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.
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.