A Day in the Life of this Writer — The “Meet and Greet” 8

I ARRIVED at Copperfield’s fifteen minutes before 1:00 p.m., the time set for the start of my Meet and Greet. A table had already been set up. On top of the table were copies of Accidental Jesus Freak and my bookmarks, attractively arranged. To these, I added a bowl of candy and copies of Not the Mother I Remember. (Though the reason for the Meet and Greet was the launch of Accidental Jesus Freak, I thought, Why not add my other memoir to the table? You never know…). I placed my 24” x 36” poster — the one featuring my book cover and me, large as life — on a tripod just outside the door of the store. Then I went back to my post.

As a semi-experienced author-marketer, I know that you can’t just sit behind the table and hope that people will come up and talk to you. Mostly, they will avoid anyone who looks like they might want to sell something, even if they covertly eye your book on the way past. So I stood by the table, bookmarks in hand and conversation starter questions ready. My plan was to offer a bookmark to everyone who ventured near me, along with a question that varied slightly depending on age and gender: Do you like to read biography and memoir? Do you remember the Jesus Movement in the 70s and 80s? Have you ever struggled to live true to who you are? This approach has worked well for me in the past to engage people in conversation and sell a few books.

Okay, ready!

Except that it was the first warm Saturday after weeks of cold weather and rain and everyone wanted to be outdoors. And there was a local bicycling event going on (I didn’t know about this when I scheduled the bookstore event), followed by music and wine-tasting, which is always well attended.

The store was D-E-A-D, DEAD. 

For the first fifteen minutes, no one came in at all. I chatted with the three young people stationed behind the counter. 

“This isn’t normal for a Saturday,” they told me.

People trickled in, one by one, hovered by the greeting cards, magazines, and sale books by the door and then left without walking near me. Then the electricity went out for five minutes. About a half-hour into my two-hour session, an elderly lady walked in and meandered near my table. I handed her a bookmark and asked her my Jesus Movement question. She proceeded to tell me about her religious life journey, and then went on to discuss her family history and upcoming surgeries. In excruciating detail. Sweet woman, lonely I think, but she wasn’t buying my book and wasn’t going elsewhere. Then she began repeating herself. While she was talking, I handed my bookmark to a couple people who wandered by. The woman finally left the store, without purchasing anything.

Then there was the dressed-up family — the father and young boys in their suits and ties, the mother in her flowered dress and knitted shawl — who asked for the “children’s Christian book section.” Not my target audience. One of the boys pointed at my book and said, “Look, it says ‘Jesus’!” At which point the father glared at me, gathered his children into himself and steered them away from my table.

And so it went. For the most part, the few people who wandered into the store and by my table were friendly and accepted my bookmark and an occasional candy with a smile, but they were not inclined to engage in conversation, not interested in memoir, and/or on a mission to find a particular book. A few mistook me for an employee and asked directions to certain sections of the store. Fortunately, I know the store and was able to help.

Five minutes before my event was scheduled to end, a young man and his son came in. Again, I thought, not my target audience. But they walked right up to me. The man picked up my book and started talking about how his wife had come out of an evangelical fundamentalist background herself and had struggled with learning to accept herself and live life on her own terms. We talked briefly about the struggle of women in patriarchal religious environments. Her birthday was coming up, he said. He bought a copy, asked me to sign it, and had it gift-wrapped for her.

And that was it. My two hours were up. My Meet and Greet, by any standard, was a flop. There had been very few people in the store, and I had sold only one book. Yet, that one sale buoyed my spirits. Perhaps my story will resonate with the young woman who is about to receive it as a gift from a loving husband. And perhaps my memoir will have a positive impact in her life.

I packed up my books and poster and wandered out into a glorious spring afternoon.

Are you an author/writer with a book event story to tell?
Feel free to share in the comments section below.


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8 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of this Writer — The “Meet and Greet”

  • sara etgen-baker

    Ah, thanks for sharing the ups and downs of your day. I felt as if I was there with you living with your disappointment but relishing the connection you made with a man and perhaps his wife. “Planting seeds,” my father once seed, “is an act of faith. You have to trust that the seeds will one day grow and spread so you can harvest them.” You planted a seed, and one never knows when and where those seeds will grow. Be strong!

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Yes, Sara. That’s kind of how it felt. And you know, writing one’s story is also an act of faith of sorts — faith that story will find the right readers and somehow make a difference in their lives. A little bit of magic.

  • Marilyn Campbell

    A very entertaining account. But so true. One never knows what to expect at a meet and greet. I like your positive attitude, though. I’m sure the recipient of your book will enjoy it just ad much as I did.

  • Sharon Lippincott

    Oh Amber, you have nailed the reason I do not want to do book signings ever again. If it’s any comfort, your story here brought a bit of that to me. I’ve been through a few of those ghastly experiences and thought it might just be me. I hate hustling my own stuff! I do like your questions and was hopeful you’d found the formula. But hey, who knows? Far more often than I’ve stood beside my own book, I’ve smiled, nodded, and walked right on past authors or skipped signings, not wanting to feel guilty about not buying after engaging in conversation. I hate saying No almost as much as asking, which may be why I hate hustling my books in person!

    Perhaps you caught a couple of eyes and people will get back to the book later when they don’t have to interact.

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Sharon, thank you for your perspective. Book signings seem to be a necessary sort of evil. But are they really? I question, sometimes, whether I want to do any marketing at all. It’s such hard work. And yet, advertising, etc. has improved my book sales over time. But the book signings? And even the earlier launch event, all cost more money than I make, when you take into account my time and the cost of food and signage, etc. I figure it’s all part of getting some buzz around the book. And maybe the actual sales will come later. I sure hope so.

  • Maya

    So much marketing and promotion for a book is done online now, but there is no equivalent, in my mind at least, for making a physical connection with people. Because memoir is up-close and personal, it seems to warrant a personal connection. I suggest focusing on one of the themes in your book and using that as a hook the way you did with the questions you wanted to ask. Give talks instead of book signings (but of course you’ll have your books with you). That’s what’s been working for me.