Ohio author with low book signing turnout encouraged by Stephen King, Margaret Atwood

GIRARD, Ohio — A first-time author from northeastern Ohio lamenting a poor turnout at a book signing received unexpected words of encouragement from some literary heavyweights.

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Chelsea Banning, a librarian in Girard whose real name is Chelsea Vandergrift Podgorny, published her first novel, a fantasy work called “Of Crowns and Legends,” under her pen name, Chelsea Banning, WKBN-TV reported. The book, set in fifth-century England, was published in August, according to the television station.

At her first book signing on Saturday at Pretty Good Books in Ashtabula, only two [people attended.

“I had told the bookshop owner to expect a pretty decent crowd and felt a little embarrassed,” Banning, 33, told WKBN. The frustrated author, who was “pretty bummed out,” tweeted her disappointment.

Disappointment turned to euphoria in a hurry, as her tweet received responses from bestselling authors, including Stephen King and Margaret Atwood, who shared their early career struggles.

“Join the club,” tweeted Atwood, the author of the bestselling “The Handmaid’s Tale.” “I did a signing to which nobody came, except a guy who wanted to buy some Scotch tape and thought I was the help.”

“Sales have definitely skyrocketed and they are still coming in!” Banning told the Los Angeles Times in an email. “It’s been mind-blowing. I’m still in shock.”

King, the bestselling horror author, added his own hair-raising experience.

“At my first SALEM’S LOT signing, I had one customer,” King tweeted. “A fat kid who said, ‘Hey bud, do you know where there’s some Nazi books?’”

Banning never dreamed that her attempt at “literally venting into a void” would turn into a viral moment.

Her tweet has been shared more than 7,000 times and has more than 77,000 likes on Twitter, The Washington Post reported.

On Wednesday, “Of Crowns and Legends” climbed to No. 1 in Amazon’s “Dragons & Mythical Creatures Fantasy” category, according to the newspaper.

It is the first book in Banning’s planned “The Fight for Camelot” trilogy that follows King Arthur’s children during wartime, the Times reported. Banning told NPR that she had been working on the story for more than 15 years.

And her recent good fortune all started with a tweet. Banning watched in disbelief as some of the world’s top novelists weighed in after she tweeted at 8:35 a.m. EST on Sunday.

“I stayed up until 1 a.m. in complete shock, just watching it happen,” Banning told NPR.

Some of Banning’s favorite authors also responded, including Neil Gaiman, Robin Hobb and Jodie Picoult, according to NPR.

Picoult, who wrote “My Sister’s Keeper,” tweeted that she had “sat lonely at a signing table many times only to have someone approach … and ask me where the bathroom is.”

“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 tweeted.

“We’ve all been there,” British author Malorie Blackman tweeted. “I once did a talk at a library and five people turned up, including a mum who planted her two infant school children in front of me and then strategically ‘withdrew’ to get some peace for a while.”

Korean American author Min Jin Lee, who wrote “Pachinko,” tweeted that she had once hosted a book reading where only “my husband’s cousin showed up.”

“You know, a lot of people think of writers and authors and imagine the glitz and glamour of events,” Lee told the Post. “Actually, however, there’s a lot of getting served humble pie.”

Even the Fonz had a comment.

“That is the beginning,” Henry Winkler tweeted. “Then word gets out and they come!”

Banning said she was hoping to sell 300 copies of “Of Crowns and Legends,” and her “drean goal” was to sell 1,000.

“As of this morning, I had 3,727 sales altogether,” Banning told WKBN. “I feel very, very lucky and very fortunate. It’s very heartwarming.”

Banning has another book signing scheduled for Dec. 19 at the Girard Library, according to the television station.

It’s a good bet that more than two people will attend.


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