A Funny Thing Happened at a Bookstore

Typically, I let a stranger’s rude behavior slide, but in this case, I’m thinking of options. I’m generally thinking of those bullying type personalities you find positioned before the public, and specifically, a certain independent bookstore owner I happened across yesterday. The question I’m turning over concerns calling this bookstore owner on his behavior, lest, in my negligence, he persists in his unseemly rapport with other authors. I’ll set the stage first then tell what transpired:

Because I am twenty-one days into evacuation, due to the fires in Malibu ( currently all power is off in my side of town), I have been staying in Santa Barbara, California. Never one to be completely deterred by unanticipated circumstances, and seeing as how it is a scant six months after the release of my 4X, award-winning novel, Mourning Dove, I decided to use my time wisely by visiting the Santa Barbara Public Library and all area bookstores in what was basically a cold call to introduce Mourning Dove. Authors do well in introducing themselves to bookstore owners if they’re prepared with their one-sheet; ISBN; book description; and distribution information. I’m happy to report I’ve had great luck in so doing. It’s led to scheduled events and my book on the shelves. After all, one hand shakes the other in the book business. We are nothing without each other. This is what I was thinking as I entered this particular bookstore, and discovered the owner standing behind the counter.

It was raining in Santa Barbara, which, in Southern California, is always a conversation starter, and which explained why my one-sheet was a bit damp. I told the owner I am a local, traditionally published author of three books, represented by Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Literary Agency. Having researched his bookstore online to discover he carries “new, used, and out-of-print books,” and that they carry books by local authors, I told him I wanted to introduce myself and Mourning Dove. For a few minutes, we discussed the weather, the fires in Malibu, the potential threat of mud-slides, then he cast his eyes on my one-sheet. “This book just won the Literary Classics Words on Wings Award for Book of the Year,” I added, to which he abruptly turned, squared his shoulders and looked me in the eyes. “I’ll stop you right here,” he barked. “I’m not going to buy your book.”

Now then, I’ll digress by mentioning I am a Southerner. We’re big on manners. To a Southerner, there is no more egregious sin than bad manners. And for some reason, I was so startled I reverted to my Southern upbringing and perfunctorily cushioned his blow, in an effort at not leaving on a bad note. “Perhaps I wasn’t clear on your bookstore’s policy,” I offered. “What kind of books do you carry?” His answer–and I’m paraphrasing, was along the lines of you better be Faulkner of a current NY Times bestseller. “You’ve explained yourself clearly,” I said. His reply? “I’ve been DEALING with authors for 40 years.”

I’m going to share a quote by Mya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I’ve been thinking about this episode since it happened yesterday, wondering if I have the right take on it; if I’m too sensitive, judgemental, egoistic, and on and on, though I’m not one to second-guess myself. Plain and simple, when I left the bookstore, I felt diminished. Maybe I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, had he not issued the closing remark of “… dealing with authors for 40 years.”  What this tells me is this bookstore owner thinks its okay to treat authors with such a sorry case of bed-side manners. So much for one hand shaking the other in the book business… In weighing all this, I’ve examined a list of what he could have said, and the whole thing would have happened differently: “Thank you for coming in, this doesn’t sound like something I carry,” this kind of thing.

Now I’m wondering how many authors this man has similarly treated. I’m wondering if any author has ” called him on his stuff,” and concluding probably not.” What occurs to me is that, when in such a quandary, we always have options. In this case, is it better to leave the man to his own devices, or ” call him on his stuff?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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