This week a reader of The Sanibel Sunset Detective novels e-mailed me several questions, ending with this one: “Why does a man with ten published books to his credit spend his time hawking a handful of them in an airport?”
That’s a question I have asked myself more than once, although my question usually includes the word “crazy”. The reader doesn’t know the half of it. I end up in the most unlikely places hawking the three Sanibel Sunset Detective books, not only in airports, but supermarkets, in front of restaurants, even at a farmer’s market. I have sold books at parties and family gatherings.
Every time a new novel is published, I hold a launch party at my home in Milton, Ontario where the neighbors are coerced into coming around for a glass of wine and the opportunity to purchase a new Tree Callister adventure. I host another book launch in Toronto, usually at P.J. O’Brien’s Irish Pub, and I invite everyone I have ever known. I have even been known to darken the inside of a bookstore from time to time.
If anyone had told me twenty years ago that someday I would be doing all these things, I would never have believed it. I was an “author.” I was above such crass behavior. But the times have changed, and this is what you have to do to sell a book now. You must be fearless–or crazy, depending on your point of view.
What all this snake oil selling does, however, is bring the author–me–in direct contact with the one person he should be out there talking to: the reader. Standing in the most unlikely places with a hopeful grin on my face and a book in my hand, I end up meeting the most fascinating people.
And they tell me stories.
A bearded man is on his way home to care for his dying wife. We end up embracing in the middle of an airport concourse. A woman has just buried her mother. I have some idea what she is going through. We both brush away tears.
Another woman with dramatic gray hair relates in detail how she must care for her ill mother in a tiny house where they fight all the time. She is at her wit’s end and has had to escape.
A fellow named Les stops by to purchase a book and tell me how he sells used clothing on the Internet for a living. He has developed a growing list of clients. He is particularly adept at finding rare ties . A beautifully coiffed woman, impeccably tailored, is a self-help guru who belongs to something called The Creative Thinking Association of America. She does not ask me to join–but she does buy a book.
Another woman tells me an incredible story about her German mother who hated Hitler and so fled to France intending to marry one man, ending up marrying another–and accused of being a Nazi spy.
A Cambridge graduate, whose mother was also sent out of Germany, tells me an equally incredible story about other anti-Nazi Germans who left their homeland and ended up on, of all places, the Galapagos Islands. There have even been a couple of books written about this little known aspect of World War II–the titles of which, as promised, are e-mailed to me.
The stories are endless: the mom with a son in Hollywood working on a TV comedy, a daughter struggling to be an actress; the American businessman who has just arrived on Sanibel Island after moving from Shanghai with his Chinese wife. The beautiful Chicago prosecutor headed home with her child; two federal agents on their way out of town to question a suspect; a customs and immigration officer complaining that government cutbacks are compromising her ability to properly do her job.
One of the first women ever to work in the Ford assembly plant in Windsor, Ontario tells me that when she started in the early seventies, they put her down in a pit in the foundry shoveling sand. She stuck it out for twenty-nine years and saw women become an accepted part of the work force.
A cousin of James Patterson stops to say hello. As Patterson’s cousin, I offer, you must read all his books. Well, replies the cousin, he used to but not any more. Ever since Patterson began collaborating with all those other writers, he finds the novels boring.
Various authors, would-be authors, self-published authors, the mothers and fathers of authors and would-be authors are encountered. Sometimes you get the impression there are more people trying to write books than there are readers reading them.Everyone who is not published wants to know how to be published. Everyone who is published laments the fact and groans about the difficulties.
All of this is so far beyond anything I ever imagined, the encounters with potential readers often so charged with humor and emotion that sometimes I forget that I’m out there promoting the books and end up just going with the flow, taking it all in with a combination of astonishment and pleasure, not so much the writer, more the therapist, sounding board, the sympathetic shoulder upon which you can cry.
In the old days, an author flew from city to city to do media interviews, going from TV to radio station to local newspaper newsroom. Occasionally, the author would stop at a bookstore and sit behind a table signing books. The interaction with readers was minimal at best. When I started writing books in the 1980s, I don’t think I ever met a reader. I certainly never heard from any.
Now I am in the trenches daily, meeting readers first hand, getting their e-mail responses once they have read one of the books. It is both scary and exhilarating. Much like the reader who e-mailed me, I sometimes wonder what the hell I’m doing with my life, and that I must be–here’s that word again–crazy to be doing this.
But then someone comes along, and there is another story, another fascinating encounter, and bless their heart, that person read your last book and loved it and can’t wait to read the next–and suddenly you would not want to be anywhere else in the world, and this is better than anything you’ve ever done.
And every once in a while you even sell a book.