Initially, I was disappointed that the Barnes and Noble in my sister-in-law’s hometown didn’t offer me a traditional author “book reading” gig. They “didn’t have the space” they claimed, which seemed ridiculous. I’ve attended many author readings—and had my own author events—in much smaller bookstores, where the staff cheerfully maneuver bookshelves on wheels to clear space for readings attended by 20, 30 or 40+ people.
But whatever. It had been such a hassle to get them to agree to anything. My sister-in-law had been talking up my book to everyone in town, but I get it. I’m a debut novelist, low on the totem pole. And the gal who was responsible for organizing author events went out on maternity leave earlier than expected, leaving the store manager clearly overwhelmed trying to juggle her additional workload. So, when she agreed to a date for my event, I was happy to take what I could get.
But just a “Meet and Greet”? Really? What would that be like? I thought. Well, it turned out really well. The store manager printed out a large sign announcing my visit—complete with my author and book cover photos—and had this prominently displayed along with copies of my novel, for a week prior to the event. When I arrived, they set me up at a table, with a pile of my books, right by the store entrance, and offered me a complimentary cup of coffee. And there I sat, ready to “greet”.
My extended family members came by, and other friends of my sister-in-law—people she probably could have dragged out to a reading. But once I started making eye contact and engaging passersby—would you like to hear about my novel?— I talked to a wide cross-section of people.
Of course, not everyone was interested. Some hurried by, lowering their eyes; others apologized and explained they were in a rush. But I talked at some length to a local high school English teacher who was potentially interested in having her students read my novel; to a woman who said both she and her teenage daughter love WWII fiction; and to a young woman who told me her great-grandmother was Czech and she was thrilled to learn something about the history of the country.
I learned my assumptions based on stereotypes could be totally wrong. A gray-haired, well-dressed woman who I thought was “my type” scurried by without acknowledging me, but a beefy young man stopped and told me historical fiction was his go-to read, and he bought a book. My favorite was a young Brazilian woman who apologized, telling me her English was not good enough for her to understand my novel, maybe when she had improved, she said, she might be interested—but then she returned 5 minutes later, saying she was going to buy it now, to motivate her in her studies.
I sold most of the pile of books. But more importantly, I got to engage with people who I’m sure would never come out to a more traditional bookstore “reading”. And I had a really good time.