Saturday, March 10, 2012

Reading into Readings~ A Writer's Life: Guest Blog

Guest Blogger Bio:  SuzAnne C. Cole is a retired college instructor with an MA from Stanford. Her essays have been published in Newsweek, Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News, Baltimore Sun, Personal Journaling and many anthologies as well as The Write Place at the Write Time. She also writes plays, poetry, and short fiction in a studio in the Texas Hill Country. 

Of Course, I’d Be Glad to Sign Your Book

For months before my first book came out, I spent hours on the phone lining up readings and signings in the city where I live.   My first reading was perfect.  The community relations coordinator, the daughter-in-law of a dear friend, promoted the event with mailings, posters, and newspaper publicity.  A guitarist provided soft background music, refreshments were served, my husband sent a beautiful bouquet, and the audience was warm and receptive.  I sold seventy-five copies and thought all readings and signings would be that wonderful. 

Unfortunately, they weren’t.  The publicity for my next signing announced that I would be “singing” my book.  However, I had a respectable crowd, sold thirty copies, and was happy at the end to write a loving inscription in one book for the mother of a bookstore employee.  Later that month, revisiting the store and checking the shelves to see if I needed to sign more copies, I found not only that particular copy with its long and tender inscription, but also another copy with my personalized dedication.

In a nearby city I held a signing on a warm Saturday; although I smiled my hardest and wore my prettiest summer suit, almost no one stopped to chat, inquire, or buy.   Restless near the end of my non-productive three-hour stint, I began to browse nearby shelves and went home having sold no books but having bought fifty dollars’ worth of other people’s books.

With another coordinator I arranged signing dates at two stores; however, she abruptly left the chain two days later, taking with her all records of upcoming events.  When I showed up for my signing, no one at the store had ever heard of me, my book, or the signing.    

Visiting another city on vacation, I asked an employee in a chain bookstore if they carried my book, To Our Heart’s Content: Meditations for Women Turning 50.   After checking the computer, the clerk coolly informed me they had ordered the book, but I had the title wrong, it was Mediations for Women Turning 50.  In vain I protested, “But I wrote it, it’s my book.”  I was only the author; the computer was the authority.   

I learned that I preferred readings to signings because readings permitted me to do something.  I found it difficult to sit, dressed in my best, behind a big stack of books, as, despite my best smile, people browsed everywhere but my table, refusing to meet my eyes even in passing.  Meanwhile the coordinator, in what sounded like an increasingly desperate voice, broadcasted my presence every fifteen minutes over the store’s audio system while I wondered if I shouldn’t consider another line of work. 

However, readings also had their drawbacks.  When refreshments were served, I discovered that some people sat to listen only as long as it took them to finish the snack; then they noisily gathered up their possessions and left, often right in the middle of my most tender passages.   

I learned that it’s possible to give a reading for an audience of two—but it changes the delivery somewhat.  Once my only audience was a young Vietnamese man.  Curious about his attendance since my book is aimed at midlife women, I asked why he was there.  When he said he’d like to write better sentences, I walked him to the grammar section of the bookstore and sold him someone else’s book. 

I also learned that the care and attention the author pays to makeup and wardrobe will be in inverse proportion to the number of people at a reading or signing.  And I found that community relations coordinators did not always share my ideas about an appropriate atmosphere.  One scheduled my reading to coincide with the in-store performance of a country western singer.  Over the twangy strains of an amplified guitar, I found myself shouting my suggestions to “reclaim silence and stillness for ourselves” in the process of achieving “inner tranquility.”

As that summer of my first book progressed, I learned that bribing spouses, aunties, writing support groups, friends, air-conditioning repairmen, fianc├ęs of friends’ daughters, and people I met on the street to attend these events was not egoistical; it was essential. 

Still, I wouldn’t have missed that summer; my biggest thrill as a writer is hearing those magical words, “Would you please sign my book?”

A 270-word excerpt from "Of Course, I'd Be Glad to Sign Your Book" was published untitled in the Bylines 2005 Writer's Desk Calendar