Our small town Hastings isn’t the best bookstore in the world and the service is a little indifferent, but it has a couple of things going for it. (1) It has books and lots of them; and (2) it sells used books, too, and lots of them. I can’t always find something new that will delight Glynn, but some of the older tomes are unexpected treats. And I discovered a (3), to my surprise. Hastings has a separate book rack for local authors. They offer books from writers in my local community, whether self-published or not.
It was like a Christmas miracle.
Even though I’ve haunted the store’s aisles over many years, I’d never seen this selection of books before. This could be because the rack was positioned a little oddly, outside of the path of normal foot traffic and facing toward general nothingness. Or maybe the rack was new, an experimental thing, but I didn’t really care. I loved that there was an entire rack of books by my neighbors, offering their works for purchase. There were at least twenty titles available, some of them by recognized publishers. For the most part, however, I was looking at self-published titles.
I have no snobbery when it comes to small press or self-pubbed books. How could I? Glynn and I have signed with big publishers (one), small publishers (many), and we love publishing our own stuff (and see that as our future). As readers, we'll give everyone a shot, no matter who published their work, but we have certain standards. When we pick up a new title, we expect the cover to be attractive, the layout to be professional, and the story to engage us. If a writer has managed to do those things, she's halfway home to selling us her novel.
In Hastings, most of the books I was looking at failed the first test. It started with the covers...oh, those covers. Many of them weren’t anything close to professional. I picked up one novel because of it's intriguing title – for this blog, let's call it MURDER AT MOHENO-DARO, and we'll call the author "Frieda Grawbler", but neither is anything close to those – but its cover was terrible. The inside inscription was long and rambling, the story's typeface was weirdly stretched and bothered my eyes, and the sticker price on the back was a couple of dollars higher than what Elmore Leonard’s publishers were currently asking. (Glynn likes Elmore Leonard’s stuff, which is why I’d been pricing his paperbacks.) It was a little depressing.
I was still holding the book, one of three copies, and feeling sad for Frieda Grawbler (again, not the real author’s name). Even if her mystery was fantastic, I knew I’d never read it because of those other elements. Most reviewers would refuse to look at it for this same reason, and this shelf on Hastings might be as close as Frieda would ever come to finding an audience. But with a better cover, a more pleasing typeface, maybe a little editing….
I jumped a little when I realized a Hastings employee had come up behind me. Tipping his head toward the novel, he asked, "Are you Frieda?"
Oddly enough, I didn't know what to say. I had absolutely no response. My first thought was, He’s going to ask me for an autograph.
Because, clearly, this tired-looking young man had mistaken me for the real Frieda Grawbler, talented creator of MURDER AT MOHENO-DARO. He’d hovered around the “Local Authors” rack day after day, this secret admirer, hoping to bump into Frieda and tell her –
“Please quit moving your books into the other areas of the store,” he told me. “When you put them with the New Releases, or over with the Patterson novels, I have to bring them back here. Please.”
Then he was gone.
I felt embarrassed. Because, even if I wasn't Frieda, I was still guilty of similar acts. In the past, you see, I’ve visited bookstores and moved my own books from the center bottom shelf to an end display. I’d even done something like that at our local library, bumping our YA novels from the “A - G” area to the more visible “Popular” shelves. On more than one occasion, I’d even shifted friends’ novels to a higher shelf or more prominent location. At those times, all I'd considered was discoverability. I’ve never once thought about the poor employee who is tasked to move the books back.
So, this cold December day, my apologies to everyone who has had to do extra work because of me. I'll try not to do it again. But there is a little cosmic justice in all of this. From now on, whenever I go to the bookstore, the tired-looking Hastings’ guy is going to be watching me. And the next time Frieda shifts her books spine-to-spine with the new John Grisham? I bet I’m going to get an earful.