So this past weekend, I had a book signing at Bank Square Books in Mystic, and it was an … interesting experience for me. Unlike all my previous book signings, there was no talk or presentation involved—I was invited to just sit at a table in the store and sign books for anyone who wanted to buy one.
Although I’m familiar with the concept, I’ve never actually done anything like this before, so as with pretty much everything in my life, I’m a bit apprehensive going in. But hey, I’m all about trying to push myself outside of my comfort zone, and putting myself on display like this to help sell this book is well outside how I would prefer to spend my Saturday afternoon.
So after racing 60 miles in 40 minutes—my son has a play in New Haven that goes a bit longer than expected—I arrive at the store about three minutes before my scheduled start time. The store is in the heart of downtown Mystic, and as it’s a pleasant day only a two-and-a-half weeks before Xmas, the sidewalks are bustling with shoppers.
The store is in ideal spot for foot traffic, so there are plenty of people browsing the shelves when I walk through the front door. I meet one of the owners, who has already set up a table with a stack of my books. “Here you go,” she smiles, motioning for me to have a seat. “Feel free to engage with the customers,” she adds before she goes back to helping patrons.
Of course, with my shyness issues, telling me to just chat up random strangers is akin to tossing Stephen Hawking into the deep end of the pool and suggesting he go swim a few laps. I am in no way a salesman—let’s just say when I hear “A-B-C” I think of the Jackson 5, not Glengarry Glenn Ross. [NSFW language; it is David Mamet, after all.]
So here I am sitting in the middle of a busy store, all alone at a table with nothing to hide behind other than a small pile of my books. To say that I feel just a bit *awkward* is a monstrous understatement.
I take few deep breaths. “Okay, LET’S SCHMOOZE THIS MUTHAFRACKIN’ BOOKSTORE UP!” is what I probably should’ve thought, but in my head, it’s more like, “Okay … so I guess we’re really going to do this. Yay?”
I smile, nod and say hi to anyone that comes past my table, trying desperately to not look too desperate and pathetic. For some reason, I can’t picture James Patterson doing this—I only pick him because I’m staring at a stack of his Merry Christmas Alex Cross. Apparently, a few dozen bestsellers is the key to not having to sit in the middle of the bookstore by yourself. Noted.
I take out my phone and start typing the notes that will be this blog post so I don’t look like a complete tool sitting there. I have come to realize that my cell phone is a useful resource when I’m alone in a public place and trying to hide from the crowd. It makes me look like I might possibly have friends, which helps me feel not so self conscious.
Yes, I have issues.
Anyway, I soon realize that it seem as though many of the customers feel just as uncomfortable as I do. I can see many people are just like me in the sense that they’re not eager to engage a real person who is sitting in a store trying to sell something they probably don’t want. They don’t come close, or give me a wide berth if they have to go past. No problem—I understand it all too well!
Some customers do say “hi” and politely give the book a cursory glance. Others avoid eye contact like I am a grisly car wreck.
I decide that I must be too intimidating, which if you know me is certainly a problem that I struggle with . . . .
I glance at the clock. What feels like six hours evidently has only been 13 minutes. Only an hour and 47 minutes left!
One guy accidentally makes eye contact with me and instantly gets a panicked look. He turns away quickly like he walked in on his parents having sex.
I can see the front door and I just want to run for it. Ugh.
I smile at the employees as they pass by, but of course they are too busy working to stop and chat. Regardless, I suddenly feel like bookstore plutonium, throwing off a radioactive field into which no one will venture. “Danger: Engage at Your Own Risk!”
More like, “Caution: That Loud Hissing Noise is The Sound of a Fragile Ego Deflating!”
I have this sudden affinity for lepers. I also am now thinking of my visits to Comicon in New York City and walking past all those booths of comic book artists. And how people look at them is now how people are now rightfully looking at me.
In a word—
Finally, mercifully, after 37 minutes of trying to be friendly but also working hard to not come across as a creeper, a woman comes up to the table and picks up the book. “I just want look at the back of this—did you write it?”
“Yeah,” I try to say casually, going into a very brief 15-second overview of the book. “I tried to have fun with it,” I say, adding, that it might make “a perfect stocking stuffer.”
“Great!” she says. “I’ll come back when I don’t have a tagalong.” She gathers up her young son who is over an aisle and leaves. I don’t even care that she doesn’t buy a book—I’m just happy to have had a conversation.
A few seconds later, her son is cavorting in the store and almost bumps into my table. “Look out,” I hear the mother say in her best sugary ‘mom voice.’ “That’s an author. He wrote a book!” I almost expect her to add, “And what sound does the author make? ‘Loooooser!!!’”
Before I can think of making other sounds, an older guy comes up to me and starts talking about the store. After a few seconds, I realize that he thinks I work here. I tell him that I don’t. He leaves.
But less than five minutes later another gentleman comes up to me—I’m on fire! “Did you write this?” he asks. I tell him that I did and we chat for a moment or two. He nods to his wife shopping near by, saying, “Connecticut jerks!” She seems momentarily interested, except like all the others, they move on.
*Sigh* yet again.
I hope my phone’s charge lasts. I’m at 58 percent with more than an hour to go.
Before I can burn too much more battery, yet another guy comes over to chat about the book. He picks it up and seems very interested in it. While we’re talking, the guy who had mentioned the book to his wife comes back and takes one off of the stack. He brings it to the counter—sold!!!
The guy I’m chatting with walks off but I catch the attention of the wife of the guy who just bought a book. “I can sign that” I say, trying to be helpful. He brings it over and I do. Sweet!
Less than seven minutes later, a woman walks right up to my table and says she’s buying one for her husband, who is a teacher. “The title is great!” she tells me. “Would you sign it, please?” Sign it?! Heck lady, I’ll cut my finger and scratch my John Hancock in blood, if you want!
I sign her book (in ink), and I’m finally not feeling so much like a retail pariah. The way I see it is that I have now sold two more books by being in the store than I would’ve if it was just sitting on a shelf. That’s a good day by me.
So I’m feeling better when a white-haired sea salt blusters in through the front door and goes to the counter. I hear the employee say, “The author is right over there,” and he turns. His eyes light up, he waves to me and comes straight over.
He enthusiastically shakes my hand and introduces himself as a fellow author. “I know what you’re going through there,” he tells me. “I’ve done this plenty of times.” He is charming and funny, and we talk for a few minutes. Finally, he takes a book and asks me to sign it. I happily oblige.
He takes another, and asks me to make it out to someone for a gift. Nice! I do.
He then takes a third book, and has me sign that, too! Okay, this guy is my new hero, I think. Awesome sauce!
This is then multiplied times a bajillion as has me sign a fourth, fifth and sixth book!
I am almost giddy at this point, and so is my new BFF. He gives his books to the clerk to have her wrap them, and then runs around store enthusiastically bringing me copies of his books. Turns out he’s Steve Jones, a UConn at Avery Point professor, and a former Coast Guardsman and lighthouse keeper who has written extensively about the sea. Oh, and wonderful human being, by the way.
While my shining patron is at the counter paying for his books, another woman comes by says she read about the book in Connecticut Magazine and wants a signed copy. The pile on the table is now down to two books; my ego is back up to its normal bloated state.
My new BFF Steve comes back with a refrigerator magnet. “Here, it’s already paid for,” he says, handing it to me. He explains that the boats depicted on the magnet are his. “We built the small one,” he says proudly. “They’re docked around the corner.” I thank him profusely for his visit and everything.
He shakes my hand again, and leaves with his large bag full of my books. I want to run out after him and carry the bag all the way to his house, but I refrain. There are a few more books to sign, and these things don’t sell themselves.
Or do they?