by Jenna Todd
An author can be a very important person to a reader, someone who, through their books, we have invested much time into. With a busy year of writer’s weeks ahead of us, now seems a good time to ask: How much of that enthusiasm should we display – or hold back – to make the author feel comfortable?
A majority of authors have the fortune of not being recognisable, their author photo and blurb our only tiny glimpse into their personal life. It’s difficult to decipher whether an author actually wants to be recognised, especially if they are just visiting the bookstore as a pedestrian. If they slide through a transaction unnoticed, have we as a bookseller failed at our job? If we do recognise them, should we say something to confirm our book industry insight? Are we required to give some positive feedback in terms of customer interest and sales?
Sometimes, the tides are turned on us. There’s a trick that some authors play on booksellers.
Customer: Do you have “xx xx” in stock?
Bookseller: We don’t have it at the moment, but can order it in for you?
Customer Author: I am the author of this book. Have you read it? Why is it not on the shelf?”
Of course there is the time when an author must step into the spotlight to promote their book. It must be quite strange to emerge from a writing cave to be thrust into spotlight of your readers. Author events must feel like continual birthday parties, where you’re not sure if your guests will turn up.
Kate Atkinson promoting Life After Life at Time Out Bookstore in 2013
From experience (as a spectator), here are a few don’ts when speaking to an author:
- If an author has written a book on a specific subject, it’s best to presume they know they know more about the subject than you do.
- It’s not okay to bring up your own body of work when asking an author a question in a Q & A, or to hijack a Q & A in general.
- Don’t lead with questions about the author’s divorce and/or love life.
And some Do’s:
- Do your research, read up on what the author you’re about to meet has been asked before and try and ask something different.
- Be respectful of their time, be aware of other fans waiting.
- Engage with authors via social media – link them in tweets with your reviews and book love.
I’ve met a couple of my favourite authors and thankfully, they have exceeded my expectations. That said, I can’t help but turn pink, and as I speak to them the thought that I am actually speaking to them hazes my very ability to concentrate on our conversation. The most important thing I want to tell them is that I am a bookseller and how much I enjoy selling their books.
My friend Emily Adams is a bookseller at Third Place Books in Seattle, Washington which has hosted a multitude of incredible authors, from Paul McCartney to John Green.
“I treat authors like anyone else; they are people doing a job. Give them kind words and a smile. Thank them for visiting your local bookstore, and buy a book at the host store to show your appreciation.”
The Third Place Team with former President Jimmy Carter, who visited to promote his book A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety. Emily is in the blue floral dress.
I searched even further afield to another bookseller friend, Josh Cook from Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He’s also a published author, so he can offer advice from both sides.
“Think of them like you would someone you met a party once who you thought was really cool. You’d probably go up to re-introduce yourself, but not if they’re clearly having dinner with their family or talking on their phone, or in a rush to get somewhere, and you probably wouldn’t try to talk to them for ten minutes right off the bat. I think the same rules apply for a celebrity you get a chance to meet. Don’t worry about embarrassing yourself or anything like that, just be honest, respect their personhood, and have fun, and odds are they’ll be honest, respectful, and grateful that you’ve shared with them their impact on your life.”
So that’s it, just be nice. Keep it cool. And as I’m writing to a group of wonderful book people, I’m sure that won’t be difficult.
Many thanks to my American bookseller friends Emily and Josh for contributing to this piece.
by Jenna Todd, Manager, Time Out Bookstore, Mt Eden