When the Waitrose store in Crewkerne, south Somerset agreed to let me hold a book signing day in their shop on 24 November 2012, I was cock-a-hoop with excitement, although after the initial euphoria had worn off I did wonder if it was not quite so much Waitrose management thinking “we could have a goldmine here” as “please, someone do something about this infernal female who keeps badgering me”. I like to think it was the former.
Whatever the reason, the fact was I had a prime date in a prime shop and they gave me prime position on the shop floor. So after that it was very much down to me and how I managed to engage the public as they walked past my stall bearing my wares.
These are my observations of that day:
The first few minutes you sit expectantly, hopefully, throwing out positive vibes to the passers-by and hoping you can rise above the ‘sales person’ personae and give the appearance of an author they should know. Then you see some people you knew from a previous time in your life; the sort of people who back then would have treated you with a certain derision and near contempt. You don’t actually make ‘eye to eye’ contact but you know they have seen you and they know you have seen them, but do they look at you? Do they come over to see what you are doing? Not a hope, their condescending acknowledgement of your existence has not improved over the years and they pass by without so much of a sneer.
Other than the ‘wouldn’t spit on you if you were on fire’ passers-by, there are plenty of others you try to make a visual connection with, but at the same time, you don’t want to put them under pressure and make them feel uncomfortable *don’t buy her book, she stares at you*.
Then sticking with the ‘yes I’m looking at you’ theme, you mustn’t over do it when someone stops to look; they maybe inquisitive as to what you are doing there but have no intention of buying, so don’t pounce on them the moment they stop. Give them a chance to read, then if they linger, that’s the time to engage.
Don’t spook your quarry until it’s within grabbing distance.
Then there are the moments you feel like a bit of a saddo, the person who is always on their own at a party, the one who sits alone whilst everyone else has a dancing partner. You sit hoping someone will come over and you try to look like you are having a really good time when inside you are crying out for company.
I was chuffed to bits with my placement, right at the front, near the lottery ticket kiosk and next to the fresh cream and cakes. But after an hour, the chiller cabinet air circulating around the single, double and clotted started to make its way round my legs and the cold set in.
People watching is a definite ‘no-no’. Sitting on a Parisian sidewalk café watching the world go by is perfect people watching territory, sitting waiting for book prey is not. The moment you start to watch a particular person in the kiosk queue, they shift uncomfortably and shuffle up closer to the person in front in the hope there may be safety in crowd camouflage.
Seeing a young family coming into the store does not = they will want to buy a book. Your raised hopes are soon dashed as the parent spots what their children are making a bee-line for and an adult hand is placed firmly on the child’s shoulders to steer them in a different direction.
The friends who come to say hello even though they have no intention or need to buy a book. Those lovely people you have FaceBooked, Tweeted, emailed, begging them to come along and say hello, just to make you feel human, just to make the strangers in the store realise you do have some friends despite your chosen career.
Then there is the friendly stranger, the one who may or may not buy your book, but more importantly, the one who comes over to say ‘hello’ and ‘well done’ or ‘congratulations’. The one who recognises it is not easy to write a book, find a market for it and persuade people to buy it.
Being grateful that you took notice of the way your children communicated in their earlier years so that when you ask a 6 year old how to spell their name, you sound out the letters phonetically so they understand.
That single occasion when you have more than one person standing at the desk waiting to buy a book, that single moment when you wonder if one Sharpie pen was enough after all. When you don’t put the lid back on the pen straight away in fear of it drying up before the next book needs signing. I call this phenomena ‘queue appreciation’.
There were many other memorable moments, but I think it’s fair to say, for all its slow moments, awkward moments and uncomfortable moments, I would not have missed one moment, it was a fantastic opportunity and I think I managed to grab it with both hands.
Here’s to the next one!