Sales spike for ‘sad book signing’ author after bestsellers King, Atwood commiserate

A woman with braided red hair wearing a medieval costume
Debut novelist Chelsea Banning, 33, went viral on Twitter after sharing that only two people came to her first book signing event.
(Chelsea Banning)

Even as a self-described lover of fantasy, debut novelist Chelsea Banning couldn’t have envisioned this.

Sales “have skyrocketed” for the author, who went viral after posting about what the internet has dubbed her “sad book signing.”

Banning, a librarian and debut author of the fantasy novel “Of Crowns and Legends,” got a lot of love on social media and from several bestselling writers — including Margaret Atwood and Stephen King — after lamenting the abysmal turnout at her first book signing, which took place at Pretty Good Books in Ashtabula, Ohio. She got the literary greats’ attention over the weekend after tweeting and posting a TikTok about the sparse turnout and has become internet famous because of the “surreal” response.

“Sales have definitely skyrocketed and they are still coming in! It’s been mind-blowing. I’m still in shock,” Banning, 33, said Wednesday in an email to The Times.

The self-published author took to Twitter to “vent into the void” and said she was “kind of upset” and “a little embarrassed” about the showing at her first official book signing, especially since nearly 40 people had RSVP’d yes.


“Had my first author signing today at a local bookstore. Only 2 people came and I was pretty bummed, but it was so nice to see them,” Banning wrote on TikTok, which takes viewers through the quaint but minimally attended book shop. “Afterwards, we went to dinner at a local BBQ with friends and had a great time.”

“Of Crowns and Legends” is the first book in Banning’s working “The Fight for Camelot” trilogy that follows King Arthur’s children during a time of war. Banning had been working on the story for more than 15 years, finally published it in August and had been diligently using social media to market her work for months, she told NPR.

The writer sent her tweet at 8:35 Eastern time on Sunday morning, then watched as it “BLEW UP.” She stayed up into the wee hours of the morning as author after bestselling author replied with missives about their humbling experiences with disappointing turnout. She chronicled her tearful, real-time reaction on TikTok and said the thread was full of “people just being wonderful and encouraging.”

“It just reiterates how freaking amazing the writing community is ... did you see those names?!” she asked.

“Those names” included Atwood and King, Neil Gaiman, Robin Hobb, Jodi Picoult and Min Jin Lee. Even rap icon Flavor Flav chimed in to hype her work.

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“Join the club. I did a signing to which Nobody came, except a guy who wanted to buy some Scotch tape and thought I was the help. :),” “The Handmaid’s Tale” novelist Atwood wrote.

“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?’” horror writer King tweeted.

“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.

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

“Can’t beat my record. One (1) person turned up at a signing once. We had a lovely conversation and went to coffee. Lemonade!” replied Hobb.

“I did a book reading where only my husband’s cousin showed up. One person. I’ll never forget that reading,” Lee wrote about her experience.

“I worked on my first book for 4 years. Six people came to the first reading. One person was someone I knew who foresaw the worst and brought 4 family members. The sixth person came in out of the rain. When you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, laugh. And congrats on your book,” added Mark Harris.

“YO,,, Here to hype up ya next signing!!!” added Flavor Flav.

The response also emboldened the bookstore to join Twitter with a cheeky debut tweet about helping launch other writers’ careers.

“First tweet. We are the indie book store that helped disappoint @chelseabwrites look where she is now! Anyone else need The Pretty Good Books bump?” the tweet said. (They even got a shout-out from Flav too.)

The uplifting Twitter thread got more than 3,000 retweets, 3,900 quoted tweets and 76,000 likes as of Wednesday. Meanwhile, the author has enjoyed a spike in sales — 474 digital copies sold in the last few days — and has run out of signed copies of her work. She said that she also saw her book hit the No. 1 spot in her genre on Amazon.

“I’ve had a couple foreign publishing houses reach out! I guess my next move is to look for an agent!” she told The Times.

And as she’s watched her following grow on Twitter, she’s used the platform to support other writers by highlighting their work on her account. She’s also working on an audiobook.

The Warren, Ohio, resident started writing when she was 14 and “hasn’t stopped since,” according to her website. Banning got her start by writing flash fictions “that bloomed into novels,” has also worked at Renaissance Faires, and for seven years owned a small performance business that offered fairy tale and superhero characters for kids.