My Own Blind Spots
I haven’t had much time to post here lately. But Denise is on the road this weekend and boy, do I need to get stuff done around here. I can’t help thinking about how her recent success is rewriting the way I think about books. I see now that I’ve been a victim of my own blind spots in certain areas. Two things used to take as fact:
A. “No one comes to book signings”: One of the sad-sack author memes talks about sitting at some table at a busy B&N, waiting for someone to come buy your book. Or showing up to give a talk somewhere and having only two people in the audience. I’ve been there. Not at the B&N maybe, but at a bunch of other stores up and down the east coast. In the past, we’ve sold our history titles at events like these and though the books did okay, I could never help having the feeling that we were wasting our time. If I have to drive out of town to give a talk on my own dime, how do I measure the benefit to me? If I have to educate someone about my book 50 times in an hour, how is this a good use of my time? I saw my predicament as an extension of the fact that the majority of people don’t read. They’d sooner buy a rake or a sandwich than a book.
But—people are showing up at Denise’s signings these days in droves. The angry little man inside me watches the hordes pack standing-room only bookstores and auditoriums, and thinks, oh sure, now you come. But I shouldn’t judge. When I can quash the little man, I can manage to be both stunned and grateful. Naturally people come when they’ve heard about the book or the author. But some part of me wants them to understand that they’re only getting pitched a fraction of the books published each year. The imprimatur of the media does not mean you’re going to get a better read, just a better marketed one.
B. “No one buys hardcovers”: This one is totally me. For years I’ve avoided buying hardcovers because of the cost. I bought paperbacks and used books instead. Who can fault me? More bang for your reading dollar, right?
But—watching all these people throw down $30 a pop for multiple copies of Denise’s book has made me realize that this frugal rule of mine is not shared by many. I’ve always been a heavy reader, and I needed to economize in order to stoke my habit. If you don’t read that many books in a year, springing for an occasional hardcover might well seem like a reasonable cost to you. A good number of people at signings are also seeking an autographed collectible for themselves or others. That’s cool. (I’m actually seeking to divest my shelves of signed books these days; I have too many.)
My no-hardcover rule was also formed in the pre-Amazon days. Back then, if I wanted to read a book that was only available as a shockingly overpriced $17.95 hardcover, I trained myself to wait for it. Today, there’s no reason to wait. That cost obstacle has been eliminated by Amazon, B&N, and ebooks. Rationally I’ve known this for a while, yet I have been weirdly living by my old rule. Still, someone must be buying hardcovers like Denise’s at indie bookstores, paying full price, or else the NYT Hardcover Bestseller List—theoretically culled from sales at multiple bookstores around the USA—would be 15 slots of blank space. Maybe this is simply an extension of point A, above: people shell out the premium bucks for the books they’ve heard about the most. Period.
Which somehow just depresses me further.