Thursday, August 03, 2006

Clarification On The Public Service Announcement

On the “Public Service Announcement” thread River Falls said:

“Please, please, please don't take your anger out on the authors these callers are pushing. It's possible that it's not even the publisher-based publicist who's ringing you, but the media escort, trying to arrange stock signings for an author coming into town. If you only have 2 copies to sign, for example, the escort might want to spare an already exhausted author a 40-minute drive for what might feel like an exercise in humiliation. Authors usually never meet the escort until they step through the security gate at the airport, so it's unfair to punish the authors for someone else's actions.”

A very legitimate response to my little rant, so let me make it perfectly clear that I don’t hold authors responsible for the actions of their publicists or publishers. You can’t control other people and no one has more invested in their book’s continued success than an author (which is why when an author does act up I’m always left wondering why the hell they are shooting themselves where it hurts: their precious book). I also completely understand why an author wouldn’t want to go 40 miles out of the way to sign two copies, nor would I expect them to. It was a rare author who stumbled through the door of my old store, situated as we were deep in the ‘burbs, and that was fine and dandy. We tried to make those who did make it feel welcome.

My current store is one of ten in a ten mile radius, walk a few blocks in just about any direction and you will hit another bookstore. I usually know when an author is going to be in town. Hell, I can probably guess what hotel they will be staying at, and by the time they get here I will know where the signing will be held. Now, one can argue that signing at every store in such a small area would be over-saturation, but with signed copies commanding a longer shelf life it just gives people more options to find said author’s John Hancock when they realize that Aunt Bertha from Michigan is just the biggest fan ever and a signed copy of the latest opus will guarantee their spot as favorite niece or nephew and a half the farm when she kicks the bucket. Authors that work the autographing world best know that signing a book isn’t just about making a note to the person standing in front of them, but about getting them to realize that they need to get signed copies for all of their friends for whatever the occasion.

(Side note/example-ish thing: despite my love for Gregory Maguire I had him sign only one copy of Wicked to my mother, the real Wicked Witch of the West, because I knew she would get a kick out of it. Had I not been poor I would have gotten him to sign another copy for me, never mind the copy I already owned, but as it is I get my mother’s copy in her will so I call it good.)

I also want to make it clear that I don’t expect my cushy urban store placement to net me visits from every author who flies through town. I don’t. I understand being tired and cranky and wanting nothing more than to crawl into bed. I understand that seeing people when you don’t want to sucks. And I definitely understand that being forced to be around people when you feel this way is the equivalent of having needles jammed into the soles of your feet. I do work retail, after all, and there are days where it feels like my smile is plastered on my face. As the author you have control of whom (who?) and when you visit. If two books at a store aren’t enough to counteract the mental anguish you suffered the last four hours next to a gentleman who apparently never heard of deodorant or habitual bathing then don’t go to the store. Go have a stiff drink. If you do come to my store after having dealt with that, not only would you get a medal but I would spring for the tequila shots to numb the pain.

That’s a promise (and I only drink good tequila, so it is not like I would skimp out).

But attitude from a publisher or a publicist who are also getting money out of this endeavor baffles me. More often than not I’m left with the impression that the person calling views this part of the job as a hassle and booksellers as some sort of necessary evil. “Good Lord, why can’t I just sell everything through Amazon so I don’t have to deal with these under-educated fools? They do work mall retail after all, it’s not like could get a real job with an independent. God forbid I pay attention to the words that are coming out of their mouths. What do I care if you can get more copies in by the time my author is in town, I want hard numbers now!”

When this attitude comes from the publisher I tend to write it off as some intern getting stuck with the job they see no point in, and when it came from the publicists I assumed (erroneously) for a long time that they weren’t actual publicists—that they were instead some kind of weird escort/secretarial service who really needed to work on their happy face despite the fact that authors were forced to procure their services as a last resort. That’s why I started calling them Handlers because there is no way that someone whose job was publicity would act this way, right?

I know. I’m so naïve.

What I’m trying to say in my own, completely drawn out way is that I don’t blame the author when the publisher or publicist screws up, but I do raise a brow (and I definitely get irritated). I just want authors to know that when they come blowing into a store with their publicist on a whirlwind hand shaking, baby kissing, book signing mission, that the slight falter in the bookseller’s smile might have nothing to do with them and everything to do with the person escorting them. Do let it detract from the author’s main goal? Hell no because their goal is my goal: to sell books.

But I can’t guarantee that my poker face won’t reveal a twitch or two (I’m a terrible bluff).

And that statement might undermine my whole argument. Definitely time to go to bed.


Lady T, I too got a call from Hubbard’s publishers only they wanted to know if I had any copies of Dianetics in stock and where I placed it within the store. It was probably the shortest and most subversively rude I’ve ever been to a publisher (actually, the only time I’ve ever considered being rude). Once I figured out what the caller was getting at and that he wanted to sell me more copies (something he felt was very necessary)—even though I had assured him that I had copies in the store out on the floor and not hidden in the back—I put on my most perky, airhead voice, gave an excuse about needing to go through the home office, and then ended with, “Oh gee, I have a customer, so I really have to go now. Buh-aye.”

I may have hung up before he could say goodbye in return. He gave me the same crawlies as the people who always call to ask if I want to change phone carriers. Not my shiniest example of retail goodness and light, but toying with him like I do the phone people would have been cruel. And unless Scientology has done something I don’t know about, L. Ron would not have been walking through my door anytime soon.


Allison Winn Scotch said...

BSC-Thanks so much for this info on autographed copies. I really had no idea that they were so important, and I'll be making a much bigger effort to get out to bookstores when my book comes out next year.

And hee on the Dianetics! Go you!

Wesley Smith said...

Okay, I've been holding onto this for a month or two now, but with this last post, there's something I just have to ask:

JA Konrath is doing a whirlwind "hand shaking, baby kissing, book signing mission." He's nearly done now, I think. BC, has he swept through your store, and if he did, what did you think of his plan to just walk in and introduce himself? Did it help sell copies of his books?

lady t said...

Those L.Ron folks are persistant,aren't they? I went to a BEA once with a co-worker who didn't bring a bag for all the swag and wound up getting one at the Bridge Publications booth where the very scarily suited guys working the area kept quizzing her about where she worked.

Fortunately,I dragged her away before the e-meters came out:) Don't feel bad about the phone call either-several times at my old job,those phone change carriers kept calling us(holding up the line for customers and real business calls)and I couldn't take it anymore. At a certain point,I'd just say"Excuse me,I have a call on the other line,can I put you on hold?" and hang right up on them!

Robin Brande said...

This was a GREAT post. Thanks for adding to the previous one, which I already thought was so worthwhile.

It's an interesting position to be in if you're an author. On the one hand, it's nice that someone else is doing the legwork for you, but if they're doing it in a way that turns people off, then no thank you. If you're a nice author (like me!) and genuinely appreciate everything that anyone along the line is doing to promote and sell your book (definitely me!), then you'd like to see that communicated. Snootiness just will not cut it.

This makes me wonder if it's better for the author to make these connections him or herself whenever possible. Sit down with the phone and just devote a day to it here and there.

And I'm with Wesley on that Konrath question. His tour sounds so unbelievably miserable. He seems to think it's worth it, but I do wonder what it looks like from the bookseller's position.