Excited Krampus fans queue in front of the Barnes & Noble bookstore on Saturday, November 22, 2014, in Bridgewater, N.J., for Matt Manochio’s first-ever author event: a launch party for his debut supernatural thriller, The Dark Servant. OK, no, that didn’t happen. Well, the breadline did some 85 years ago. Chances are, if you’re a debut author, you won’t be seeing lines like this. But that’s OK! If all goes well, you’ll see a line, and you’ll likely recognize the faces.
Back when it appeared that The Dark Servant (Samhain Publishing) would publish–and a comet the size of Canada wouldn’t strike the Earth, probably pushing publication back a few million eons–I decided that I wanted to have one author event, which occurred on a brisk November Saturday night. I wanted this not so much to sell books, although that’s certainly a part of it, but more to mark an accomplishment that was years in the making. Here’s how it went:
Barnes & Noble’s Bridgewater (NJ) team created posters and displayed them around the store. Honestly, it was surreal seeing this when I walked inside a half hour before the 6 p.m. start, carrying a dozen donuts to give to the staff. First bit of unsolicited advice: Treat the staff well! Talk to them. They’ll be working with you throughout the night, and you might even have a potential customer or two among them. (And the ladies who took the donuts said booksellers indeed get appetites during the day, and were genuinely surprised [and pleased] to have received them.)
Next up, the display. B&N
set me up in the back of the store in an open area where they placed 25 copies of my book.
Barnes & Noble did not provide the Krampus mask. I bought that months ago thinking it would draw attention (and it did) during any events I might do. What I didn’t know was that the store would set me up directly in front of the CHILDREN’S SECTION. Imagine little Jimmy scampering to the back of the store to get some Doctor Who Legos (or whatever) and coming face to face with a howling head of death. Life is scary, Jimmy. Get used to it. Oh, not pictured, but off to the right side, was a table of cookies and brownies. It’s a party, right? Feed the crowd, get folks to mingle. My wife suggested that food be served, and she was right as always.
Six o’clock rolled around and people began filtering in! And the stack of books quickly vanished because my friends and family members were buying multiple copies. I didn’t do any fancy advertising. Weeks, even months, before my release date I printed (don’t worry, it’s inexpensive) bookmarks featuring my cover and contact info and left stacks of them in multiple bookstores. Book sellers love getting things like that and don’t mind customers taking them. Spread the word, baby! Perhaps the most worthwhile thing I did was create an Event on my Facebook Author page and invite every friend on my feed, knowing full well a vast majority wouldn’t show–and that was fine! Honestly, people live in other states, don’t really know you well, or have better things to do on a Saturday night, like getting a tongue stud or maybe getting married.
(Good lord, is my hair receding that much?) Oh! Here’s the line! It didn’t wrap around the store, but it was long enough so that all 25 copies were off the table and in customers’ hands! It took about 15 to 20 minutes for this to happen. I didn’t even get a chance to try to convince a complete stranger to take a chance on me (and that’s gonna be the tough part–a live-and-learn, get-a-thick-spine trial by fire). Notice the gentleman speaking to me in the lower left hand corner? That’s the store manager informing me that the 10 author copies I brought along to sell on consignment–just in case the store ran out of books, which it did–were NOT allowed to be sold on consignment because B&N doesn’t do that. At least this store didn’t. (More unsolicited advice: find out whether the bookstore sells books on consignment before your event. I was under the impression I could, but it was never explicitly stated.) So now I was faced with the prospect of having copies of my book to sell in a book store, but I couldn’t because only copies ordered by the store could be sold. This led to the part of the evening I’ll remember for as long as my brain works. (Thanks Bob Karp for taking photos!)
Now, I couldn’t sell my author copies in the store. But I was never told I couldn’t sell them outside the store. Which led to me acting like a young Henry Hill from Goodfellas, selling non-taxed cigarettes in broad daylight before he gets pinched (“Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut.”).
Yes! That’s right! Ghetto book-selling from the trunk of my car! Although in fairness to me, my product isn’t illegal, to my knowledge, officer. It’s my goal to never leave a customer unsatisfied, even it if means somewhat illicit cash-for-book deals going down near the Men’s Warehouse in Central Jersey. I took a few trips outside with folks to, ah, take care of business. I felt like Walter White, but without (fortunately) the cancer, rage, and crystal meth. (Thanks, Maria Armental for snapping the photo!)
The fun part of the evening wasn’t signing books:
Things I’ve learned signing books (trade paperbacks) early in my fledgling career: Being left-handed is not ideal–you don’t want to crease a customer’s book with your left arm; a good pen helps–Stephen King (yes, that guy) has a wonderful staff that answers questions if you’re professional about it. I wanted to use the kind Stephen used during his recent Revival book tour because, well, you figure that by that point in the guy’s four-decade-plus career, he’d know what to use: a Uniball Vision Elite pen with blue ink; and, lastly, it feels odd signing your name to your book. It just does. The only time you sign your name is on checks or when police take off the handcuffs so you can give written consent to search your trunk. You don’t really think about it when you’re doing it because the cops will NEVER find what they’re looking for–oops! I mean, it’s routine. Do I want to create an autograph with a flourish? These are things you think about during the down hours at work.
As I said, the fun part wasn’t the autographing, it was talking with friends I’d not seen in a long time–months or years, truly thanking them for supporting me. It’s not easy asking someone to part with hard-earned money. It was thanking my wife for putting up with me in the weeks leading up to the event. And it was the goofing around:
I’m thinking Stephen King didn’t don a rabid, slobbery Saint Bernard dog mask during the Cujo book tour in the early 1980s. But what the heck? Thanks again, Bob Karp!
In the end, the event was fun and we sold every copy! I’d heard that a Houghton Mifflin cookbook author, who was in the middle of a multi-city, nationwide book tour, was there earlier in the day for a signing and that our crowd blew hers out of the water. That made me feel good, not because I’m malicious or hold ill will toward cookbook authors, but because I wanted my event to go well, to hopefully make an impression on the store: Authors from smaller presses can do good work and can bring people into the store. I’m not sure what Barnes & Noble was expecting, but I don’t think they expected what happened that Saturday night. My tip to any bookstore manager: if you see an author who wants to schedule a signing and who has an Italian last name, immediately order an additional 15 books. I am grateful that the good folks at Barnes & Noble in Bridgewater gave me a chance there. I also paid my respects by buying a book: Stephen King’s Cell. I walked out of the store that night feeling good about my first event. Hopefully more events, and more fun, await.