photo credit: Nancy Au
At Why There Are Words (Lit Reading Series), my assistant and I have been gathering data and trying to whys and hows behind authors' book sales at the events. We've come up with no discernible rhyme and reason yet. Some people sell a couple, or none (especially if they don't bring books!), yet report an uptick in sales on Amazon immediately after. Some people sell quite a few. The emphasis from WTAW's perspective is on community, part of which is readership for the authors, of course, and not on sales. We think that's what sets WTAW apart and makes it a favorite of readers. Authors regularly report it's been one of their best events ever, and that makes our ears glow red with pleasure!
But I'm getting off-track. What I want to discuss, or rather let my compatriots discuss, here is another issue that's difficult to figure in when it comes to the book sales at the events. Two different people confessed to me after last reading that they'd wanted to buy certain books but didn't because they didn't want to do so in front of the authors whose books they weren't going to buy. In some ways, I understand this. Isn't it much like a street arts & crafts fair or even the farmers market? Today I want red radishes rather than white or easter-egg, so I buy the red radishes, while right beside us as we transact, the white radish vendor has no customers. I can feel & have felt sensitive to that farmer's plight.
I put out an inquiry on Facebook, asking authors to weigh in, figuring this might give prospective buyers insight. Thoughtful responses, from many who have read at WTAWs themselves. In recognition that not everyone is on Facebook (and, in fact, since I know one of the original two who professed to skipping the purchase is not), and with permission from the responders, I give you these authors' thoughts.
Ken Weaver: One would hope that authors (particularly ones with published books) would have thicker skin than that... While polite and a cute sentiment, just buy the book. :)
Lori Ostlund: I think that authors understand that given the great range of work that you provide, people will be interested in one book and maybe less so another. Still, one thought is to go the route that some series go: have a table with all of the books, with a person who is a series volunteer, overseeing sales. People can buy the books without feeling bad and then can track down the authors for a signature if they like. Of course, this means more work for you.
Mary Paynter Sherwin: (Oh, she is a wise one! I will add emphasis with colored font to some of my favorite words on the matter.) Readers buy what they want (or have money for). It's not like someone's buying one author's book and then marching to the other end of the table and shouting, "I'dve bought -your- book, but your work sucks!"
There's no way that an author can tell what those buyers are thinking. Nor should one try. A reader might already have your book. They might want to buy at their bookstore so they can have it giftwrapped. They might want it in French. They might be out of cash and are only able to buy one book. Who knows?
When you handsell your own book, you're given the amazing opportunity to connect with a single reader. Those sales are worth so much more than money. They trump everything else. Who is to say that if you only sell a single book (while that other dude sells fifteen), you're not richer in experience for it? Or that if you don't sell a damned thing, you aren't wiser for the people you met while you were there? *see note below
Plus...As readers and audience members (sorry about this rant-this just came up last night!), we are not responsible for the emotional lives of writers. We're just not. We don't need to be jerks, true, but buying out of sympathy hurts everyone.
Leda Sanford: That's silly! Grow up!
Robert Thomas: I wouldn't worry about it but realistically I do think it's a bit awkward. Ideally (but impractically) if you had four authors reading, they'd sign their books in the four corners of the room far from one another so buyers wouldn't be avoiding eye contact with the author next to the one whose book they're buying.
Marcia Simmons: A published writer has gone through far worse rejection than seeing someone buy another book. I'm just happy when I see people buying books!
Lori Ostlund: It seems, though, that the question is whether there are those in the audience who might not buy the books, which is different from wondering how authors feel. These people seemed to be saying to you that they did not buy because they felt bad (which, in a sense, has nothing to do with how the authors might or might not feel). I think maybe authors are not the ones to ask then?
Cathy Shea: That doesn't make sense to me. Many of us just dont' have the money to buy everything we want and we have to make tough choices.
Leslie Larson: Authors are used to having their feelings hurt. Buy!
Paul Allen: That happened to me. I noticed, and I don't know whether my feelings were hurt. Mainly I was hoping that THE PURCHASER wasn't worried about my feelings.
Stefanie Freele: I was there and one of those authors. I would not in the least bit feel hurt if someone bought another author's book right next to me. I'm happy someone is buying books :) I don't think we are that thin skinned.
Frances Lefkowitz: I have had those awkward feelings as I've purchased one book but not another, with both authors having just read, or trotted out their wares, so to speak. I did not let my awkward feelings stop me from making my purchase, but I can relate to the two people who brought this up.
Joan Frank: You just have to swallow it. I've sat at tables idle, trying to look nonchalant beside authors who were selling and signing as fast as their hands could go.
Paul Allen: Even if someone hurts your feelings innocently, in any situation, it's selfish and mean to let them know it, by word or look. Just realize it's your problem, and your problem shouldn't be made someone else's. Their life is hard enough without having to feel bad because they hurt you.
Mary Paynter Sherwin: As someone who's done the whole tabling thing, I think that segregating authors (by adding more tables or whathaveyou) just makes the problem worse. Then you've got authors wondering why they're here and not over there, by the door, by the bathroom, not enough foot traffic, and why did that woman get a better table...far too much drama.
So, on that ending note, let's reserve the drama for the writing, and let's not be afraid to buy the books! Thanks very much to you all who let me recreate the conversation here. Much appreciated, even by my fingers wearied from all the cutting-and-pasting.
*note: pretty much the point of WTAW and lit community.
Knowing this photo is of Eudora Welty is completely unnecessary, extraneous to coming up with a good story. But it's delicious knowing. And maybe knowing steers your story in a whole different direction. Try it!
(See other "silly" photos of writers here, including another fav of mine, Nabokov on the hunt.)
I really appreciate this blog entry from Bryan Furuness, editor of the exciting new Pressgang, in which he discusses thoughtfully how he learned to edit. He's spot on when he says it's somewhat of a mystery -- which I agree with. But, luckily, he goes on to try to break it down. I particularly like:
4. I read a thousand stories. Maybe more, I don’t know–but at least a thousand. Read that many stories and you get a sense of different moves a story can make. Read a thousand stories and you develop what Sondra Perl calls “felt sense.”
The term, she writes, “calls forth images, words, ideas, and vague fuzzy feelings that are anchored in the writer’s body. What is elicited, then, is not solely a product of mind, but of a mind alive in a living, sensing body.”
Felt sense links the body to the mind. If a sentence or a story is on the right track, it will feel right and satisfying. But if a line or the narrative design is off, you’ll be able to feel that, too.
Felt sense. Here's a link to Sondra Perl's "Guidelines for Composing." (Look for a future workshop based on these.)
Furuness sounds like a great editor to work with. And guess what? Pressgang is on the lookout for their next book. As of today [May 4], we are officially open for submissions. Fiction and creative nonfiction, long and short form--all creative prose is welcome here. If you've got a manuscript, we'd love to take a look.