Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Cape of Book Hope

            So I go to Cape Cod to sell some books. I’ve never sold much of anything before, having avoided the experience save for a brief weekend handing out fliers to strangers. Er, wait, that was the one job I’ve ever been fired from. Ahem. And yet here I am, waltzing into two dozen bookstores around this beautiful corner of America, where The Last Ancient takes place, porting a stack of promotional materials and armed with only my goofy smile and a vague confidence that people will like my book if they just pick the dang thing up.
            Getting here wasn’t easy.
            I have kids, see. A wife. Responsibilities. And they’re all located in Finland--far, far away from the Cape.  This was my wife’s idea, bless her. I probabl wouldn't have come without her encouragement.
            “You have to go to the Cape this summer to get your book in bookstores. It’s now or never,” she said.
            “You’re probably right, but it’s a long, pricey trip.”
            “Don’t be a schmuck. You have to go,” she said.
            “You’ll be stuck with the kids. I think that’ll be too tough for you all. Who'll tell the Saga and Erik and the great big enormous humungous apple story?”
            “Don’t be a schmuck. You have to go.”
            “I’ve never done anything like this before.”
            “Don’t be a schmuck. You have to go.”
            “What if nobody buys my book? What if they laugh? What if they’re mean to me? What if I eat bad clams? What if I'm attacked by a shark?”
            “Don’t be a schmuck. YOU. HAVE. TO GO.”
            You get the idea. So I went. And thank goodness I’m here.
            I’d sent a sustained flurry of emails the previous month to all Cape book stores who had emails listed. I got a grand total of zero responses. I called those same bookstores the week before I got in to the Cape, which was last Saturday. Everyone was at the very least courteous on the phone, and a few were downright biblically generous, like Buttonwood Books, the wonderful Cohasset bookstore north of the Cape who invited me to attend a reading and then fed me a gourmet lunch. Ah, so this is what it feels like to be an author...
            My first day selling books from the back of my rental Jetta, I went to five book stores, which took the whole day, driving and schmoozing from 8 – 6:30 PM (distances here are deceptively long). The next two days were the same. It felt so strange to walk in with a book tucked under my arm, smiling and delivering my pitch to see if they’d want to carry it. Every bookstore took my book at least on consignment, and one is trying to carry the book outright if they can get the right deal. Apparently, there aren’t so many Cape & Islands-set books male readers will pick up. And I think mine is the only one with murder, mythological creatures, and ancient coins. Call it a niche industry.
            Selling my strange book can be awkward. I spoke with a few incredibly sweet older ladies who took a copy to review after a delightful conversation about books and the Cape and history and whatnot. They looked over my reviews, so I hoped they'd understood what they were getting into, but in the spirit of full disclosure I made certain they understood my book has adult content. They blushed when I mentioned that there’s some deer mutilations, murder, and—er, oh yeah, there’s some sex. They still asked for the book, but in the way you agree to babysit a dog you just learned has a history of biting crotches. Sex, I’ve learned, can be a deal-breaker more often than a deal-maker in these cute little boutique bookstores. Who knew? I’ll eventually do a whole post on sex in books, because it’s a much more hot-button topic than I’d anticipated.
            Another sweet older bookstore owner agreed to carry my book, and then bought five more as gifts for her friends and family. I’ve hung out with some of the bookstore owners or clerks for over an hour, chatting about this and that. I also give them Finnish chocolate (my wife's idea), to which they all say, each and every one of them, “You’re bad.”
            Just wait till you read the book.
            What I’ve learned from all of this is that humility and Finnish chocolate are powerful charms. These folks get pounded, absolutely inundated, with authors phoning and walking in pounding their chests and proclaiming their book is the next Millennium Trilogy/FiftyShades/Davinci Code. While speaking with one lady, I watched her field two phone calls from two different authors in five minutes. She said she’d had six calls that day alone, and she looked fatigued from author solicitations. I saw to it that she would not in hindsight associate me and my book with fatigue and frazzle.
            The secret to standing out and being liked in a professional context is to make others feel their day is better, not worse, because you are a part of it. Some good conversation, some laughs, maybe some chocolate goes along way to that effect.
             So far so good, and it seems to keep getting better. A few large Boston bookstores are interested in carrying The Last Ancient as well, which I hadn’t expected. We’ll see how they react to a few bars of exquisite Finnish Karl Fazer chocolate.