Sunday, October 18, 2009

On the road again: Bouchercon, Indianapolis, day 5

I'm writing this part of the blog at 10:45 a.m. and wondering what in the hell I'm doing awake. A Sunday morning, and I'm already up! This is wrong. What could cause such torture?

The Bouchercon book bazaar, that's what. In an exercise in marketing and masochism, I signed up to participate in this event, one that as a fan I would love but as an author dreaded. Picture four long rows of tables, and I do mean long, easily sixty feet or more. Behind each half table sits or stands an author, a hand-scrawled name placard in front of him or her. Each author has 50 books--the minimum their publisher (or they) had to pony up--and some have more. Publisher Toni was mucho generous, so I had 100. Yes, 100 SF mysteries at a mystery convention. Each convention attendee received five tickets, each one good for one book. Additional tickets were available for a buck each. Your mission as writer: move your books.

Ninety asshole-clenching, humiliation-drenched, tense minutes later, and all my books were gone. My hand hurt from signing them. I suck at this. When someone genuinely wanted the books, as many did, it was fun; we'd chat, I'd sign, and off they'd go. Much of the time, however, I looked around forlornly, like a dog willing to take a beating just for the attention. I wasn't the last author standing, but I was in the last twenty for sure, maybe the last dozen.

These feelings no doubt represent my own insecurities more than the reality, because all 100 books went, and the people were unfailingly nice. I just found it difficult.

One woman stood out. She had bought a ton of tickets and was using them to purchase books for troops at medevac stations in the Middle East. She was hoping writers would sign something encouraging for the troops. Good on her. I refused to take her tickets, wrote stupidly encouraging words--what could really help someone there?--and offered her four books. She would take only two. I was proud to shake her hand.

To my great surprise, half a dozen or so folks already knew my work, had read all the books, and were picking up extras for friends. Talking to them was fun, of course.

I suppose if you're one of the writers everyone knows and whose books they all want, then this event is easy and fun. Maybe that'll be the case for me one day; I like to think so. Until then, however, I'll keep doing it--because this sort of marketing is part of the job--but I'll continue to be that perpetually awkward and embarrassed guy behind the table.

Lunch was at a nearby Steak 'n Shake, which was in most respects the same as the one in which I ate once as a teenager. So, it was completely adequate, but no more.

For dinner, we decided to take a chance and try the hotel's revolving rooftop restaurant, the Eagle's Nest. The dinner menu hinted at modern preparations, such as in its foie gras ravioli, the OpenTable reviews were solid, and it's always nice to take in a city from on high. So, off we went.

Mistake. Big mistake.

The chef had probably held the foie gras ravioli near a picture of foie gras, but that was as close as it had come to a goose's liver. The ravioli were lukewarm and paper thin. Sitting atop each of them was a dollop of cold apple butter. Amazing.

The lobster bisque was a burning orange generic seafood soup so thick with pepper that my tongue couldn't shake the taste for several minutes. The wine-poached pear and duck confit salad featured bitter pear slices, so-so duck strips, and greens we could not identify and which frightened us.

The main courses were no more successful, with the chicken tart more a leaky chicken pot pie than a proper tart, and the reasonably tasty duck among the chewiest pieces of meat I've ever experienced. Pepper abounded again.

The highlight of the feature dessert, our waiter told us with great pride, was "in-house made whipped cream." We passed on it. We ordered traditional desserts to go and fled, afraid to open them in the restaurant lest their appearances provoke hoots of laughter. We were right to leave, because both were floating in pure white heavy cream in their little cardboard boxes.

Next time, we go somewhere reliable.


Ticia said...

Let's recap:

You stood behind a wall of books twice as tall as it needed to be.

Every book went home with someone other than you.

People who have read your books like them enough to a) read them all, and b)take duplicates to friends.

I'm sorry the time was excruciating for you, but your books are wonderful and this morning proved it.

Mark said...

Your implication, which is that I should not whine, is right, of course, and Jennie said the same thing.

I don't know about the wonderful part, but thank you for the kind words.

Todd said...

I've read all you books too! There are a lot of us out here. :-)

Mark said...

Thanks, Todd, for the encouragement.

Karen Z said...

I think the signing sounds like a great success!

How was the view from the top of the hotel?

Elizabeth said...

I'm somewhat skeptical that you will suddenly stop feeling uncomfortable at having this sort of attention focused just because you've sold a few million books (you know, when you do). Even in areas where you've exceeded everyone's wildest expectations of success (say, sales) you still don't like accolades and attention. Maybe that's just who you are. And that's OK. And personally, you whine precious little compared with others in far less overwhelming situations. Sorry if the compliment is embarrassing! ;-)

Mark said...

The book bazaar probably was a success. It just left me shaky; my flaws, no one else's.

The view was quite lovely.

Mark said...

Thanks, Elizabeth, for the kind words. I'll hope to have to confront the issues of selling millions of books.

I still whine too much.


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