February 7, 2002
By Bob Summer
Editors note: This article originally appeared in the PW Daily email newsletter from Publishers Weekly (publishersweekly.reviewsnews.com)
Although this weeks PW Forecasts, which called John Grishams new legal thriller, The Summons, (Doubleday) not one of his most satisfying books, 75 fans lined up in five inches of snow outside Burkes Book Store in Memphis, Tenn., to secure one of the 200 tickets for his signing next Wednesday. It will be the 12th time the former Mississippi lawyer and state legislator has held an event at the 127-year-old independent. Co-owner Cheryl Mesler told PW Daily that by the end of the day on Wednesday, almost all 200 tickets for which a purchase of at least one copy of The Summons is required had been snapped up, with the rest expected to go before noon today.
Theres been similar excitement over Grishams return at Mississippi bookstores, where Lemuria in Jackson, Square Books in Oxford and Reeds Gumtree in Tupelo, all of which, in tandem with Burkes and That Bookstore in Blytheville, Ark., began hosting Grisham for signings long before he became an international bestselling phenomenon.
Lyn Roberts, manager of Square Books, notes that Grishams first signing was for A Time to Kill in 1989, when it was first published by tiny Wynwood Press. At the time, Grisham lived year-round in Oxford.
That Bookstore in Blytheville owner Mary Gay Shipley vividly recalls that Grisham was there for a signing of 1991s The Firm (Doubleday), when he learned his thriller had hit national bestseller lists.
Alluding to the five Deep South independents that have supported Grisham from the beginning and to which he has remained loyal, Shipley adds, all of us have sort of grown up with him and have developed similar procedures for handling the signings.
The mutually appreciated (and rewarding!) mini-tour that will open this time at Shipleys store on February 11 and end at John Evans Lemuria on February 19 is by turn something we do for him and he does for us. We work all arrangements out with him, not Doubleday.
While two tour participants wouldnt peg the size of their orders for the signings, Burkes indicated it is ordering 2,500 copies while Lemuria and Reeds Gumtrees are stocking 3,000. At each store Grisham will extend his reach beyond the formal signing event and will sign copies for phone, e-mail and Web site orders or stock as well as committing to a couple of press conferences.
Will Grishams return to a Mississippi setting in The Summons swell attendance at the signings? Perhaps somewhat, says Evans, but Grisham readers in Jackson are interested in everything he writes, whatever its settling and nature. Our phones begin ringing off the hook as soon as we announce another Grisham signing.
Grisham signings are major events for us, echoes Shipley. In fact, Johns books sell so well here that theyre the main reason were still in business after 25 years. People come down from Little Rock and as far away as Nashville for his signings. One regular fills a bus with 30 people, and often high school teachers bring sizable student groups. Being known as a store John comes to on each new book has brought us customers from throughout the nation, in addition to helping us attract other authors for signings.
Reeds Gumtree manager Camille Sloan posits another reason for Grishams continuing regional popularity, however, even if he does live part of the year now in Charlottesville, Va.: Hes unfailingly gracious, and his signings are like reunions of old friends.
In other words, as they say in the South, he hasnt forgotten where he came from.