posted by Leann Sweeney
I have a new release if I haven't mentioned it in the last, oh, thirty seconds. That means promo time--which I am not really fond of. I am a writer not a salesperson, after all. But it comes with the territory. After postcards for one signing arrived too late and some of the people who wanted signed books didn't get them, I was asked by a friend if I might be able to have a signing at the local B&N.
Now, I have done several signings at different B&Ns in Texas and I must say, only one went well. I have thoughts about why, but that comes later. Since I had a gift card to spend, I thought, what the heck, I'll go to B&N and talk to the "community relations rep." That's what they call the person who arranges things like signings. And here is how it went:
I have bookmarks in hand and head to the information desk where I ask to speak to this person. They page the guy--let's call him "Evan." I must say, Evan does arrive quickly. He is a pale man and the gray sweater vest and graying half-beard don't do much for his complexion. Death warmed over comes to mind. But that, I would soon learn, was the least of Evan's shortcomings.
I immediately realize I have a problem when I say, "I'm a local author and I've brought you some bookmarks for my latest release." After a painfully long silence, Evan says, "There sure are a lot of authors in this area." No welcoming smile. No handshake. All I get is what will become Evan's familiar blank, dull stare. And I am thinking, "Did I land on Mars on my way to the bookstore--the place that derives its income from selling books that are written by WRITERS?" I love his next remark even better than the comment about the plethora of local authors as he stares in confusion at one of my bookmarks. The one that indicates I am published by PENGUIN. "Do we carry your books here?"
I reply, "I'm sure you do," still smiling.
Apparently Evan isn't so sure because he must check the computer. And asks me at least three times the title of my book--the title that's on the bookmarks in his hand. This is all becoming more awkward by the moment as he keeps bringing up screens and looking at I don't know what. He finally speaks again and says, "Let's go check the shelf." He heads toward the romance section and I have to call out, "Not that way. Mystery." He looks at the bookmarks again, then at me, then at the bookmarks. He seems sure I am lying but sure enough, there's a bunch of my books in the mystery section.
More awkward silence as he stares at the books, at the bookmarks, at the floor and then what seems like hours later he says, "We do a lot of work with the schools and that's been very successful."
O-kay, I think, digesting this. Then I get it. But he's pissing me off and I see he has a great capacity for squirming and I'm not about to help him stop. So I say, "I've signed three times in this store before," and raise my eyebrows as if to say, "Why haven't you called me like Leslie your predecessor used to do?"
Silence. Squirming. Silence. At last, "We don't do well with signings in this store. I'm not sure why. But we've been so successful with the schools."
I want to say, "The schools have writers? They stock your shelves? They bring in the great majority of your customers? And do you think the fact signings don't go well has anything to do with you?'" Instead, I say, "That's because sticking someone at a little table by the front door isn't exactly conducive to selling books. Last time, I asked them to put me someplace else and they set me up by the information desk. I sold a lot more books there. see, when people are waiting in line to ask a question, and someone's sitting there smiling at them with a stack of books in front of them, they often pick up one of those books and look at it--and then they actually sometimes buy it."
Evan cannot believe there is room by the information desk for a signing. We walk over and I show him. There's TONS OF ROOM. I am again met with silence, foot shuffling and stares at my bookmarks. I am afraid I am about to hear about how successful the school program is again. So I thank him for his time. He gives me his card, I give him my cell number. I do not expect to hear from him. Nor do I want to. And that, my friends, is the contrasting experience from the week before, when I signed at Murder by the Book and was treated like someone who matters to the book world.
Nope, being a writer ain't all good. Especially if you're talking to Evan.