Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Monday, July 12, 2010

RANT: Signing Books on a Soggy Saturday

Last Saturday, I attended the Books in Boothbay Book Fair in the lovely coastal community of, well, Boothbay, Maine. I can't say I had a good time.

Now, some of the reasons why I didn't have a good time were my own problems: for one thing - one big thing - an obese man sitting in a non-air conditioned hall built in the 1920s filled with people on one of the hottest afternoons of the Summer just isn't going to be comfortable. It was insanely hot and it drizzled piss-warm rain all afternoon, so the humidity was about 100%. I had never been to the "living history" park/museum where the event was held, and it simply never occurred to me that anyone would put on something like this in July in an non-air conditioned venue. I should have asked, I guess.

(Actually, that's not quite true - I had worried that it might be held outdoors, and be too hot for me, so I'd asked if it was going to be held indoors or out. I was told "in," so then I assumed there would be AC.)

Other reasons for my discontent are no one's fault - for example: the crowd there, made up mostly of elderly locals and Summer tourists - just had no interest whatsoever in graphic novels or pulp fiction, and being the only author in the room dealing that kind of subject matter didn't help.

But some of my issues were with the organizers. For example, they provided the books, but didn't contact me about what titles to stock until only about two weeks before the show. I gave them a list with ISBN numbers for about six of my books, and made sure I put the Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries graphic novel on top of that list. For one thing, it's pretty much the only book I have available that is truly mine - on the others, I'm just one contributor among many or writing other peoples' characters. For another, I've had some luck selling that book at other shows were I didn't ft in by appealing to female readers. When I arrived at the venue and found my seat in the hot, muggy room, I was informed that they hadn't been able to get any Femme Noirs, but had "Captain Midnight and one other one, 'K'-something." (Kolchak.)

(Note, too, that these were two books that I had already been paid for up-front by the publisher, so any copies I sold would only profit the organizer of the show. Femme Noir, on the other hand....)

When I expressed my disappointment, the gentleman who had given me the news didn't seem particularly interested, and I got the distinct impression that he wasn't sure why I was there with the real authors anyway. Me, I was wishing that he'd e-mailed me at some point before I'd headed for Boothbay, because I could have arranged for the publisher to drop-ship him some copies of FN overnight, or even brought my few remaining copies - and some of my other books - with me.

The author who shared the table with me - a pleasant gentleman whose name I forget - had discovered when he arrived that they didn't have his books, either, but at least he'd had the foresight to bring copies of his own.

The tables didn't have tablecloths - again, something I wish I'd known - and no name plates. Well, there were tiny little folded paper things about a half-inch high with the authors' names scrawled on them, but that was it. I hadn't brought any of my usual table display stuff because I'd been under the impression that it wouldn't be necessary, so along with not actually having the book there that I most wanted to sell, I just had a handful of Kolchak trades and Captain Midnight Chronicles paperbacks sitting in unimpressive little stacks on an otherwise empty table.

Now, my more experienced author friends reading this are probably shaking their heads at my naivete and lack of foresight, but in my defense, this was my first "book fair." I'd not been asked to bring anything and had been told that the books would be provided. Had it been a regular comic book convention-type show, I would have known better, and might have made a better showing. Instead, I sat there in the sweltering, soggy heat watching people walk by my table disinterestedly. Brandi couldn't take it - she actually abandoned me to go sit in the car parked in the shade, where there was a little bit of a cross-breeze, and left me to suffer alone for about two hours or so. (And I don't blame her!)

Now, I tried. I really did. I had made a commitment to be there, and I gave it the best I could, considering that I was sweating like a pig and probably looked pretty scary there behind the table. (I had actually brought a dress shirt, but it was too hot to wear it over my black t-shirt.) I tried to make eye-contact with as many people as I could, and if I managed to get their attention, I made an effort to be upbeat and friendly. But it was tough. I sold only three books: one to another author, one to the guy who'd invited me to the show... and one Captain Midnight anthology to a teenage kid about fifteen years old.

one made me feel good. I hope he likes it.

I'm proud of that sale, but I can't say that it made up for everything else.

If someone is reading this who might be planning an event where you're asking creative people to show up and help you hawk books - for free - well, I think there's some minimum information you should provide. A detailed description of the venue would be nice. Especially if it's a summer show and the hall has no air conditioning and the rest rooms are in another building entirely so people might have to walk in the rain to get to them. Also, if you cannot provide the simplest of table amenities - a tablecloth, legible nameplate and a chair for an author's spouse/assistant - well, you should let people know. Also, you should maybe try and order books more than a week in advance, so that no one wastes their trip.

Like I said: I'm a big, fat man, and my physical discomfort was absolutely aggravated by that fact (though no one looked very comfortable in that room that I could see), but as I was there on my own dime, and selling books pretty much for the book fair folks, it would have been nice if I felt that they actually appreciated me being there. But aside from one person - the guy who had actually invited me (a good friend and fan) - I was ignored.

I know that there are people who know me that think that I'm compulsively negative about everything. That I am a complainer and cynic who always sees the bad side of things. And yes, it's true: I'm no Pollyanna.

But I was in fine spirits when I left for Boothbay (my birthday the day before had been pleasant and relaxing), and was really determined to have a good time. And I stuck it out. I was there 'til the end. And I gave it my best shot.... but I can't lie; the day was a depressing, dismal time suck.

I could have spent the day hot and miserable in my own home trying to write instead of hot and miserable in the middle of a bunch of people who didn't give a shit that I was even there....

End of rant.


Charles Gramlich said...

wow, sounds like a lot of things came together to make it rather unpleasant. Sorry to hear that. I think it happens to us all on occassion.

El Vox said...

Happy Birthday man, you aren't a Pollyanna, but you're a good writer, and I think your gripes are legit. I enjoy your blog. Sorry it was such a downer for you.

Kevin Findley said...

Geez, talk about "A Perfect Storm". Don't get discouraged Chris. That 15 year old kid may just turn on a few of his friends to your stuff. Happy Belated Birthday as well!