|Erica K., my first
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customer of the day emailed to tell me she read the book in two hours and loved it.
Pressure and anxiety–that’s what an author feels when approaching a signing. Years ago a Coles bookseller told me that selling 19 or 20 books on a day makes a successful event. Remembering that an a writer clears about a dollar a book, that’s $20 for four or five hours. You never look to these as a cash cow.
You can’t just sit back and read or write either and rarely will anyone approach you. You have to coax people to come to speak to you. So I made my new favourite treat, Mars Bars Squares, and stood offering people these if they were anywhere within shouting distance. That served as a warm up exercise.
It was the Saturday after a legal holiday, Good Friday, so there was an initial spurt of shoppers who felt deprived of a whole day of the retail experience. Within an hour and a half I’d sold seven books and all the squares (there were tons) were gone. Now the fall back line was, “would you like an autographed bookmark?”
Because of social media, you can count on some friends showing up. Three in my case–that was nice. Deb Loughead, a great writer herself, sat and kept me company for an hour or so.
A high moment for me was when someone approached me to find mugs and Deb said she should buy a book at Chapters and go to Home Sense next door for the cups. They were way cheaper. High fives.
My supportive editor, Carrie Gleason showed.
After that spurt though, the shoppers seemed to part around me. My target audience often seemed so distant, without throwing myself on teen and preteens like some stalker, it was difficult to get their attention. Deb watched as I asked the same young person about five times as she scurried around me in different directions whether she wanted a bookmark.
She was deliberately ignoring me, right?
No. Because the sixth time, she opened up like the sky at sunrise. She was delighted to chat about my books and receive the bookmark that in turn led to an autographed book.
Another time a young Indian girl with her dad, seemed oblivious to me several passes and then excitedly took the autograph. No book. Later as she left the store she made a point of coming back to me to thank me for the signed bookmark. A warm fuzzy, that means a lot to me, no kuching for the publishing industry, however.
At five with a score of about 18 books if you count the promised ebook purchase, I was all set to pack up when a beautiful young woman (Donna A.) sat down with a laptop sat down opposite me. She looked up from typing and asked me if the books on display were mine. I told her I was, indeed, the author. One thing led to the other and I ended up reading her poetry and chatting about books and writing.
As I was leaving, she told me she wanted to write novels and become a writer, but she didn’t think she could survive a no–rejection in other words.
Oh boy, give up, I thought. But that’s not great mentoring advice. So I thought for another while.
Then I told her that I had sat there since one o’clock and approached strangers with squares and bookmarks, lots declined. The only reason I could face that ordeal was because I was convinced that the story I had written if it landed in the right reader(s) hands would make an impact that could even be life changing.
She ran to ask her mother if she could buy the book, and honestly that had not been my intention. In the end, she gave me my quota sale but she gave me something way better. I enjoyed meeting a younger me, excited and nervous about her work, loved chatting with her about writing and books, loved reading her poetry. I won’t know if my particular book changed her life but the signing experience definitely clicked at that moment. And the advice I gave her, resonated in my own psyche. I believe in my stories. Even if every shopper clutched the Hunger Games trilogy in their hands, I believed that they could still read my book and love it. If no one else on this planet would handsell my book on this particular day, then I would because of this belief.
Still, please don’t ask me to do this every Saturday.