(ETA: Hate the negative? The accentuate the positive and go to "Where Do We Go From Here?" to add your thougts, opinions and observations.)
I can’t remember if anyone has ever asked me about how an author’s behavior affects how I buy and sell their books, but I figured I should address it. Lately I’ve noticed there has been much discussion around the blogosphere about authors behaving badly in the internet setting and how that affects their readers. Personally I don’t care how authors behave on the internet. I’m a pretty easy going person, but I know that it takes about a second to hit the post or send button when you’ve just completed a rant. This is a second where you (usually) don’t have someone around to say, “Why don’t you think about this for awhile,” or, “take a deep breath before you speak.” It’s a second where you are alone, seething in front of your computer, and you have that small touch of anonymity that comes from the fact that no one can see your face. Combine this with the fact that it is far too easy to misconstrue what someone actually meant from their post (seeing how you lack important facial expressions, hand motions and voice quality to give you more clues), and I’m sure we’ve all had our words twisted, or twisted another’s in a moment that we may (or may not) wish we could take back.
But while author behavior on the internet doesn’t bother me, author behavior my store can be a defining moment. Now I know that communication takes two people, and so does an argument. I know that our feelings and emotions are affected by what we experience our whole day long, and a blow up at one incident may have been built up by the anger at many other small things. That said, if you are an author and you go into a bookstore to do a drive-by or a signing, you better be on your best behavior. Because whatever you do there will get back to other booksellers, it will get back to other stores (because we’re a hugely incestuous lot and tend to hang out with other booksellers), and it will get back to the customers.
Think about it. You’re having a bad day (maybe your car died, you have jet lag, your last signing had only three people at it, or all of these things happened on the same day), and you yell at a bookseller when they can’t find your books at your next stop. Maybe you apologize immediately, maybe you stomp out, maybe you only sign your hardbacks and completely ignore the paperbacks they finely find because you are through. Done. You’ve had it for the day. When you get home you have a glass of wine, dinner, and a bath and all is right with your world again.
But meanwhile back at the bookstore, the bookseller has told everyone about your behavior…including the people who have showed some interest in buying the signed copies. And customers that come up asking about said author’s book on the endcap because they’ve never heard of it?
I actually watched a bookseller tell a customer once that she wouldn’t know, she refused to read so-in-so’s books because they’d been a raging bitch to another bookseller (one who worked in a completely different store). There was no debate after that. No hesitation because the book sounded interesting. The customer put the book back down.
Is the author the book? No. Many really horrible people have written beautiful books.
Should we all take a deep breath, a step back, and realize that maybe we’re not the target or that everyone has an off day? Sure, and in a perfect world that would happen, but this is not a perfect world. Authors, booksellers and readers are all connected together by a chain, and if someone damages one of the links it affects the whole set up.
The faceless internet may not affect my opinion about you or your novel, but a full frontal confrontation? That’s something booksellers talk about for years.
We have enough customers behaving badly, don’t make us throw authors into the mix as well.