Humiliation: it’s not just a drinking game anymore

By Carmen Comment

Last week, Tess Gerristen described the singular pleasure of trudging through big box bookstores to sign copies of her new thriller, VANISH, and getting shot down left and right:

Store visit #2(to another national bookstore chain) is even more humiliating. This manager has never heard of me either. He finds eight copies of VANISH in the store. “But you can only sign two of them,” he says. “We need to be able to return them when they don’t sell.”

ONE day on sale, and he’s already talking about returning the books. And he won’t let me sign any of the paperbacks because… well, you guessed it. He needs to be able to return them.

It’s useless to explain to him that signed copies CAN be returned for credit. He’s been told “at a seminar” that they can’t be. I slink out, having driven an extra 30 miles to sign exactly three copies.

At Store #3, the manager doesn’t want me to sign ANY copies. She wants to be able to “return them all” if necessary. Then she looks in the computer and stares. “Wow,” she says. “We have a lot of your books in stock. I guess you must sell really well here.” Only then does she allow me to sign three copies of VANISH. I ask her if she has many authors come through her store.

“You’re the only one,” she says. (Do other authors know something that I don’t?)

Now Mark Billingham, in an essay for The Bookseller, relates his own experiences looking for people reading one of his own bestselling novels:

recently I have had the slightly disconcerting experience of sitting opposite someone reading one of my books on the Tube. (Them, that is, not me. Reading my own books would be silly.) Now, if you’re a comic novelist you might catch the odd smile, or glimpse a chuckle if you’re lucky, but when you’re a crime writer whose books are steeped in death and darkness, there’s not actually a great deal to see. How does someone look “gripped”? So, all you can do is sit there, and occasionally get caught staring by the person reading. And smile. And try not to look like a major-league nutcase.

Of course, you say nothing. Not ever. And here’s a perfect illustration as to why.

A well-known writer found himself sitting on a train opposite a woman reading the novel (his first) which he’d recently had published. Unable to contain his excitement, he leaned across the table, gave a small cough and told the woman that she was reading his book. She immediately lowered it and said how sorry she was, explaining that she didn’t know the book belonged to anyone, and that she’d just found it lying on the table. Before the writer could correct her misapprehension, the woman slid the book across the table towards him. “It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I wasn’t really enjoying it anyway.”

Sometimes, it’s better to simply look away…