Thursday, August 10, 2006

The David and Goliath Battle: Little Writer, Super Chain, and the Danger of the Mr. Smith Mentality

I either need a bigger slingshot or a much more winsome personality. I was told, when I became a published writer, that people would be eager to work with me to arrange signings. I was told my home town, especially, would welcome my success and do all it could to help promote this "local author" and her new novel. When I went out into the world, as sweet and unsuspecting as Mr. Smith when he went to Washington, I found that a lot of that was not true.

For example, my town librarians could not have cared less. I stopped in, pleasant as could be, to drop off ARC copies and ask about possible speaking engagements. I couldn't even get a "congratulations" out of them. The woman behind the desk looked slightly annoyed that I had taken her from her computer, but she took my book and handed me a card with the name of a woman who handled those things. So I left a note for her. Then called her and left a message. Then e-mailed her. With each communication I was unerringly polite. I heard from her, finally, about a month later, in a terse e-mail that said nothing about my book, merely asked me to provide dates when I would be available. All of these interactions were as chilly as a meat locker. I was starting to understand why some writers fear to tread these mean streets.

But I persisted. A huge book conglomerate in my town (which happened to carry my book) seemed like the next logical choice. I approached the manager, smiling (and yes, I had combed my hair and brushed my teeth). I mentioned that I had written that book, the one shelved near The Davinci Code. I was wondering, since all of my friends and family in this town would be eager to come to a signing, if they could host one on behalf of a local author. The manager shrugged apologetically. "We don't make those decisions," he said. "You'd have to go through Corporate." NO, I thought. NOT THE DREADED CORPORATE! It's like hearing that you have to fight an anaconda.

"Corporate?" I mewed. "But on your website it says all I have to do is approach the manager at my local store!"

"Yeah, it shouldn't say that on there," he said, obviously not well-versed in the contents of the company site. "You still have to go through corporate."

So I called Corporate. Left a message, bright as a sunbeam, trying to sound professional yet brief yet not so brief that I didn't provide enough information. And I waited. Spring turned to summer. The trees grew thick green leaves and the days grew hotter. CORPORATE must have had some kind of book emergency, I thought. Then again, my own library liason had taken a month, and she wasn't thrilled when she did get back to me. When the Goliath known as Corporate finally sent an e-mail, it said, "We can't even consider a signing until we see a copy of your book."

Now, my publicist had sent the book to them months before, but I told him of the mandate in the e-mail, and he said he would send out another one. Time passed. Corporate said nothing. I ventured another e-mail, indicating that the book seemed to be selling well locally, and I would love the opportunity to do a signing. No response for another couple of weeks. Then, finally, the long-awaited e-mail came, and it said, "Thanks for your interest. I will be sure to look at your book at my earliest convenience."

This is what is known, to me and Mr. Smith, as A LIE. Even my publicist advised me to "cut bait." So this was the hometown welcome I received--that, and the local newspaper which wasn't interested enough to run a story about the novel.

But here I must thank the wonderful independent bookstore owner in Forest Park Illinois: Augie Aleksy at Centuries and Sleuths was wonderful about arranging a signing, he treated me like royalty, HE READ MY BOOK, and he keeps my mystery stocked on his shelves.

In my silly revenge fantasies I, childishly, imagine that I will become famous just so that I can say no to Corporate, assuming they ever manifest an interest, and can tell the local library that I'll get back to them via e-mail. :)

Art Courtesy of


Bill Cameron said...

And, of course, when you become famous, you'll be even less likely to say no to Corporate, because you'll have a great big fat contract with stipulations about your publicity, including many smiling appearances at bookstores controlled by Corporate.

I can't wait for my turn!

Julia Buckley said...

Bill, how sweet and optimistic of you to say "WHEN" I become famous. Now I will definitely send you the giant DB cutout that opens beers.

Bill Cameron said...

I'm surprised you're not famous already.

Julia Buckley said...

If you'd be my publicist, I would be. How about it?

Bill Cameron said...

I was talking about you at the bookstore this evening. They didn't have your book in stock, and I scolded them. But in a very nice way. They said they'd had several copies, but had sold them. (I thought that was a good thing.) Then another woman there said she'd read DB and recommended it, and the book store owner said she'd order more.

I am dreaming of the beer openings already. :D

Julia Buckley said...

Now that is nice to hear. I always have visions of none of them selling at all, and those are terrifying visions. Would you consider visiting all the bookstores in Portland? :)

Karen Syed said...

I feel your pain sister! Every time I call a store for one my authors, they ask why the author isn't doing this on their own. Then the author calls and they want to now why their publisher isn't calling. OY! I refuse to give up...and isn't Augie a dream!! We at Echelon worship him in a big way. He is an author's friend without a doubt.

Julia Buckley said...

Yeah, Augie is great. And it's a tough battle with those big stores, because they really don't care whether or not your book is good.