Here's the thing about being an introvert, at least for me. I need long stretches of time where I need to be alone. I don't do well in crowds or in offices. I love talking with people, if it feels real. Otherwise, oftentimes I would rather write or read a book.
But this past week, I started feeling like I was in serious trouble. My heart ached. I often found myself in tears. The negative voices were constant and at high volume in my head. I talked to Mike. I cried. I talked to long-distance friends. That helped. But it became clear to me that I had been in seclusion for a little too long. I needed to actually see people and be around them for a while.
Luckily, I was scheduled for a book-signing event this weekend. So yesterday morning, Mike and I loaded up some books and headed down to Here's the Scoop at Jamestown. We had visited this store the week before and met Nan, the owner. So I had a sense of the situation—a small shop, charming, with books local crafts, and the owner's baked goods. Nan had set up a table for me in the store and handpicked some flowers and put them in a beautiful vase. I felt welcome immediately.
Then came the challenges. I knew that if I walked into a store, and I saw an author with her books at a table, I wouldn't want to see her reading on her phone. But when I'm out in public and I don't know what to do, that's my favorite option. So, yesterday, I tried to stay in the moment, to sit and look out. Sometimes, that was hard. With some people who came in, it was clear to me that they weren't interested in what I had. I was front and center in that store. You had to make a point of avoiding my eyes, and some shoppers did.
I know there are different philosophies about what is then the appropriate thing to do. Some encourage engaging with this type of customer. When they walk by, call out to them,“Hey, do you want to hear about my books?” For me, this type of approach would feel like I was stabbing my eyes with a stick. It's not the way I would want to be treated when I walked in a store. So, if people came in and gave me the total cold shoulder, I let them go. I trusted in my books. Who was supposed to come and talk with me? Who were naturally drawn to my work? I didn't want people to feel coerced. I didn't want to talk to people who didn't want to talk to me.
When people did come over, I did not do a hard sell. The connection was more important to me than a purchase. So one young man came in and said he had always wanted to meet an author, and we had quite a chat. Right away, he told me he didn't have any extra money to buy a book, and I said I understood. So we talked about books we loved. He told me his favorite author was Stephen King. I told him what King books I had read, and why I liked them, and he told me about King's final book in the Dark Tower series, where all the main characters from all his books showed up. Even King showed up as a character. It was a moment at the book signing where my mind was blown. I seriously am thinking about whether I need to take the time and energy to invest in that series just so I can get to that book. At the end of our conversation this young man asked me for my autograph, “just in case you get famous someday,” and I rustled up a pen and a piece of paper, signed it, and thanked him for coming in.
Another woman seemed very interested in The Loudest Meow. Then she opened up the book and read the first page.
“Oh, no,” she said, backing away. “No, no.” Her eyes met mine. “I can't read that.”
She told me it was very hard for her whenever her animals died. She did not want to spend her free time reading a book that started off with the death of a cat. Again, I understood. I told her why I wrote it, how it was a way for me to deal with my grief, to celebrate my cat, to imagine the trouble and adventures that she went through once she passed away. But it wasn't a book for her. So we talked about her animals for a while. She had a menagerie, not only cats and dogs, but lovebirds, ferrets, and chinchillas. Some animals got along with each other; others had their own turf.
And I did end up selling books. A young girl told her mother that she really wanted my book, and she promised to read it. Another woman bought the book and invited me to join a social group in town. Another told me about her sister, who worked at a no-kill shelter. She had me sign the book for her. My friends came in and supported me. A woman wanted to know all about my process, the drafts, the edits, the revisions, the people who helped me. It made her feel good to know how much I worked on these books. I know another book is ending up in a granddaughter's Christmas stocking.
There were charming moments throughout the day. I met a lot of small dogs. There was an adorable baby girl in a pink bonnet. People took pictures. When Mike went to get us lunch, he brought back my favorite potato chips, Ruffles sour cream and cheddar cheese. It's quite comforting to have your partner by your side along with a bag of your favorite chips.
By the end of the day, I felt I wanted to do more of these events. It felt good to be out in the world a bit. I liked meeting people and sharing my books. It turned out to be something that I quite liked to do.