publishing (hooray!) and then scheduled for a release that was a year and a half out.

During that year and a half, suddenly, puppets hit the main stage again. Rachel Harrison’s Bad Dolls and Grady Hendrix’s How To Sell A Haunted House popped off. Megan (excuse me, M3gan) came to theaters. Hell, even gaming got in on the pint sized terrors with House Beneviendo DESTROYING ME in Resident Evil 8 and My Friendly Neighborhood rearing their twisted little heads. The floodgates opened all at once and it took me a while to understand why. But through revising and editing String Them Up, and embracing this new wave of glass-eyed murder dolls, I think I’ve learned Five Things Writing STRING THEM UP about why puppets are so damn scary…

Puppets can be scary because of the uncanny valley

I think the main reason that puppets freak people the hell out, is because it’s so easy to mistake something that’s so OBVIOUSLY not human for a human. Which sounds contradictory, but you know what I mean. It’s like AI “art,” right? At first glance, you might recognize what’s really happening. The painting of the spooky lady in the black dress looks good and spooky and you want to give props to the artist for evoking such a uniquely gothic mood. But then you see the fingers and they’re all jacked to hell. And then you see the way the foreground and the background all blend together because a computer couldn’t decide when a dress should stop and a shadow should begin. It’s frustrating. You feel duped. How stupid must you have been for ever thinking, even at a glance, that these ‘paint’ splashes made sense.

I think puppets parade around on the same chaos wagon.

When you see that mannequin anywhere other than a store window, you’re bound for an “Oh, hi Mark,” moment until you notice the blank, dead eyes. Looking directly at these things is so unnerving because they fooled you to start with. It makes you question your sanity in the most discomforting of ways. How could you have mistook a doll on the couch for a real child? Are you stupid? Or did your peripheral vision give you a glimpse through some veil that your regular senses aren’t attuned for? We can’t trust these damn things.

Then, add to this confusion the fact that, in our horror stories, the dolls start to move. When Pupkin attacks in How To Sell A Haunted House, it lends credence to a concept that’s always itched at the backs of our minds. We realize suddenly that those little looks that we originally dismissed, those little “mistakes” of perception, were actually the reality and now we can’t trust anything anymore.

Puppets can be scary because they are everywhere.

It’s the classic shot. The antagonist toy sitting in a pile of other stuffed animals, dolls, or what-have-yous. The main character walks past, unassuming. The demon doll’s head turns. Shit’s about to go down.

It’s a classic for a reason.

The dolls in our houses are so omnipresent and so innocent that we never pay them mind. Even when you KNOW that Chucky is out to get you, it’s so easy to just blow off the cute, fluffy, wooly, plastic comfort objects. It’s Toys R Us Camo for our antagonist. You go toy blind.

And what makes it worse is, if you have kids, then you know that there’s NO WAY to keep track of which toys are supposed to be where. You get used to the idea of them moving “on their own,” because your kids are constantly ping-ponging from room to room with them in tow and there’s no way to track your targets. There’s not even a way to tell the intruders from the regular toys. My kids have so many toys things scattered around the house from birthday parties and ‘borrowed from’ friends and grandparents and trips to the grocery store with mom that if a new, potentially violent, little friend makes its way into our house there’s going to be no way for me to know. Not until it’s too late, at least.

Puppets can be scary because life in plastic, it’s fantastic

How do you kill a toy? Do you take out its batteries?



If it’s electronic.

But how many times has THAT worked against Chucky, huh?

Something eerie about puppets and dolls and the whole ‘animated play thing’ trope is just the dark second-act-realization that our characters have that they don’t know how to kill what’s already supposed to be inanimate. Evilized dolls inherently come along with a mystery of what evilized them. If it was a programming error (looking at you, M3GAN) then maybe you can destroy their processing chip. If they’re playing host to a demon, then maybe you resort to your run of the mill catholic cleansing ritual (bathtime, Annabelle). But until the characters deduce what’s making these little monsters tick, that unknowing and resulting inability to battle back can be a blissful well of terror to draw from.

Puppets can be scary because of projection

You know when you were a kid and you used to play with dolls, puppets, action figures, whatever? And you subconsciously projected a lot of your own interests, fears, and insecurities into those toys? Barbie is mad at Ken because Ken won’t let her have ice cream for breakfast? Mmhmm. Sounds familiar. It can be cute. Barbie is mad at Ken because somebody keeps hitting her on the playground and the teacher isn’t doing anything about it? Well, hold on, then… Down this dark spiral we go. Something that I think is under-utilized by the evil puppets in mainstream horror is the role of the puppet master. How the person playing with the dolls can reveal bits of themselves that even they themselves don’t want to address fully. Would my kid tell me he was having problems at school? Hopefully. But would Ken tell Barbie about it? Absolutely. Take the ownership away from it and things can be easier to talk about.

But let’s play this out in its most sadistic form. Let’s throw it back to an episode of Heroes from…what? 2008? There was a puppet master villain there. He kidnapped Hayden Panettierre and her mom. He controlled their limbs. He made their bodies do whatever he wanted, and what he wanted was gross. Predatory. They kept him mostly reigned in, because the show aimed for a PG-13 rating, but there’s clearly a darkness here that can be acknowledged, and I bet your imaginations are racing to the worst possible places right now. I know mine was.

So then when I was writing String Them Up I tried to find ways to marry all of this together. I wanted to get an absolute psychopath pulling the strings. I wanted the worst person possible channeling all their frustrations and worst thoughts into some creepy little vehicles for destruction. I think I managed it.

Puppets are FUN

And then here’s my last idea for why puppets are seeing the spotlight all of a sudden again. Ignoring all the pseudo-psychology that I’ve been rambling about. Ignoring how maybe an evil puppet master pulling the strings of mindless cronies might parallel some Cheeto-tinged socio-political happenings in our real world. PUPPETS ARE FUN.

There’s something entertainingly absurdist about watching Chucky’s tiny stumpy legs fluttering as he chases a victim down a hallway. It’s so ridiculous that you have to smile. Poltergeist Clown’s face is nightmare fuel, but tee-hee, those arms are so stretchy! My last, and probably biggest revelation while writing String Them Up was that this comedy could be, and needed to be, embraced. Horror doesn’t need to be doom and gloom for all two hour, two hundred pages, or twelve episodes. A little bit of levity in the right places, like with puppets, can go a long way towards making a story entertaining and memorable. So again, I tried to reflect that in String Them Up. I kept a lot of scenes that will, hopefully, keep you up at night. But I also embraced the nonsensical aspects of my subject matter. I love the way that the story turned out, with all of this thrown in a blender and pureed together like that one scene in Small Soldiers, and I hope you have some fun with the story too.

William Sterling is an independent author and host of the Killer Mediums podcast. His books tend to play in the realms of “popcorn flick horror” with high body counts and a soft spot for unexpected endings.

String Me Up: Amazon

William Sterling: Website | Instagram

The Humblest Of Asks

Being a writer right now is fucking weird. (It inspired me to write a post about that very thing only a handful of months ago.) It was never exactly a normal thing to be, but somehow it’s only gotten stranger. Book bans, so-called artificial intelligence, various strikes in the face of soul-crushing capitalism, and, of course, the gentle and stupid collapse of social media into a plethora of only partially-effective fiefdoms.

Word-of-mouth has always, always been the greatest driver of why people read this book or that book — we listen to trusted sources (our friends, our local bookseller, a reputable TikTok account, an itinerant Tom Hanks wandering the landscape whispering the names of obscure books in your ear), and then we read the book. Then we tell someone about the book because oh my god, you have to read THE DAUGHTER’S DOCTOR’S REVENGE, y’all, it’s the thrilleriest romanticiest spiciest sweetest scariest silliest murder-mystery-medical-body-horror-erotic-cookbook and if you don’t read it you’ll be missing out. Sweet sweet book FOMO.

Social media was never really good for authors to sell their books at a one-to-one basis, I don’t think. Meaning, your tweets were not Pied-Piper tunes fluting your village followers into the bookstore to buy your book. But it did a lot for book culture, which is to say creating ambient effect about not just your books, but the books you love, the bookstores you care about — it was not always the healthiest garden, but it was, still, a garden of books. An ecosystem of book culture goodness. And that is now…

Okay, I know it’s not gone gone. But Twitter is pretty much dead, throttled by the Emerald-Mining Nazi, and TikTok isn’t really for writers I don’t think, and Instagram is mostly for I dunno are we still posting photos of our food over there? I mean, I know I am, because I just posted a photo of a whole-ass potato I found in a bag of potato chips. This potato is now my son, and I have named him Gordon. I will not eat him. How dare you.

Anyway, long story short is, it’s hard to get heard. It’s hard to make you know about these books. It’s hard to make you care about them. Social media — again, a flawed nightmare realm in oh so many ways — also served as a tentpole for the bookish ecosystem, and that tentpole is now chewed by termites. Who are also billionaires! So, what the fuck do we do?

I don’t know, and I don’t have any certain answers, but I know what I think the answer might be, and it’s this:

With my newest book Black River Orchard coming out next week, it’s time I humbly ask you to join my cult. No, I don’t have the cult set up and running yet, but I’m gauging interest. The book itself has a cult in it, in a sort of suburban folk horror context, and evil apples are at the core of this cult, and man, it sounds like fun, having a cult. So I don’t think it’s too much to ask that we all form a cult, and I’ll be the cult leader guy, and we’ll just find a place in the woods, or maybe we can build a bunker? Or a tower? So many structures. Ooh! Ooh! A pyramid! Let’s build a creepy pyramid in the woods. Whoa, I didn’t say it’d be a sex pyramid. You said it’d be a sex pyramid. Let’s not worry about that part right now. Just know this: it’ll be a blast. There will be peace and love and various sinister structures made out of wicker and rattan. You want robes? We can do robes. But maybe robes are feeling staid right now. Maybe you want odd hats. I’m down with odd hats. They have creepy homemade masks in the book — so why can’t we do hats? A hat that looks like the top half of an apple? Maybe some bird skeletons bundled together? Shit yeah. Or a hat made of tree roots, or gummy worms, or whatfuckingever. I’ll put out a suggestion box.

See, this way we don’t need social media. We won’t even require the Internet. We’ll just have our weird little off-the-grid pyramid cult with our dead bird apple hats, and we’ll all read books and have endless book clubs and talk about them while ingesting various yard mushrooms. It’s gonna be great. And the first order of business is, to prove your loyalty to the cult, that you talk about Black River Orchard. This isn’t like Fight Club. First rule is, you have to talk about it. Tell everyone. Tell your friends. Tell your neighbors. Tell any parrots you see — they are excellent repeaters of information. Have you thought about going door to door and asking folks if they’ve Seen The Good And Glorious Path of Evil Apples? Well, get right on that. Talk about the book. Leave reviews places. Come to the book events. Pre-order the book if you haven’t already, and jump in on that pre-order giveaway campaign. Hell, pre-order ten, twenty of those silly guys. We’ll use them as currency in the new cult. Merch, too! Who needs the internet? We have our own word-of-mouth. And the words in our mouth are NEW CULT NEW CULT NEW CULT. APPLES, APPLES, APPLES. TEETH, TEETH, TEETH. Now put on your odd hat. Come to the pyramid in the woods. We have one week till the book comes out. One week to prepare for


ha ha ha I mean

one week to prepare for


Okay, see in the forest, cultist buddies!

* translation is, I might be a little more annoying this next week in the lead-up to the book, and that annoyance might be softened if we’re all in the woods getting high on tree bark and talking books in our weird pyramid, so apologies in advance if I’m extra noisy about this book, it just means a lot to me and it’s hard to get word out, but honestly, all of this would be fixed if you would just join my damn cult already, jeez

A Reminder About How I Will Gladly Haunt Your Book Club If You Invite Me

With Black River Orchard coming out (ahhhh like, a week and a half now, ahhhhh), I am keen to remind you that if you have a book club and you choose one of my books (like the aforementioned evil apples book), you can summon me and I will show up like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, and I will reveal all my secrets unless interrupted by some manner of bird.

By show up, I of course mean “virtually,” because that’s the easiest way for me to appear at your book club.

Anyway — the deets for that are here, posted last July:

The Book Club Offer.

Please to partake!

And no, I don’t know why I posted such a dour photo of my at the top of this. (It was a photo taken on our recent trip to Europe, aka, YERP.) Here, I’ll post another very serious photo to prove my abject seriousness.

Those are definitely my real teeth and not, for instance, dentaduras.



You Need To Watch Deadloch Or I’ll Be Mad At You

I mean, that’s it, really. It’s on Amazon Prime streaming. It’s great. Truly great. OKAY BYE.

You’re still here, ugh, okay, fine, look — it’s a very serious murder-mystery show set in Tasmania. It’s also hilarious. It’s not exactly a comedy, but also, it’s a comedy. It plays itself straight as a noirish sort of serial killery mystery thing, but at the same time, it’s also truly, truly funny. You get the serious music cues, the ponderous camera drifts over placid water, but then you also get like, the absolutely absurd characters and attitudes and situations born of a quirky small Australian town. It’s like if Broadchurch had a baby with Gilmore Girls, but Letterkenny was the surrogate? I dunno. It’s great. It’s political and surreal and funny and crude and a genuinely sharp mystery.

Go watch it. I’ll wait here.

(And thank you to Kevin Hearne for telling me to watch it in the first place.)

Your Guide To (Probably, Maybe, Maybe Not) Having A Great Book Signing Event At A Bookstore

Author events at bookstores — what are they? How do they work? Where are my pants? Who the hell let us talk to people in public?? Especially without pants??? What I’m trying to say is, I have a lot of thoughts about authorial bookstore events (colloquially called “book signings” but they’re really so much more than that), and I thought, well, I have a blog, and a blog is a good place to shed the flesh of those thoughts and hold up the leavings for show.

I’ve of course been doing a lot of thinking about book signings and book tours because, well, I’m about to go on one for Black River Orchard (shameless plug, I know, but hey, it’s relevant).

So, let’s chat.

(I know I said I was going to do shorter posts. This is, uh, not one of them.)

(Also, caveat here that this is not meant to be in any way authoritative despite the word authoritative containing the word author. Meaning, I’m not trying to write gospel here. These are just thoughts. I am a foolish and simple-minded person and nothing I say here should be taken too seriously.)

What is a book signing and why does it matter?

The basic barebones thing is: author goes to bookstore, readers go to bookstore, they meet, the author makes some manner of mouth noises about the book and/or from the book, and then the readers take their (ideally) newly-procured books to the author and the author ruins them with pithy sayings and something resembling a signature.

There are, of course, variations: maybe it’s at a library, or a larger venue, or, I dunno, in forbidden catacombs. Maybe the author reads from their work. Maybe they don’t. Maybe it’s part of a larger convention or conference.

Maybe there’s a Q&A! Maybe there’s a conversation partner! Perhaps it is moderated. Or could be that the writer is free to deliver whatever coked-up screed they feel is most essential in that moment.

These events matter, and again this is the barebones, because bookstores need to keep existing and authors want to keep existing and this is one of the ways we help to continue our ancient partnership. We renew the OLD OATHS, a pact signed between the God of Bookstores and the Village Authors, and ideally these events are good for the both of us. But, then, of course, it also matters because it’s hopefully good for readers, too. They get to meet an author, which, if you’re not an author, is maybe pretty exciting.* Maybe readers discover a new writer this way, or maybe they meet a writer they’ve long-read but never met. Whatever the case, a personal connection is forged between reader and writer, and the autograph in the book represents a heretical sigil bonding the two together in a magical spell. Or, shit, I dunno, maybe the reader just gets something to sell on eBay.

In a broader sense, bookstore events like this matter because they strengthen the overall bookish ecosystem. Not just in the crass capitalist “well now the bookstore and author can continue to exist” way, but just in the renewal of book culture where we learn the value of celebrating books, the readers of those books, the writers of those books, the sellers of those books, and also any bookstore cats that may wander in.

(Perhaps controversial opinion where I probably lose some of you: I love bookstore cats in theory, but I’m also dreadfully allergic, and really can’t hang in a bookstore where said cat exists before my throat started to tighten and my face starts to leak. Sorry, bookstore cats.)

Are publishers growing wary and weary of book signings?

I’m hearing a lot more — from authors and from bookstores — about how publishers are investing less in book signings. They view them as not always worth it, and I suppose at a pound-for-pound level, they may not be. Like, if you consider a bookstore event as a single moment in time encapsulated by the book sales of that moment, maybe the juice isn’t worth the squeeze excepting of course for the most vaunted** of authors. If a bookstore sells, say, 50 books, is that enough to cover the expenses associated with the event? For them? For the publisher? For the author? The travel, the food, the bindles of weird author drugs, the chow to feed our various writer familiars?

But of course, a book signing is a lot bigger than that single event.

The advantages of such an event are many:

a) establishes or renews relationship between author and booksellers

b) establishes or renews relationship with local readers

c) by its nature, rewards local businesses, which is a good thing

d) every book sold to a new or existing reader is a pebble thrown and that creates ripples and often readers will tell other readers about those books which means book sales cascade from one reader to the next

e) sells other books because I don’t think I’ve ever been to a book event where an author did not also sell the readers on the books of other authors, including but not limited to any authorial conversation partners present

f) renews the old oaths so that the God of Bookstores is not angry

g) creates larger likelihood booksellers will handsell this book and potentially all the author’s books going forward

h) may leave behind signed copies that the bookstore can continue to sell

i) invokes ambient BOOK LOVE culture boost, providing a +4 against Ignorant Troll attacks, and that’s always a good thing

So, the costs of the event are not simply weighed against book sales but must be considered in a broader spectrum of goodness.

And yet, publishers are still balking.

Part of the reason for this is that, as I’m to understand it, bookstore events have been a little wobbly lately in attendance, though the reasons for their wobbliness should be pretty clear: COVID. We had, and still have, the conditions of a pandemic. It’s better now, if not perfect, but it was rill bad for a while. In the year 2020 we were all bleaching our groceries and washing our hands for the duration of time it takes to sing Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. Shit got weird and that weird cascaded out. Events were canceled and when they did pick back up again, they did so with a lot of steam taken out of them, and a lot of uncertainty thrust into them.

Book signings were no different.

But here’s the problem: publishers also were able to move a lot of books during the pandemic, and some will use that as a reason to not do bookstore events. The logic being: “The pandemic happened, and so we could not do bookstore events, but sales of books were still up. Thus, book signings are a waste of time and money and do not matter, the end, we win.”

There are, of course, problems with all of this.

First, the reason they moved books during the pandemic is because *checks notes* people were trapped in their fucking houses, high off the fumes from bleaching their groceries probably, and they were bored and scared and books are a thing you can have delivered.

Second, I’m going to go ahead and make the argument that the reason books sold well is because the ancient pacts and old ways had been honored pre-pandemic. Meaning, bookstore events/signings made for a strong bookish ecosystem so that, when COVID hit, people turned to books and bookstores thanks to the very culture fostered by bookstore events in the first place.

Third, people wanted to support local businesses (and by proxy, bookstores) during that tumult and that tumult is over. (This is not an argument that the pandemic is over. It ain’t. I only mean: all the quarantining and such is over, and now things are quote-unquote “back to normal.”)

(By the way there are new boosters available. Go get!)

As such, it’s time to renew the old ways and get back to doing book events. And you can’t use the current non-successes of such events are reason to not do more. This is a self-fulfilling and self-defeating prophecy: “Book events waned during COVID and so they’re not successful and so we stop investing in them and now they’re even worse.” Well, yeah. Because there was a pandemic. And because you stopped investing in them.

(Note too: when I say you, I’m not speaking to every publisher or editor. Some still like book events. Hey, I’m getting to do book events! It’s still a thing. I’m just talking about what I’m hearing from other writers and booksellers.)

How does one make a great book event?

So, this is not saying book signings and events as they exist are bad. They’re not. I love them. And it’s not like they’ve ever been guaranteed to be well-attended, okay? I made it a (probably weird) habit of my younger days to see Christopher Moore’s events whenever I could — and I watched them grow and grow in attendance, which is great. But I also remember attending one in South Carolina where it was me, a friend, and I think a third rando person, and that was it. And this was when Moore was a bestselling author. It was a super dead event, and he took us out for sandwiches, because hey, Christopher Moore is a rad dude. Which I had initially mistyped as “rat dude,” which is very different.

We’ve all done events where you’re trying to sell books to one guy who wandered in off the street and he doesn’t know who you are and he wants to ask you meaningless questions IN A REALLY LOUD VOICE and also he has three trained circus mice in his pocket? Maybe this only happened to me.

So, how do we make them better? (If only for Three-Mice Man.)

Know how to talk about your book.

I often say, before I’ve finished writing a book, or before that book comes out, that I don’t know yet how to talk about that book. I don’t just mean in a “pitch me” sort of way, I mean in the… the larger conversation in why I wrote it, how it exists, what matters about it to me. There’s a doorway into discussing your work that makes it lively and useful — a personal angle worth finding.

Find it before you have a book event. It’s like having a little keynote in mind just about your one book. Tell it like a story. Because it is a story. There’s the story you wrote, and the story about and around that story.

A those Qs

Save definite time for a Q&A. It’s not guaranteed, and I’ve had a few quiet audiences, but a lot of the time? They wanna ask you shit. And I think that’s a real value-add, when you can serve that audience with your time and your information or, at the very least, some kind of wit. If you come to my book signings, bring questions. I’ll do my best to answer, as I am (mostly) an open book, and I aim to be candid and forthcoming.

Do you need to actually do a reading?

This is also where I probably lose you and make some folks surly but, man, I do not like it when authors read from their work during an event. (Usually. There are exceptions. If you see Clay McLeod Chapman speak, you make that motherfucker read, because it is a performance.) It’s often dull and out-of-context and kind of meh to me — you know, I can read the book on my own, or if I really wanna hear it, that’s why Jesus invented audiobooks. YMMV!

What about in-conversation partners?

Meaning, event where two authors chat with one another, ostensibly to launch one of their books into the world***? I am definitely a fan, because if you can make it work, I think it doubles (or triples if you run it like a panel) the energy of the event. It’s a two-fer! Plus maybe the store sells a few more books because now there are the books of two writers here.

My sense is that this is ideal when there is already a rapport between those authors. It just needs to be a good fit, y’know? Bookstores are often good about knowing who is local and who is available, but writers should also have a good sense of who are good folks to chat with, too. (Shameless plug part two: on the Black River Orchard tour, I’ll be talking to Delilah S. Dawson, Aaron Mahnke, Sadie Hartmann, the aforementioned Clay, Owen King, and now, Liberty Hardy at PRINT in Portland. All folks who I know are lovely humans and who I’m super geeked to talk to.)

Also worth considering the relative success levels of the author(s) in question. A debut author might not bring a crowd on their own, but if paired with one or two other authors, that’s a bigger deal. Some midlist authors will bring a nice audience but if paired with too big an author, might be dwarfed by that writer’s chosen audience. (Anybody who has ever signed next to Brandon Sanderson knows what’s up. Looking upon his signing lines is like staring into infinity.)

Break the format!

I think there’s some value in at least considering how to break the standard format for a book signing, which goes roughly like this:

– author intro

– maybe an author reads from their book

– author talk and/or moderated conversation

– a few moments for collective existential despair

– if time, a Q&A

– sign books

– go home

It’s a good format, and it works, and I’m not mad at it.

But I also think, well, if there’s room to liven it up a little – trapeze act! pony ride! murder confession! – then go ahead and do it. When I launched Invasive, I had edible bugs available for people to eat. And shameless plug number three, with Black River Orchard, at most of the stops I’m going to have WEIRD (aka heritage / antique / heirloom) APPLES to taste. Hell, at the Rhinebeck / Red Hook NY stop, it’ll be me and Owen King at an orchard doing the event, which should be pretty amazing.

So, it’s worth thinking about how you can shake things up a little bit.

For funsies.


Oh god that’s a terrible horrible no-good word. Maybe if we make it INSECTIVIZATION. That sounds better.

Anyway. I think it’s worth thinking about if there’s anything you can do to actively reward some or all of who attend your events. With what, I don’t know. I know some authors offer simple bookmarks or postcards, but I also think it’s worth thinking outside the box again. Offer something related to the book – someone asks a question, give them, I dunno, a pet monkey or a Ford F-150. Or maybe a pickle. Who doesn’t love pickles?

Shameless plug number 4000: if you show up to one of my events wearing WENDIG-THEMED MERCH, I will give you a cool treat. I will not tell you what this treat is. You will just have to show up and be surprised. It is not a monkey or a Ford F-150. Probably.

Should they be virtual?

It helps people access events if they’re at least livestreamed! But I also know virtual attendance dropped off a cliff.

Should the events cost money?

As in, cost the attendees money? Torn on this. If it goes toward the cost of the book, it makes total sense. And guarantees the bookstore isn’t just hosting nomads who popped in to listen or people who bought the book on fucking Amazon (ye gods don’t do this please). But bookstore and library events are also a great option for hosting a free event too, which makes it more a chance to convert new readers. So, could go either way.

Can’t you just do conferences and conventions?

Sure! Bonus there is you hit a big audience and maybe earn some new audience along the way. So, really good for debut authors, and also really works well with more fan-flavored books (particularly SFF). But otherwise, nobody wants to carry one of my bison-bludgeoners around a Comic-Con for eight hours, and also, it may or may not even reward a bookstore. And we like bookstores. Yay bookstores.

And some of it is on you, the reader.

I quite often like to say that readers do not owe writers anything except procuring the written word in a way that is legal and fair. Beyond that, you owe us nothing. Not reviews, not attention, not a high-five, nothing.

That being said, if books are a thing you like, and bookstores are an entity you support, then it definitely helps if you show that support by, well, actually showing up at book events. Their continued existence is more likely when people show up for them and engage with the store. It’s not essential for you to do so! There really is no obligation. But these events are crucial for bookstores and for authors, and that means we gotta have folks actually attend and buy books. (Alternatively, you can buy the books and not attend – meaning, we’ll sign the books for you and you can come pick it up, or hell, the store will even ship right to you.)

And if you really really wanna help? Spread the word about the events, bring a friend or two or three to them, and actually tell the bookstore you’re coming before hand on whatever signup they have set up on Facebook or whatever. Again you don’t owe us anything, but it helps whenever you commit more than just the exchange of money for books. The book ecosystem must be fed with the blood of virguhhhh I mean with people who not just read books but who also care about them and talk about them and show up for them.

Anyway, I have more to talk about, but it’s already gone on too long and my fingers are weary. Hope to see you at one of my events, and if I’m not coming to where you are, check your local indie store or your B&N and see what events they have coming up. Go to one! It’ll be neat.

Pre-order Black River Orchard.

And don’t forget about the pre-order contest where you might win a shirt, or some books, or an evil apple invented JUST FOR YOU.

OKAY now you tell me in the comments about a book signing you really liked and why. Get after it. Pitter patter.

* If you are an author, you know to show up wary and guarded, for the other author may slay you at any time in an effort to eat your heart and, by proxy, your book sales. Authors meeting authors is like two spiders meeting. Will you be friends? OR PREY.

** Vaunted is a great word. We should use it more often.

*** Metaphorically. Not with, like, a catapult. Though that could be cool too.