Tuesday, February 20, 2007

If you thought paying to publish was bad . . .

This past week I did the most unusual book signing. It wasn't supposed to be unusual, but it certainly turned out that way.

Last Wednesday (the wreckage of the ice storm that hit my area was at its peak) I was supposed to do a signing at a book store a few blocks from where I live. At first, it seemed pretty obvious the signing would be canceled, considering the power had been out most of the day. But when I got a call from the store manager asking if I wanted to reschedule, I thought . . . why? What else am I going to do tonight?

So I made my way to the store, drank lots of (free) coffee drinks, chatted up the store employees and basically made a general nuisance of myself. Torqued on caffeine, I made my way to the table where a few small stacks of my most recent hardcover novel (coming soon to a remainders table near you!) were posed hopefully toward the entrance of the store. I stared aimlessly out a distant window, watching the plows impotently remove ice from the parking lot. The store (a large one) had maybe 12 customers milling about.

Finally, an older gentleman came up to my table and stared at the cover of my book, picked it up and gave it the most cursory of interest. Finally, he shrugged and said, "These free?"

I stared at him, tapped my fingers, squinted. "Nothing in life is free, especially fine literature."

"This is fine literature?"

I sighed. "That's what my mom tells me." We stared at each other for a moment, and my mind began churning.

"I'll tell you what," I said, "I'll give you this book for free on one condition: you pay full price for a book in a genre you love by an author you've never read."

[Note: The store manager heard what I'd said and caught my eye, gave me a look asking me if I was serious. I told him I'd pay for my book with my credit card and that I and another staff member would assist the gentleman in finding a book he would enjoy. Everyone shrugged.]

"Okaaay," he said, still suspicious of my intentions.

"What do you like?"

"Mysteries. Some thrillers, I guess."

I took a copy of my novel to the counter, paid for it and put it aside with a stack of the gentleman's other purchases, then we (one of the sales reps and I) went to the mystery section and fought over which hand-sell to push on this guy. The winner: FORCING AMARYLLIS by Louise Ure.

Shortly after the man departed from the store, a young lady (about my age) came up to my table and asked if I was still doing the free book promotion.


I ended up pulling out my credit card seven times that day. What was I really buying? The chance, I guess, that a new type of reader would try my work--but even more so, opening the door of lesser-known writers to people who usually look no further than the bestsellers on the front tables. And I'll tell you, the booksellers said, hands-down, it was the most fun they ever had a book signing. [Note: the sales folks and I managed to really dust off some great books for these buyers--stuff they never would have found on their own, with one exception: the last lady, who clearly was paying attention enough to scam me, convinced us all she was really curious about that new Rachael Ray cookbook.]

I should also mention that I sold eight books on my own, by people who were specifically interested in my novel (including two, at whatever discount he gets, by the store manager.)

Will I be doing this again anytime soon? You've got be kidding. It was a difficult thing to explain to my husband when I got home. Though I wish, like those trite MasterCard ads, I could say the whole event was priceless, I can't.

It cost me $175.