I remember calling up an author to set her up for a signing. Nothing unusual about that. However, the signing was in relationship to her having been nominated for an Edgar–the prestigious award given to outstanding crime fiction each year by the Mystery Writers of America. When she answered, I congratulated her, and she was startled, I was the first to tell her she was nominated. Not her publisher or agent, but a manager of a mystery book-club. I mentioned a nominee of Best First Mystery, as the author on the phone had been on the panel judging in the First category. She became slightly outraged. That information wasn’t supposed to be common knowledge just yet. This conversation led to the question of where I got my info, how did I know all this clandestine stuff, did I release info improperly? The answer–I didn’t do anything except my job, maybe a bit quicker and bolder than other booksellers in my position.
I found that through the course of time working in the mystery bookstore field, that I was often the first person who contacted an author when he or she was nominated. It was a race for me, a race against time, I needed to nail down the authors who were nominated for signings during the week the Edgar Banquet was held. I took my job seriously, way too seriously, as it turns out, I believe, because in the end, who really cares if Edgar Award nominees sign your copy of a book?
Back then it mattered, it really really mattered. That was during the hypermodern craze, and I was now an expert in that area. It was a rather puzzling concept to me in the beginning–the idea of collecting books not to read, or because you loved an author, but because the print run was small, the author’s first book, and it was nominated for various awards. I had only possessed books up to this point because I either read them and was waiting to give them away, wanted to read them, or finished reading and loved them so much, I wanted to keep a copy on hand. But in my second managing job, all that changed. I had just only been hired and started working, when a former manager was also hired as part time, which put me in a rather awkward and worrisome position. This man knew what the owner expected, the other employees, the stock, and most importantly, what was hot and new. He causally asked me if I knew about valuing new titles because of their print runs etc. No, of course I didn’t. But he didn’t need to inquire twice, I swiftly educated myself about every aspect of selling crime fiction in a day and age where the content mattered less that other factors. And I became one of it’s best advocates. I was given instructions to set up as many signings with as many authors as possible, and I did just that. It expanded to shipping books to authors for signatures. I was on the front line of info. I received advance reading copies, release dates, I ordered exciting new titles, I had every publicist’s name and number in a hand address book, and each author was matched with whatever publicist may be working with them. I had authors’ private home numbers–no cells yet at this point–I was invited to luncheons, dinners, special events for particular authors by publishers. I was given review copies continuously, to the point when I no longer worked in the field, I went into withdrawal–the notion I had to PAY for the latest Elaine Viets, or Michael Connelly was a terrible blow and shock to my privileged system!
Even when I moved on to the third bookshop, I continued this practice of ofttimes discovering new authors, promoting them, booking for signatures, interacting very nicely with them, and selling the hell out of their titles. And I did sell, very very well. Naturally, that’s not all there is to the job. All sorts of other things would be necessary, but at this last job, my main concern was bringing in as many authors to sign as was possible. Some major writers who had not visited this store before. came in because I asked them to. One was James Patterson, who is an incredibly nice gentleman, and whom I liked a great deal. He wasn’t a major fan of my last boss, and was more than happy to sign at the new place I was working. He wasn’t an exception. Past contacted authors and more came into the store and signed for me. Now, would they have come in and signed for someone else, of course, and after I left they certainly must have. Most. But I believe that my total dedication to the idea of signed books as an incentive to buy someone’s title was obvious to the writer, and appreciated. And therefore reciprocated, not only by a first time author, or mid-list one–but by the solid bestsellers that usually would only be booked at the B&Ns around Manhattan.
If this sounds in any way egotistical, surprisingly, it is! I’m not exactly one to go about with great self esteem and confidence, let alone an ego. But, in thinking back upon my jobs, I know I did a better than good or even great job. Have others done better than I? Of course. But within that time frame, in my job description, I had power. What that means, I’m only understanding now, because certainly I didn’t recognize that concept at the time.
Power in the managerial positions meant reps from publishers wanted to please you, so you’d be inclined to think favorably and order great amounts of books. So, review copies came my way. I was invited to a luncheon at the famed Russian Tearoom in NYC for a first time thriller author who had signed a multi million dollar contract. I was at a fantastic dinner, honoring a renown respected author, along with the president of his publishing company and other notables. There were many of these occasions. Enough that you did begin to think ‘well, I’m doing a good job.’ I’d also see the fruits of my labors pay off. Some titles I championed before even published, became solid sellers, and honored authors, some more became best sellers. I was meticulous in making sure authors were contacted and booked, and if I couldn’t be there, relentless in making sure whomever was there, got all the books signed. I was passionate about my work. Too much so.
After selling I was lucky to get a job with A&E in their online division, moderating on their message boards. That is the subject of another saga. Suffice it to say, this job really did have power– power to land an author commercials for a month on the TV network.
So, I’ve finally gotten around to my subject head! The out of the loop part. The time frame that I worked is long long ago–not ancient times–but from 1993–to around 2002. After this point I was creating jewelry with mystery themes and sold them at fan conventions. I kept abreast of new authors, their triumphs, or failures, and generally stayed connected via good friends in the field and more friends who owned a mystery bookshop I dropped by practically every week. As time piled up, my strings in the crime fiction world were broken over and over again, until, I had no contact with authors at all, or, at least not ones that hadn’t become personal friends. I had a lot of good acquaintances, and a few solid pals. But no power–if that’s what it should have been called to begin with. And when you have little to do with the selling of books, or the business of mysteries, your non-entity status becomes concrete. I saw it happen to a former important person within a major organization, once in charge, then, never heard from again–a possible subject for Missing! on the Investigate Discovery channel. I went from sought after, to--who? Because, seriously, what did I have to offer at this point? I couldn’t sell anything in droves, couldn’t provide a publicist a place for their author to sign, and certainly no commercials were going to pop up. This reality makes me feel constantly out of the loop. Once perhaps defining what the loop was, I am relegated to being the next to last person who finds the nominees for the Edgars. I’ve no idea who half the nominees are, and forget about first time authors–the days of gifts of chocolates from Janet Evanovich are long long over.
And naturally, there are some authors who used to know me, or at least knew I was within a bookstore, who have no memory. On facebook, they politely friend me, but they’re friending every Josey Doe out there, the more people to buy their books. And initially that stings–but then I come back to earth and ask myself, ‘ if you were in their place, having signed at stores all over the country, would you necessarily remember each person who handed you books?’
S0, that’s where inscribed books come into play, to make me feel like a loop may still exist–at least in the past, and the past is in a pile sitting on a work table, open to the title page where people have written rather nice things about me, my work, hustle, and best of all, ferrets. I chatted with the authors while they slaved away pushing that pen on paper, and most likely a conversation would include ferrets, of which I had many. And in that moment, that particular ion of time, I had splendid satisfaction of wonderful camaraderie, two people, soldiers in arms in the war to win the hearts and minds of readers everywhere. And in that memory, the present lack of being able ‘to win friends and influence people.’ is ignored.
In Photo-the superior author, Alan Beechey, writer of An Embarrassment of Corpses, Murdering Ministers, and many more to come. Also, Boo playing Finsbury the evil ferret in Alan’s books.