On the Road: The Book Tour
/by David Appleby/
I step into the bookstore pulling my trolley loaded with two cardboard boxes neatly packaged with my newly released book, Love Sketches, and a smaller box containing handouts– bookmarks, post cards, pamphlets that carry excerpts of book reviews and reader responses, free items available to all. I am here to read from my collection of stories, to engage in Q and A with the audience, and I hope that I‘ll turn an audience of listeners into an audience of patrons–specifically, that the two stories I’ll read today will encourage all of them to buy my book. True, the press release states ‘come meet and greet David Appleby, author of ‘Love Sketches.’ Added slyly is the comment that I will be signing my new book. Will they know that in this case signing is a euphemism for purchasing? I take all of this in stride, for this is how the game works. The author as huckster.
The bookshop owner reads from the back cover of my book, first the synopsis and then the ‘about the author’ paragraph. Impulsively, he snatches one of the handouts and reads from a book review. In a few minutes he moves from the podium with a nod and incites applause from the audience and then quietly leaves the area.
I recall reading that another writer in similar circumstances had been asked if he felt nervous before a reading. ‘No,’ he answered. ‘I get nervous that no one will show up.’ Not a problem for me: about 25 to 30 people are in their seats. But then my nerves unleashed a hit and run attack a moment later when I thought: What if they listen then leave without buying a single book?
With that thought I drain half of my bottle of water. As I look over this gathering, a young man enters our space, excuses himself into a row close to the front and takes a seat. I see that he is clutching a rather thick manila envelope; he slips out of his jacket effortlessly, shifting his envelope from one hand to the next while his empty jacket sleeves swing and flap from side to side. I wait until he is settled. As if I had asked, he smiles at me. So I begin.
And I conclude to applause. Two short stories, one aimed at the college students in attendance, the other to the 30s to 40s. I ready for the Q and A period.
Q. Are any of the stories in your book autobiographical?
A. No. Not a one.
Q. Where do you get your ideas from?
A. Experiences, mine and others. Mostly, I imagine. I imagine what it’s like for a girl to have a husband like that… indifferent to her in the face of her crisis, a husband caught up in his own life, not hers, not their life together. (I’m referring to one of the stories I had read; a brief exchange of views with the 30s to 40s in the audience takes place.)
After a flurry of give and take the owner returns to quell the discussion, and I move to the table set aside for me to sign–that is, sell. My books have been lined up, ready for me. Two felt tip markers and a fresh bottle of water have been placed on the table behind a poster baring the cover of my book.
My nerves now counter-attack as I see at least a third of the audience disperse throughout the store and out of sight. But in the next moment a line begins to form at the table and I’m selling books. Signing them, too.
As I look up at the next person in line, I notice the fellow with the approving smile and the fat manila envelope. He leaves his place and moves to the end of the line. He would do this twice more and then, dense though I am, it hits me full force. I’m about to have a Graham Greene experience.
The great novelist had completed the final chapter of a novel and needed a break from it all. He left England for Africa, and while relaxing on the veranda of his hotel he peered off into the distance and saw a man emerge from the high grasses and walk directly toward the hotel. He was carrying a parcel under his arm. Greene sat up. Could it be, he thought? Could it be? Here in the African savannas? Yes, it could be.
The man approached and asked: ‘Mr. Greene, I heard you were here. Would you read my manuscript?’
And now my nerves opened a counter-attack. I signed a book to ‘Gretchen,’ shook hands and posed with her while her friend took our picture.
And then he stood before me with his friendly smile and his thick manila envelope.
“ I wonder,” he began, “Mr. Appleby, I wonder if you would mind…” He pulled open the flap of his fat, manila envelope.
I drank the bottle of water in one long swallow, wishing all the while it had been spiked with gin.
This piece is one in our series of Industry Insider articles.