Monday, December 15, 2014

It's All Good

"We all have tales to tell from book events. What is your best experience and what is your worst?"

- from Susan

No one forgets her debut book launch event. There’s nothing like it. Before you finished your first draft, when going to a bookstore reading was exciting because you were in the same room with Sara Paretsky or Lee Child, you hardly dared dream you’d be behind the same microphone some day. When you landed an agent, it was like Christmas, and when your book sold to a publisher, the circus might as well have just come to town. And then, your publisher or agent said, “So, let’s get you booked somewhere for your launch,” and you were sure the fantasy was about to come crashing down.

Until the bookstore said, “Sure, we’d love to have you. Send us your bio and a JPEG of your book cover,” and you realized you had arrived. Oh, maybe not arrived to stardom or best seller lists, or being optioned to the movies, but arrived to the moment when the bookstore rep introduced you with flattering words, and you stepped to the podium, and a little voice inside you said, “Sue Grafton stood here…”

My friends, friendly acquaintances, neighbors, and my doctor’s assistant filled the chairs at my local bookstore, and bought every copy of Murder in the Abstract the store had in stock, and then some. They laughed at the right moments, asked good questions, and didn’t seem to want to leave. We drank sparkling stuff and ate chocolates, and had a great time. I’ve done that twice so far, and hope to do it again. Collectively, celebrating a new book with people I care about and – to my surprise – readers I don’t know but who enjoy my books – is the best.

I only had one experience of the kind that makes other writers cringe in sympathy, but it was more funny than awful. I write mysteries, but was invited, most kindly, to join four romance authors for an event about 60 miles from home at a large chain bookstore. The events staffer was charming, kept up a steady chatter of encouragement as we set up. He put out a lot of chairs. As the hour approached, we checked our watches surreptitiously because there was no one – no one – taking a chair. Our moderator gamely began five minutes after the hour and we all smiled cheerfully and started answering our own questions. A woman slid into a chair in the back and we beamed in her direction, but she had already adjusted her worn and tattered cost and gone to sleep. Another five minute passed and a man took the chair that was farthest from her and from us. Who knew, maybe he was a secret romance reader? No, he pulled out his cell phone and proceeded to have an animated conversation in Chinese with someone. I was pretty sure they weren’t talking about our topic of the moment: Where do you get your ideas?

These women writers were pros and we wound up having a good conversation among ourselves, carried through the upstairs of the store by the microphones clipped onto our shirts. “Worst”? Well, yes, certainly, in that there was nothing to feed our egos or our book sales. But we had each other and for the umpteenth time I was reminded how wonderful the writing community is. We packed up at the end of the hour, laughed as we exchanged hugs and good wishes, and went back to our desks to keep writing.



Art Taylor said...

Oh, Susan, what a story on the "bad" end of the spectrum there, but so good of you to turn and see the good about it. It's true, the writing community is super supportive, and glad you all were able to make the best of it. :-)
Happy holidays!

RJ Harlick said...

Been there, done that as the saying goes. I too have had those events where the audience was less than modest. But I take heart and try to follow the approach a well known author used when only 1 person showed up at a reading intended for over 50. He sat down beside the person, carried on a great conversation with him and ended up with a life long fan. That's how we build our readership, one fan at a time. Have a terrific Christmas and Hanukkah everyone.

Catriona McPherson said...

Shudder. The only thing I can imagine that would be worse than that is a handful of people at the start and all of them slipping away while I was talking. Ouch.

Susan C Shea said...

Art, We can smile about it because we've all been there. RJ, I've heard that story too and it's brilliant. Catriona - you're right. that WOULD be worse!!

Robin Spano said...

LOL. Thank god you had friends with you!