Written by: Jamie Kornegay
I’m no stranger to book trade shows. I've been to the nationals and regionals, L.A. to New York, Chicago to New Orleans. I've made the rookie mistake of taking too many galleys. I've waited in long lines for signed books, and I've wandered the booths in a blank stupor. During all of those visits -- eight years selling for the famous Square Books in Oxford, and the latest eight for my own store, Turnrow Books in Greenwood, Mississippi -- I was determined to one day attend as an author.
It finally happened this year at SIBA in Norfolk, where I was invited to preview my first novel, Soil, coming in March 2015 from Simon & Schuster. Maybe it's a testament to the familial nature of bookselling that it was an easy shift from bookseller to author.
I write in the quiet dark before dawn, before the kids go to school and before the bookstore opens. I need and crave that lonesome time. I'm never a more functional, cooperative human than when I'm on task and the words are flowing.
Bookselling, on the other hand, is a public endeavor. It's where I reconnect with people, test out ideas, and even collect (steal) bits for my stories. Similarly, the trade shows are a great way to come out of your cave and rejoin the wider bookselling world. It's a time to mine new ideas and tactics, to strengthen connections and forge new ones.
My publisher reps were among my most generous advocates at Norfolk. They're all excited for my book. Most have read it, or are reading it, and now they're crossing company lines to tell booksellers about it.
For me, it affirms their love of books and their abiding friendship. Their sales calls to Greenwood are like visits from old friends. Many are former booksellers themselves, so they understand the challenges I face. They visit so many other stores that they have a solid understanding of the business from a retail and corporate vantage. I think of them as the warm glove on the cold hand of business.
I also ran into several writer friends who'd been to Turnrow over the summer -- Patti Callahan Henry, Michael Pitre, Karen White -- and they were all enthusiastic at my turn as published writer. So it felt appropriate to stand behind the author's table and sign galleys at SIBA's First 180 Days party. It was my first official event in conjunction with the novel, and I was relieved that I knew the drill. Here is where the solitude of creation and the exhibitionism of sales dovetailed.
As I was signing, a bookseller cleverly asked, "Sell this to me as if I were in your store."
Here it was, the sale to be made, just like any other book I love. "Think the Coen Brothers meet Crime and Punishment – in Mississippi," I said, reciting the publisher marketing spiel. And then I began to riff. "It concerns an organic farmer and his estranged wife and son. There's a flood and a dead body. A hasty cover-up and a horny deputy. It reads quick with a care for language. It bounces and twists along on a string of misperceptions. It masquerades as a thriller – not a whodunit so much as, Okay, how the hell are we getting out of this one?"
The bookseller was intrigued enough to pick up a copy, something to take home and consider selling in her own store. Cha-ching! How fun is this gonna be, I thought, when I have a stack to put at the register back at Turnrow?
So I guess what I learned pulling double duty at SIBA is that being an author selling his book isn’t so different from being a bookseller selling someone else’s book. Just like reading is akin to writing. We take these wonderful ideas and experiences into our own private darkness, explore and consume and refashion, and then bring them back into the light to share with everyone. It's a great day job that I just can't quit.