Friday, June 30, 2006

Handle(r) With Care

On the “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul” thread Christine Fletcher asked:

“BSC, have you seen JA Konrath's post about how to do drive-by signings? He advises calling stores first, to be sure they have the stock, but not to inform them we're the author until we're in the store, books in hand and ready to sign. (My take is that this is to streamline the process, and not get caught up in store rules regarding author signings). Just curious -- would you agree with this approach?”

While I understand the idea behind this, I would prefer to know if I’ve got an author coming. (I’m also against tricking some poor bookseller about their signing rules. If a store has rules about not signing certain types of books then they have them for a reason, don’t get someone in trouble because they aren’t well versed in that part of their store’s policy.)

If you call to see about a book and I say, “Sure, I’ve got six copie,” this could mean I have one in section and five in overstock, hiding under a table or even worse, hiding in my backroom. It’s not that I don’t want to display your book to its best advantage, but my store suffers from a serious space crunch. Ideally if I know you are coming, I can familiarize myself with the placement of your books and look like less of an idiot when I run to get them when you arrive, and you don’t feel sad because no one is able to find your titles (or you can’t find them after a lot of searching).

Most of the calls I get involving drive-by signings are from the handlers who bring the authors around. I have a love/hate relationship with these people. On one hand, I love that they think of my little store and consider us when they are putting together a signing itinerary. On the other hand, I hate when they get my hopes up about an author, go so far as to instruct me to pull stock, and then never up! The author’s books sit on the back counter, not selling, for the entire day before we give up hope and put them back.

I am so tired of this happening that I don’t pull stock anymore. I would rather have your books out on the floor where they can sell and possibly look like I haven’t done my job when you show up than miss sales because your book sits forlorn and unseen on my back counter (and have customers not realize they are there because they don’t ask for help).

Just yesterday I had an author and her handler stop by to sign stock. The handler had called the day before and asked if we carried the author’s books. I told her that not only did we have several copies of the new title, but also had multiple copies of her entire backlist. The handler demanded to know how many “several” was, and I estimated around 12. Even on the phone the woman seemed rather abrasive but I have openly admitted here that on the day before yesterday I wasn’t at the top of my game, and I wrote it off as me missing out on something that she asked.

At the time she gave no indication of when they would drop by or even a guarantee that they would. I did appreciate that she didn’t ask me to pull the books since they didn’t show up until four the next day. Upon introductions, we started collected the author’s titles, only to have the handler announce in her most abrasive tone, “I was told that you had 12 copies of her new release!”

Normally we are the souls of restraint, solicitous of other people’s needs, etc, but yesterday we’d spent the entire day moving sections, inhaling dust, and were hopped up on waaaaaaay too much sugar from a death by chocolate brownie, so when the handler copped her little abrasive ‘tude, my boss just looked at her and said, “Yeah, we did. We sold some.”

I’m sorry, but if you are not going to show up until 24 hours after your call, don’t expect the numbers quoted to you over the phone to match the stock on hand. If you want a more reliable quote, check again a half an hour before you arrive by calling and saying, “Hey, this is so-in-so with author X, and I just wanted to make sure you still have stock of X’s books.”

If the bookstore employee says, “No, there was a run on them because of the interview X did on the news this morning,” then X should be celebrating the sales and the handler should have some sort of alternative like “Great! Do you want us to drop by some signed book plates for your next shipment?” or “That’s fabulous, then we’re going out for martinis.”

Maybe I just expect too much from people, or maybe the chocolate/sugar combination yesterday ruined my normally reliable powers of observation, but that handler was not handling things very well. Sure, we smoothed over the incident just fine, but part of me felt like she expected those books to magically be there on the back counter, collecting dust, when she and the author arrived. I’m in the business of selling books, and I can’t do that if they aren’t available. Besides, if anyone is going to play the prima donna in my store, let it be the author, at least then I’ll have a good story to pass on.

I realize that being a handler is probably stressful (anything that involves picking someone up from the airport usually is), sometimes thankless job, but don’t take it out on me. I reserve that “right” for my customers.

Or maybe I don’t.


quiche said...

I agree that authors shouldn't ambush unsuspecting and innocent booksellers. I wholeheartedly agree with Konrath's pizza/donut suggestion. Feed us and we will definitely be your friends and champions. Being nice and giving away free stuff is almost a given but food would seal the deal.

Nonny said...

... handlers? Maybe I'm horribly ignorant, but I was always under the impression that authors arranged stuff like that themselves?

Regardless, I totally agree -- that sort of behavior is completely unreasonable. And I imagine even if it isn't the author behaving that way, it reflects badly on him or her, too.

Kate R said...

the handler (as in Ms. Supposed to be SUCKING UP TO Booksellers) was a pill. What about the author? She was the one getting off the damn plane.

Jeepers if you pay someone to do PR you'd want them to be good at the R part of the job.

and the idea of an author with a handler? It is to laugh. You make the whole thing sound like a dog show. I can see the handler trotting around the ring with the author panting at her side.

C.W. Cale said...

Oh yes, the drive by signing. I really do like this approach, it works so much better than the un-advertised weekend sit down signing; but I don't have time to be jerked around. My job, my reason for being in this underpaid job, is to SELL the works of the authors. If they shoot straight with me I will bend over backwards for them.

I have had authors and "handlers" get quite rude with me because they didn't phone ahead and whoops! "We don't carry that title." I have also had authors try to get cute and sneaky asking offbeat phone questions about sales figures and public buying trends until I have to just say, "What are you, the author? Well, come in and sign the five copies on-hand or not, but I have people wanting to buy books here." Of course there is also the "self-published author ordering their own books under an alias scam", so one must be vigilant, eh!

But let me not forget the countless wonderful interactions with authors and marketers who smiled, spoke straight and got what they wanted from me. It's really all just part of the job for me, but if you're trying to do an end-run for whatever reason you're going to find more opposition than if you had just made things clear. You HAVE to be clear, because sadly most bookstore employees AREN'T us, they're just worker ants who may or may not read. If you try jerking them around they will more than likely shut down on you. They aren't paid to go the extra mile.

Winter said...

I love this! I worked in a bookstore for 5 years.. Great to read your stories and laugh at myself for ever putting up with it all.

Christine Fletcher said...

Wonderful post, BSC, thanks for the answer! Like Kate R, I was laughing at the idea of a handler, too. (Although I know from other writers that they're often invaluable, when doing readings and drive-by signings in a strange town).

For this first book of mine, though, it's just going to be little old me.

SteveInLA13 said...


Excellent post. I've never understood why authors feel the need to be devious when coming in to sign or to check stock. If you're honest and up front with me, I'll do my best to help you, even ordering a couple of copies of your book to get it in stock if we don't carry it (self-published books aside, sorry). An author went so far as to ask a co-worker of mine for a review of his book (without identifying himself) and then got upset when the poor guy lambasted the book. You're just setting yourself up by doing that, right?

Wesley Smith said...

Because Bookseller Chick is anonymous, I doubt this would happen, but oh how I would love to see opposing blogs about Konrath's visit to her store (assuming he has one).