The City Different

The City Different. So Very Different.

I recently held a book signing event in Santa Fe, and it was…horrible. I wasn’t expecting to sell a zillion books, or even a dozen… but it would have been nice to sell a couple. I mean… I sold three in Ruidoso for God’s sake, without any advertising at all! Right? So surely if I make up posters and advertise it in advance, surely I can do better than that in Santa Fe! I can sell four books, maybe even five. Ha, so I thought. I was a fool.

Paul went up there three weeks ahead of time to take them books and beautiful color posters and bookmarks and postcards (all customized for the bookstore) advertising the book signing. The woman was very encouraging, said it was a shame he’d only brought 22 books with him because she thought they could use more, had him sign a consignment sheet, said she’d advertise the event on her website, and Paul left feeling quite pleased about the whole thing. Sure, it was a long drive, but it was worth it!

Well, they advertised it on their website as a book discussion, not a signing. And they got the name of the book wrong, which seemed pretty stupid of them, considering they had 22 of them right there and all and it’s a pretty simple title. Watch, right? How can you get that wrong? (They had it as Match.) But whatever, I was excited. I’d had all those beautiful books there on consignment and with the review in the Alibi and the interview in the magazine plus my appearance in the Literary Review, I figured at least people would have been showing some interest. Maybe even bought one or two.

When I walked in for the signing, I saw a woman arranging clearance-priced books in a box by the door and chatting with a customer who was browsing. He had a little dog, which I petted while I waited a turn to speak with the woman and ask where I was meant to sit. She looked at me with my hands full of more posters and postcards, smiled… and walked away.

I decided perhaps she wasn’t the one to ask, and I went further inside. They have two counters, and I approached the young man behind the one in front. Oh, yes, he says. We’ve been expecting you! Come with me. He leads me to the first woman and tells her I am there. She says oh, great! I will show you where we have set up for you.

…And then she walks past me and starts talking to the dog. Good little doggie. Yes, you are so cute. What a cute little doggie. And then she turns her back and starts talking to the man with the doggie. And forgets all about me, apparently.

The young man stood with me and sort of hemmed and hawed and eventually said he would take me himself, and leads me to an area with three low-slung reading chairs (in which are slung some readers) and says this is the place. Or I can stand behind the counter and speak. Well, I say, I don’t have much to speak about – I am just here to sign books, so I’d probably just sit by the display of books. At this, he says: Oh, yes. Those are over here… and reaches underneath the counter to pull out the box of books I’ve had there all month on consignment – along with all the posters, postcards and bookmarks advertising the event. They never put any of them up. They didn’t display anything.

Then he drags a little table over by the low chairs (the readers left) and tell me to have at it.

And that was it. Paul says ok, well this sucks, see you later and he takes off and I sit in this chair that pitches you back in a relaxed reading position, and people ignore me completely because they assume I am just there to relax – it doesn’t look like an event at all. I’m about four feet away from the books, for one thing. Behind me, forgotten and flapping in the breeze, several handmade posters advertising book signing events from weeks gone by.

The impression that I was just a customer who was resting my feet for a while was compounded when an aunt I haven’t seen in 30 years came in to show support and sat low with me and chatted. Now it looked really, really like I was in no way connected to the funny little display of books on the low table. In the dark corner. Of this dusty and weird little bookstore. Eventually my aunt decides she should buy one of the books.

Remember watching little girls take turns at jump rope back when you were a kid? How the girl whose turn it is has to bob and sway for a few swings to get the rhythm of the rope in her head before she jumps in? She holds her hands up and swings them in circles to get the timing right? That’s what it was like, watching my aunt try to buy this book. She approached the counter and the woman walked away. The woman came back, but turned away the minute my aunt held up the book. My aunt gave me a confused look and then followed the woman all over the store, trying desperately to get her attention, but she evaded every attempt. Finally Aunt Patient returned to the seat next to mine, there to sit and chat for a while and await a better chance.

While we sat and chatted I discovered this aunt used to do this for a living and has contacts at the competition and I should have held my signing there because it’s a much more popular bookstore, much more fashionable, very very Santa Fe, etc… but of course it is now too late, too late: they won’t even allow me in the same room once they know I came to this store instead. I explain that I did try that store but they made me fill out a two page application and never returned our calls, and Aunt says oh yes, they are very very, you know, so very. But I could have gotten you in, if I’d known, she says, and returns to the front to try again to buy a book, does the bobbing and swaying again; Cinderella, dressed in yella, went upstairs to kiss a fella… aha, finally, she jumps in!

And the woman says… Oh, Jesus, she says: No, no…just give the author cash, I don’t want to run it through the register. I don’t want a percentage. I don’t have to do any paperwork that way. That’s how we prefer to do it. Well, I think, no wonder the books were under the counter. She didn’t want to sell them. She literally didn’t want to do the paperwork involved in taking the money.

So it goes, and my aunt returns to me, and digs through her purse, gives me the last of her cash, and heads off to the competition, the other bookstore, the only other bookstore in town, the popular one, the good one, the one that promotes your work, saying she’s headed there to see, you know… her friends, the owners, and talk about some other event she went to last week. Oh yes she’s over there every week visiting and it’s really such a shame I came here first…

I sit alone in my low chair and weep invisibly. Paul returns to collect me. I pack up the books. Paul tries several times to get the attention of Airhead Bookstore Owner to see if she would like to keep a few of the books on consignment but he isn’t too good at the jumprope thing and eventually I tell him fuck it because they won’t display them anyway, and we leave.

And that was how that book signing went.

Lord, how I hate Santa Fe.