Have you ever walked into a bookstore and seen some poor sap sitting at a book table with a stack of copies of his new book, awkwardly and earnestly trying to make eye contact with passerby, desperate for someone, anyone, to care enough to purchase a copy, or at least to stop and make conversation?
I was that poor sap once. It was March 2009. Having just launched my new book Finding God in the Shack I thought it would be a good idea to have a book signing at the local Christian bookstore. So I took five hours out of one Saturday, combed my hair, and prepared for the teeming hordes. They placed me awkwardly in a wing chair near the entrance with a stack of my books and we waited for the fans to arrive.
Throughout the afternoon about fifteen students, friends and supporters showed up to purchase a copy. I certainly appreciated it. Indeed, it felt a bit like receiving visitors at a hospital, sans the lime Jello and medicinal smell (Christian bookstores tend to smell of potpourri). But there was a dark lining to those silvery clouds: guilt. You see the bookstore had priced the books at $20 a copy, five bucks more than I was selling them for. That meant that my supporters were essentially paying a five dollar premium for their good will and I couldn’t say anything because I was obliged to support the bookstore’s bottom line. (In the weeks following that debacle I had two students drop by my office to ask why they paid so much more at the bookstore. Such was my guilt that I was tempted to start issuing rebate checks.)
And those visits were the high point. Most of the time I sat in the wingchair like a complete idiot alternating glances between at my watch and the undiminished stack of books to my left.
But the long stretches of being ignored was a mere sampler of monotony seasoned with a dash of mild humiliation. The full course of humiliation was served up with those strangers who actually paused to buy a book … or consider buying one. The cover of my book was designed to look very similar to The Shack. And as you can imagine the cynical benefit was that I might get a few sales through mistaken purchases.
“I told you to buy me The Shack you idiot! Not this! And who the hell is ‘Randal Rauser’ anyway?”
“Sorry hon. I threw away the receipt.”
That was tolerable when those sales were nameless and faceless. (But can you imagine a royalties statement that categorized regular sales, high discount sales, and mistaken purchase sales?!) However, such mistakes were all but intolerable when the sales occurred in concreto right in front of you.
Case in point: There I was alternating my gaze between the watch and the undiminished stack of books when I suddenly noticed one less book on the pile. I turned back in surprise and saw a man standing in front of me with an expression of awe. “I can’t believe it’s you!” he said with barely compressed zeal while clutching the book tightly.
Okay, another ethical dilemma. The only living organism that shows this kind of enthusiasm upon seeing me is my dog Sonny. (But then again, he greets everybody with the exuberant canine equivalent of “I can’t believe it’s you!”) Clearly what we’ve got here is a case of mistaken identity. I wanted to say “Sorry Bro, I’m not Paul Young. I’m an anonymous idiot who simply road the wave of Paul’s success to sell a few books of my own.” But how do you bring that up? In terms of awkwardness this was on the same level as running into your Baptist pastor at the liquor store. I kept my mouth shut and smiled weakly.
“Would you sign it?” he gushed, holding out the book. “Oh geez,” I thought “this really is a dilemma.” And in that moment I made a fateful decision and signed the book. I know, I know. I really am the chief of all sinners. But in this case retribution was swift. He took the book back eagerly, opened it, read the signature, and immediately joy was replaced by confusion. The book snapped shut and he looked more closely at the cover. Then his face turned an ashen white and I braced myself. But instead the disappointment melted away into a noble sense of duty as he whispered bravely, “I’ll still buy it.”
Yes folks, this is what some authors have to go through to sell a book.
To add a final insult to injury, the bookstore had placed another stack of books also called Finding God in the Shack (by Roger Olson) right next to mine. At one point as I sat lamely in the wingchair two women standing mere feet away carried on a conversation. “It’s the same title!” one of them said accusingly. “That guy’s book [meaning my book] is the same title. How can he do that?” They looked at me reproachfully. I pretended (rather pathetically) that I didn’t hear them as I continued to alternate my gaze: books, watch, books, watch.
Eventually 4 o’clock arrived and I stood to leave. All told I had sold about 25 books. And I vowed never again. Contrast that with Brazil where I sold more than 300,000 copies while doing absolutely nothing. Such is the publishing world.
Suffice it to say these days I restrict myself to media interviews. And that brings me to a couple updates on interviews for The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails.
Today (November 10th) I’ll be interviewed on Toronto-based radio program The Drew Marshall Show from approximately 2:55 PM – 3:15 PM EST. I was on the show last year for You’re not as Crazy as I Think and I really enjoyed it, so I’m looking forward to the interview.
Next, I’ll be interviewed on November 21 on god321.net and faithtalk1500.com from 2-3 PM EST. Hopefully both of these interviews will later be uploaded to my website.
So keep listening because the likelihood that you’ll find me humiliating myself at any book signing is less than zero.