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Home:  >News & Events   >News Archives   >2002

Grisham’s Southern campaign rallies fans around indies

February 7, 2002

By Bob Summer

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the PW Daily email newsletter from Publishers Weekly (

Although this week’s PW Forecasts, which called John Grisham’s new legal thriller, The Summons, (Doubleday) not “one of his most satisfying books,” 75 fans lined up in five inches of snow outside Burke’s 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.

There’s been similar excitement over Grisham’s return at Mississippi bookstores, where Lemuria in Jackson, Square Books in Oxford and Reed’s Gumtree in Tupelo, all of which, in tandem with Burke’s 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 Grisham’s 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 1991’s 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 Shipley’s store on February 11 and end at John Evan’s 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 wouldn’t peg the size of their orders for the signings, Burke’s indicated it is ordering 2,500 copies while Lemuria and Reed’s Gumtree’s 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 Grisham’s 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, John’s books sell so well here that they’re the main reason we’re 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.”

Reed’s Gumtree manager Camille Sloan posits another reason for Grisham’s continuing regional popularity, however, even if he does live part of the year now in Charlottesville, Va.: “He’s unfailingly gracious, and his signings are like reunions of old friends.”

In other words, as they say in the South, he hasn’t forgotten where he came from.

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