I’d originally planned to write about something different today (stingrays? Barbies? best dinners on a Wednesday night? you’ll never know!) but with the news earlier this week that Borders is closing it’s remaining stores, I changed my mind in order to share an experience I had in San Diego six years ago.
When KILLER SWELL came out in 2005, I spent a week out in Southern California doing book signings and promoting the book. The novels take place in San Diego and I lived in SoCal for 26 years, so it was a natural fit – not only was there a local tie-in for the book, but I knew I could also draw decent crowds at signings. Win, win.
All of the signings were scheduled for the independent stores in San Diego and Los Angeles, but during the day, I criss-crossed San Diego, Orange County and LA, signing every copy of the book I could find in the large chains.
There had been some confusion with the release date and many Barnes & Noble stores didn’t yet have the book. There was a snafu within the complicated ordering system and many of the stores that had ordered the book had yet to receive it. No one’s fault, but it was frustrating.
I’d spent the day hitting every B&N I could find in San Diego and I think I found four copies. I was frustrated beyond belief. I stopped at an In-N-Out in Mission Valley to grab a bite to eat before heading back to my buddy’s house in Fallbrook, tired, whiny, just pretty much done for the day.
Across the way from the In-N-Out was a Borders.
I sat at the outdoor table, eating, trying to talk myself into going into the store to see if they had any copies. Somewhere between the last fry and the end of the neopolitan shake, I succeeded in convincing myself to go.
I walked in expecting nothing.
And instead, on the front table, I found about 20 copies of KILLER SWELL. You couldn’t get in the store without tripping over them.
I stood there for a moment, stunned, for a couple of reasons. One, I had never seen that many copies of the book in a store I wasn’t signing in. And, two, I knew that my publisher had not paid for table space. But yet my books were hogging the entire front table.
I went to the counter and introduced myself and before I could even ask if I could sign the books, the guy jumped around from behind the register, shook my hand and said “Oh my God. Our manager is gonna freak that you’re here. We all love your book!”
He ran to the back of the store and was back in thirty seconds with his manager and several other employees. All introduced themselves to me and all had read the book. The manager decided that it was going at the front of the store because he wanted “every single person in San Diego to read this book.” He’d more or less forced the staff to read the book so that they could hand sell it to their customers.
They found a chair and had me sign the books right there in the front of the store, an impromptu signing. We sold several copies of the book right then and there because the employees immediately set to work alerting customers in the store that I was there. They had a ton of questions about the book and the characters and future books. They were funny and smart and loved books and they made me feel like a rock star and I have never forgotten the 90 minutes I spent with them, a fantastic ending to what had otherwise been a crappy day.
When I saw the news that the remaining stores were closing, I thought of those people in that store. They were people who took their jobs seriously and made a difference for authors who were lucky enough to find their books in their store.
And it just sucks that the pool of those kind of people – the people who literally help writers find readers – got significantly smaller this week. It sucks that they lost their jobs and it sucks that they won’t be able to share their passion for books and reading with people who walk through the doors. I feel for each and every one of them.
I thanked each of them about a hundred times that day before I left. I just couldn’t believe what I’d walked into and it was hard to leave and I just wanted them to know how grateful I was.
And I just want to say thank you one more time.