Sunday, December 7, 2008

The glamorous life of an author

I want to tell you that being an author is extremely glamorous. But that would be a lie.

For example, just last week I accompanied a fellow short story writer to a literacy fund-raising event in a city about an hour away at the suggestion of one of the publishers of the new mystery anthology containing our latest short stories.

We were to be among “a select group of authors” selling the products of our creativity to admiring readers who’d pay $10 for the privilege of being with us while enjoying “light refreshments.” Our presence would support literacy efforts, allow us to sell books and provide an opportunity to network with readers and other writers.

The fact that one member of our “select group” was identified as “The Icky Bug Man” should have been a sign of things to come.

Chronic lateness, traffic interruptions from a major auto accident and less-than-precise directions caused us to arrive minutes after the scheduled start of the four-hour event. We walked in to find over 30 authors and illustrators smiling hopefully behind long tables lining two small meeting rooms at the back of the restaurant.

The authors and illustrators far outnumbered the customers. And they occupied every square inch of table space. When the event organizer gently urged several of them to make room for us and our book, no one moved.

Eventually, a book distributor took pity and offered a table from her car. Due to space limitations, we found ourselves huddled at one end of the table with “Deadfall: Crime Stories by New England Writers” displayed at the other. We searched for chairs. No one would surrender even an empty seat.

When we looked around the room, we saw that nearly every other author and illustrator was selling material for children. There were dozens of sweet and beautiful children’s books. I wondered if some were written by people who poured all of their sweetness onto the page.

“Don’t they know we write murder mysteries?” my companion whispered. “You’d think they’d be nicer out of fear, if nothing else.”

As the evening progressed, it became painfully clear that the crowd was much smaller than anticipated. It also appeared to be primarily comprised of elementary school teachers. They weren’t even buying many kids’ books. It was beginning to look like “Crime Stories by New England Writers” wouldn't end up in their classrooms, either.

Nonetheless, a few people picked up "Deadfall" and then put it back down. Some even made polite conversation first. One woman said she'd like to buy the book but couldn't because she’d used all the checks she’d brought.

“That’s OK,” I said in desperation. “We’ll even autograph it for you. Just send us the check later.”

It was the only book we “sold.” I was relieved when the woman’s check arrived a few days later. Even so, our meager profit didn’t cover the cost of gas, the peppermints we offered at our table or the copy of “Deadfall” we'd donated to the silent auction.

But we did get something out of the evening: A reality check on the glamorous life of being an author. We also learned that people don’t have to be nice to write nice books. And, in the spirit of life experiences providing “novel material,” I must confess that we came home with some fabulous murder mystery plots involving children’s book authors.

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