(Book) Signing: Off?

Wow. To have a book signing at Barnes and Noble! “How cool is that?” I would have thought two years ago before the birth of Slow Road Home. (And I do appreciate the invitation and the work towards making it happen.)

In the flood of colors and shapes and attention-sucking displays that assault a shopper’s eyes on walking inside, the fact that my table was perfectly positioned just at the entryway seemed to have little impact on visibility. Even the laptop images and lilting Celtic music simply became a drop in the sensory sea that floods in on the marketed objects that humans become under the roof of commerce. I felt conspicuously invisible.

I resist contributing to that visual noise with my dog and pony show. And yet, I felt a certain detachment–there as an observer, not a participant, with a kind of out-of-body-ness to it all. Local author fly on the wall in a blue shirt and yellow tie, smiling at no one and everyone. *

In truth, while books sold yesterday only put a small dent in the books on hand and stacked on my little desk, it was not an uninteresting couple of hours. And it has never been only about selling books. Yes, I hope for returns, but not in dollars. In the end, I profited from the afternoon in the people to whom I became visible.

A half-dozen folks stopped by who already had the book, and had nice things to say. One lady in particular was especially appreciative. Her daughter insisted she would buy her mom a second book, this one signed on the spot. She and her husband had recently moved here from out west, and SRH helped her to bond with the same landscape I live in and write about.

I spoke at some length with two hopeful authors, both with works at some level of completion, both very interested in “self publication model” on hearing a little of my story. I hope our conversation nudged them forward a little. Sometimes, an encouraging word is all it takes.

One young man saw the poster with my name and came to shake my hand for the radio essay that aired a couple of years ago about hawks mating in the air. I was impressed by his good memory of the piece and gratified to hear those words were not the sound of a tree falling in the forest. Pardon the cliche.

Well, that was it–the last of a long list of autumn events in the life of a reluctant, ambivalent salesman.

I could almost hear the book closing as I left Barnes and Noble at the close of that final event of the year–the second year in the life of Slow Road Home. Another chapter is over. Maybe the book is closed for good now. There are no more marks on the calendar. I feel both relieved and deflated by that fact.

I really don’t know what becomes of the little memoir from here on, nor do I know what to do with myself free of its claim on my time and energy in the dark-still days ahead.

And I wonder: do I have or will I find the energy, having finished a second book, to shine my shoes and get out there and smile and peddle my brushes once more? Can I? Will I? Should I?

* Willie Loman, in Death of a Salesman, was described as “a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back–-that’s an earthquake.” 

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I have a wooden plaque that hangs from the mantle of my fireplace. It says, “DO WHAT MAKES YOUR HEART SING” When I’m puzzling over what to do, I read that plaque and ask myself what my heart wants. The answer always gives me the solution.

    I believe at this stage of life it’s time to get rid of the shoulda, woulda, gotta voice in your head, and listen to your heart.

  2. Absolutely, you keep on! Keep painting those pictures: the hills and creeks of my childhood. The places and peoples that grew me to the person I became.

  3. Barnes and Noble…WOW! OK, sales didn’t boom for you, but I’ve seen that happen to well-known authors more than one time. Maybe if you’d been able to read a piece from your book, or show your ‘slides’ (do they still call them slides?), but even then, it can be so unpredictable.

    I just got an e-mail from a new acqaintance who said my book made her laugh so hard she cried. And I’d worried that she wouldn’t find it humorous.

    We all worry! And your book so touches a chord that it surely deserves more promotion, more sales.

    Don’t give up, Fred. Your message is important.

  4. I once went into “Books Strings and Things” when it was in Blacksburg and Nikki Giovanni was there all by herself signing books with zero fanfare. People weren’t walking by because there were no people in there. I knew then how awkward book signing could be.

    The life of my little book lasted a good couple of years too. I still get a trickle of sales (and sell a bunch to the grief and loss class each year) but the overall momentum has died, as well as my energy for putting it out there.