Dear Murderati readers:
I am so pleased to have Michelle Gagnon as my guest today. If you haven’t had a chance to meet this engaging new author, I suggest stopping by one of her signings or making a special trip to a conference where she’s appearing. Not only is her work magnificent, her enthusiasm and energy is like a double shot of espresso injected directly into a vein. Michelle is a fellow Mira author, one of the new breed of young thriller writers that make up this year’s list. Her debut, THE TUNNELS, is available now. Without further ado, may I present… Michelle Gagnon!
MISADVENTURES OF A DRIVE-BY SIGNER
MY KINGDOM FOR A GPS
are you doing?”
I said, raising my pen from the title page.
clerk yanked the book away from me, incensed. “Is this a store copy? You’re,
like, going to have to buy this now, you know.”
tried not to get defensive, maintaining a sweet tone as I answered, “But I
wrote it. I already have a copy. Several, in fact.”
It was my fifth bookstore of the
day, and in all fairness to the young man standing before me, I probably should
have waited before whipping out my pen. But I was fried. Navigating through a
sea of Massachusetts drivers in ninety degree heat had shot my nerves, and
honestly, not a single store out of the twenty-odd ones I’d visited so far had
said No thank you, we don’t want you to
sign your book. Initially, in fact, it was an extremely pleasant experience.
I got a glimpse of life if not as an A-list, then certainly a C- or D-list
celebrity, the temporary queen of whichever mall I happened to be standing in.
Particularly in my home state, Rhode Island, I was almost always the first
author any of the staff had ever met in person. Some of them bought my book on
the spot so that I could personalize it for them, which was tremendously
But here, in a suburb of Boston
that shall remain nameless, I was forced by a surly teenager to shell out seven
bucks for my own “defaced” book , then slink back to my sweltering car under
the watchful eyes of mall security.
So goes the “Drive-by Signing
Tour.” It sounds far more glamorous than it is, the words “drive-by” adding a
hint of danger to an otherwise mundane experience. On a drive-by signing tour
you hit as many bookstores as possible in one day, signing every copy of your
book in range. Feeling inspired by J.A. Konrath’s marketing tips blog (which is
chock full of good advice,) I outlined a fairly ambitious schedule for myself.
On the East Coast, I’d hit all the bookstores in Manhattan and Rhode Island, and
as many as possible in Boston and its environs. Then once I returned to
California, I’d divide a regional map into sectors, and would target a sector a
day until I’d covered a swath of several hundred miles in each direction.
Sounds easy, right?
I’m just over three weeks in, and
I’m losing my mind. There were a few things I never factored into my
Thing 1: I
have absolutely no sense of direction. Seriously, it’s embarrassing. I get
hopelessly lost in cities I’ve lived in for years. When I read the story of
that poor family that turned down the wrong road in Oregon and almost all
perished, I decided to never, ever drive in Oregon, because if I could manage
to get lost on a weekly basis in Manhattan (the upper section, where it’s a
grid—I don’t honestly know how anyone finds their way around lower Manhattan),
I’m a goner in anything approaching wilderness. The last time I went camping, I
took a wrong turn out of the restroom twenty feet from my tent, wandered off
into the woods, and had to be rescued by park rangers. Sad, but true. So you
can imagine how well I’m doing now, driving all over god’s green earth trying
to find a bookstore in a haystack. Even with the GPS system we borrowed from a
friend to navigate around Boston, my husband and I got lost and ended up in South
Boston when we meant to go downtown. And I’m not talking about the Good-Will-Hunting-blue-collar-South
Boston, either; this South Boston was far more reminiscent of Boyz in the Hood, with angry looking
young men glaring from porches as we drove past, windows rolled up, my husband
gritting his teeth as he said, “God Damn it, I told you we should have brought
J.A. Konrath apparently hits something like a hundred stores a day. I might be
exaggerating that number slightly, but seriously, the man must be a machine.
The most I ever managed was eight, and that’s counting the one where I was
forced to slink away. Lately I’ve limited myself to a far more manageable three
or four stores a day. It means I’ve had to scale back my plans considerably,
but I’ve become convinced it’s worth it to salvage my remaining shreds of
sanity. Because here’s how the day generally goes:
considerable amount of driving, terrifying/angering those sharing the road with
me while I berate the gods of Yahoo and Google Maps, who snidely tell you to
“proceed from the parking lot 3.5 miles toward Avenue X” without giving you any
clear indication of whether you should take a right or a left out of said
parking lot, (Seriously, has anyone else tried to use these directions? Half
the time you’re sent 3 miles out of the way, and you realize in the end all you
had to do was take a right and drive 100 yards. Maddening…) I arrive at the
store. The next goal is to find every copy of my book, which also sounds much,
much easier than it is in actuality. At one store I had four staff members
searching high and low for forty minutes before ten copies were found in the
Cooking Section. Another time I found them filed under “M,” as in “Michelle,”
apparently because someone decided they’d be just as easy to locate under my
first name as my last. Once I’ve found the books, which can take anywhere from
five minutes to an hour, I bring the copies to the information desk if there is
one, or to the register is it isn’t.
Then begins the exciting game I like to
refer to as, “Find the ‘autographed copy’ stickers.” This involves an
increasingly irritated staff member digging through bales of stickers ten deep,
so many stickers that you wonder why they’re not smothering the covers of ever
book in the store. Attempts to offer my own stickers are generally summarily
rejected. After the books are signed and stickered, I offer to replace them in
the shelves…if I’m lucky, they say yes, and then I proceed to re-stock them in
more visible locations throughout the store. And then it’s back on the road, where
I dig through a sea of shredded power bar wrappers, muttering angrily that Lee
Child probably doesn’t have to go through this, before giving up and tearing
across three lanes of traffic to the Taco Bell drive-thru.
Yes, it’s glamorous indeed.
The next time you happen to notice a “Autographed Copy” sticker gracing the
cover of a book on a shelf, take a moment to pause and reflect on how that
signature arrived there, and feel a moment of compassion for the crazed writer
who at that very moment is probably weaving away from an 18 wheeler, clenching
a crushed map over the steering wheel, praying for a GPS system to materialize
on her dashboard.
After graduating with honors from Wesleyan University, Michelle
Gagnon spent five years performing as a modern dancer, modeling,
tending bar, working in a Russian supper club, and walking dogs in
Manhattan. Lured to the West Coast by the promise of halcyon days, she
composed web content during the fleeting dotcom boom. In the aftermath
she survived by founding Infinity Personal Training, specializing in
prenatal and postpartum exercise. She also found a niche writing
health, lifestyle, and travel articles for a variety of publications
such as Glamour, CondeNast Traveler, San Francisco Magazine, and Yoga
Michelle is a member of Sisters In Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers.
Michelle, congratulations on the debut! I so feel for you on the driveby front (and yes, Joe Konrath is a machine. We must not fall into the trap of thinking we can do as he does, for that way surely lies madness…)
I’m very interested to hear from the more experienced (more experienced than I am) authors, though – is it as valuable to sign paperbacks as it is to sign hardcovers? Does that still make a difference in your store placement?
Congratulations on this grand debut! And welcome to the world of drive-by signings.
I, too, was accused of a crime on my first book tour. One customer in a Barnes & Noble accosted me as I signed my book, screeching, “You’re defacing that!”
Security was called. I.D. was shown. We parted as friends.
But he never did buy that book.
Welcome to Murderati, Michelle! Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Maybe Santa will bring you a GPS!
The terrors of drive-by signings! It is really awful at times. I’m glad that I hired a media escort to help me out with my debut. In fact, going with a buddy can help mitigate the pain of it.
I think that it is important–whether you are a hardcover or paperback writer–to do those drive-bys, at least for the first initial books. In some cases, you do meet that enthusiastic bookseller who can promote your books in the future. And also you get a general lay of the land–what bookstores/areas are a better fit for your books, etc.
In terms of mass market books that are reprints, I have no clue whether a signed copy will warrant better placement.
Great story Michelle. BTW you can’t walk into a store in NYC without seeing an autographed copy of THE TUNNELS on the new releases shelf. See you in July!
Welcome to Murderati, Michelle.
Ah, the driveby. With smaller publishers, this can be a true challenge. Like you, I have a difficult time with directions. This comes from being raised in a city with mountains due east and volcanos due west. I’m never lost in Albuquerque.
Also, though UNMP books are sold nationally and with the major distributors, that doesn’t guarantee my works will be in the bookstores I visit — especially out of the SW region. So, I end up doing a lot of visits just to tell booksellers my works exist.
Still, it’s never wasted time and I’ve seen far more of most cities than any gps would ever allow.
The story about the guy making you buy your own book is great. As for signing paperbacks, a few writers and a few chain CRMs have told me that signed books usually get put on an endcap in the chains, a good thing, I would think!
Michelle, it’s good to meet you here, and I look forward to meeting you in person when you come to Seattle Mystery Bookshop, where I work. I promise, we’ll know where your books are! We even provide a huge comfy chair for you (for those who have signed there in the past, we just got a new huge chair that will swallow you up and put you to sleep, but it’s impressive!).
And we can tell stories that other authors have shared with us of nightmare signings – in other stores, obviously!
Signed paperbacks sell better than unsigned ones, generally. People like the added little extra. At least that’s been my experience. I’m always tickled by the look in people’s eyes when they realize that no, just because the book is signed by the author doesn’t mean we’re going to charge extra. Generally, anyway.
And I’m absolutely not laughing about getting lost! I get lost in baby malls, and there are some towns where the population is…oh…20, and I get lost there too. You have my total sympathy!
What a great book promo war story! I look forward to reading your books — and to high-fiving a fellow “directionally challenged” person if I ever get the chance. (I’m so bad that when I’m in the navigator’s seat on a family trip and I say ‘Turn right,’ my husband instantly says, ‘Left it is.’ Because he just knows. I am the Anti Directionator.)
Michelle, THANK YOU for doing your “drive by” signings! I just wish more authors would consider doing this, or at least signing stock when they pass through airports. Authors never come to my neck of the woods, so finding signed books during my business travels is always a thrill.