Sometimes two or three or five people were there, sometimes they all worked in the bookstore, but very often, in the cities where I had no relatives to drum up a little crowd, I was on my own. I did freelance writing for Bridal Guide in those days, and more often than not there was a girl working at the store who was engaged. We would sit and talk about her bridesmaids’ dresses and floral arrangements until my time was up; then she would ask me to sign five copies of stock. This, I was told, was a coup because signed copies cannot be returned to the publisher, so it was virtually the same as a sale. (Please note: this is not true. I have pulled seemingly brand-new copies of my novels from sealed cartons and found my signature in them. Somebody mailed those copies back.) But none of that mattered, because my publicist told me that the success of book tour wasn’t measured in how many books you sold that night. What mattered was being friendly, so that the girl at the cash register, and maybe even the store manager, would like you, and in liking you would read your book once you had gone, and in reading your book would see how good it was and then work to hand-sell it to people for months or even years to come. And I believed this because if I didn’t, I had no idea what the hell I was doing out there. After saying all my warm goodbyes, I would leave the store in the dark, drive the two blocks back to the McDonald’s to change out of my dress, and put in a couple of hours on the road to Indianapolis, where I was scheduled to appear the next night at seven. I was exhausted and embarrassed, and yet I told myself the experience had been worthwhile because I was friendly and would be remembered for that.
All this raises the question: Why don’t I just stay home? Believe me, I’ve asked myself that many times, mostly in dark hotel rooms when the alarm goes off at 4:30 in the morning because I have a flight to catch. Partly because touring is in my contract. Selling is part of the job.