Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Brought up short

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I had a very disagreeable encounter this afternoon, and while I suppose it's happened to many, many authors, this latest turn of events has made me quite miserable.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I don't get a lot of pleasure out of being unpleasant to people. I also will often turn the other cheek rather than risk calling someone down. Embarrassing people to get something back at them is not a good way to promote books, either.

So, no matter what goes wrong at a book signing (books not ordered, store forgetting you're coming, nothing set up), I keep a cheerful face and tell them not to worry, we can make it all work somehow. I always have my happy face firmly in place.

Not today.

This afternoon, arranging book signings like all relatively unknown authors have to do for themselves, I called around to a few Chapters stores. I've signed before at over half of them in the GTA, and even know the names of many of the managers. They're always welcoming because I do good book signings (regardless of what goes wrong) and they're happy to have me back.

One I hadn't signed at was the Brampton store. The phone was answered by a very cheery staff member who told me that the store loves selling mysteries and put me on to the manager on duty. There I hit a very hard stone wall indeed.

It appears this store, unlike every other one I've ever contacted has a committee that vets all books before allowing someone to sign there. After introducing myself and giving her a little information about the book, I was told, "Just drop by with a book and we'll discuss it in one of our meetings and get back to you on what we think."

For the first time ever, I bridled and told her first that I was deeply insulted. "I have six novels published and I'm not going to bring you a free book so you can decide whether I'm worthy or not to sign at your store."

"I'm sorry you feel that way," the woman said in her best corporate soothing manner.

We shared a few more words of little moment, but when I hung up, I was shaking. As I thought things over, it soon became clear that this manager had no idea who I was. That isn't all that surprising. I often tell people that there are uncharted millions who have yet to enjoy one of my novels. Did this manager of a suburban Chapters store have any idea how humiliating it was to be put right back to square one: a neophyte author who has to have their book "auditioned" in order to do a signing? Sure, I'm not Ian Rankin here, but after six novels I shouldn't have to put up with crap like this.

Wouldn't it have been much smarter for her to use the time she was talking to me to look up my books on their system, see that I'm someone who's a little bit farther up the publishing ladder, and then tailor her response to the situation?

Chapters stores have uniformly been very good to me, and the few disasters that have happened did not really matter in the great scheme of things.

But the one thought that remains at the end of it all is this: something has gone very wrong when a bookseller feels that they are doing the author a favor by allowing him or her to sign in their store. I think it's supposed to be the other way around. If nothing else, the monetary return for the store is far greater than it is for the author. They only have to order in some books (fully returnable, by the way) and set up a table and a chair. Authors have to travel, often long distances and give up a lot of their time. Who stands to lose more if the event isn't a success?

In the end, it's all a matter of respect.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Rick Blechta

Rick Blechta is the author of the novels Knock On Wood, The Lark Ascending, Shooting Straight in the Dark, Cemetery of the Nameless, and When Hell Freezes Over. A Case of You, his latest novel, will be published in the spring of 2008 with Rendezvous Press.

Go to Rick Blechta’s Author Page