Today I went to the Annual Joliet Author Fair in Joliet, Illinois, at the Black Road Branch of the Joliet Library. The staff, including my contact, Nancy Martinez, were very warm and welcoming, and each writer had her or his own little station for bookselling. Above are Steve Mandel, who I recently interviewed on this blog, and Gail Lukasik, two other mystery writers who were selling about as many books as I was when we all took a lunch break--zero.
Below is Shane Gericke; his mystery has reached bestseller status, but he had only sold one book in two hours.
We discussed this phenomenon, and why it might be that people weren't buying mysteries. (Books on angels and happy little towns a la Jan Karon's Mitford series were selling quite well). We wondered if perhaps we had chosen the wrong genre, and should perhaps be writing about angels, except that none of us necessarily had anything to say about those celestial creatures. Gail mentioned that her book title, Destroying Angels, actually offended one library patron, who chided Gail for her choice and said she hoped that angels weren't shown in a bad light in the book. Of course the book isn't about angels at all; it's a mystery, and the title refers to poisonous mushrooms.
In my case, I was hampered at least partly by the cover of my book. Here it is:
While most people find this cover striking, even beautiful, today's mix of people for some reason found it daunting. Some moved quickly past me, saying "I don't read scary books." I would try to call after them, "It's not at scary as it SEEEEEMS!" but they were gone. I had a dish of candy that many people, children and adults, took the liberty of stealing while grinning slyly at me, obviously not interested in my book or, as far as I could tell, any of the books in the library. It made me wonder why they had come.
One woman stopped in front of my table and said, "Oh! My daughter would LOVE this book! I'm going to call her so she can buy it!" She hadn't picked it up or read any of the material describing the book. She only looked at the cover from a distance. I said, "It's a mystery--" and she interrupted me, saying "Oh, I know! My daughter LOVES books like this. She's a member of this club called The Cemetery Club, and they get books every month: Stephen King, Dean Koontz, people like that."
Horror writers, I wanted to say, but many of my visitors didn't seem to distinguish at all between horror and mystery, and none of them really wanted to hear what I had to say about it. The people who did ask questions seemed to do so out of a perverse desire to make me talk; then they'd nod and walk away. It was an odd experience, to be sure.
Still, it was nice to meet Nancy and see some of my fellow authors that I hadn't seen since Bouchercon or, in the case of Shane and Gail, had never met before. And next time I'll know to have some sort of little typed slip describing my book in a paragraph, so that when people look at the cover and say, "Oh, I know what this book is about," I'll say "No you don't," and press the text into their hands.