How not to freak out in front of celebrity authors

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.

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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.”

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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

Book Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North

cv_the_first_fifteen_lives_of_harry_augustThe first thing that struck me about this book is its fantastic, attention grabbing title: I bet Kate Atkinson’s publishers are kicking themselves they didn’t think of it first for Ursula Todd’s many lives and deaths in Life After Life.

The second thing that caught my eye was the author’s name, which we are told from the book’s blurb is a pseudonym. Nothing piques my curiosity like reading a great novel (and this one is great – I’ll get to that in a moment) but not actually knowing who the person behind it is. Fortunately for me, a quick Google and the answer was revealed: Claire North is prodigiously talented fantasy novelist Catherine Webb who, at just 28 years of age, already has a slew of books to her name – the first written at just age 14. She’s also no stranger to writing under an assumed name, having done so as Kate Griffin for her adult book series.

So we’ve got a jump-out-and-grab-you title and a talented and a prolific and talented author: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August can’t go wrong, right?

Right!

Harry August is a kalachakra: when he dies, he is always reborn to the exact same time and place – England in 1918, as the illegitimate son (the product of rape) of a British nobleman who is raised by the aristocrat’s gardener. While kalachakra retain the knowledge and understanding acquired in previous lives, Harry is also a mnemonic – meaning he retains with perfect recall everything he learns, sees and hears.

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The Rose Garden at Great Fosters, designed in 1918

These are rare and sometimes troubling, even dangerous, gifts. No more so when, at the end of his eleventh life as he lies dying in hospital, a message from the future, relayed through time by other kalachakra, is delivered to him. Someone is altering the events of history, the world is ending and Harry needs to stop it.

It’s a total cliché to say I was hooked from the first page, but I really was. How could you not be with a premise like that? And it’s a set up the novel delivers on fully. It starts with a fantastic protagonist in Harry – he’s real but conflicted, eminently likable but also fallible. His story of essentially saving the world unfolds in a non linear fashion through the novel, jumping through time and his other lives but somehow never once becoming confusing, overblown or messy. The unique plot device of Harry’s many lives and his faultless memory adds a unique depth to his character. He’s supported by a cast of well formed, intriguing characters and a villain I didn’t see coming.

As for the story itself, there’s murder (quite a bit actually!), historical drama, war, love, espionage, criminal underworlds, mind games, gambling and wealth, staggering technological advancements, ravishing greed, betrayal, and a secret, shadowy organisation of kalachakra called the Chronus Club. All of this is tautly delivered in a pacy, often wryly humorous and meticulously researched novel that is thought provoking too.

I think everyone who reads this book will at some point ponder what they would do, for good or for evil, if reborn over and over with all memories intact. Maybe Claire North’s time travelling, suspenseful and compelling novel might change your mind on that.

Reviewed by Kelly Bold

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
by Claire North
Published by Little, Brown
ISBN 9780356502564