Note to justifiably suspicious security guard at Prudential Center Barnes & Noble who was giving me the evil eye earlier today: Relax. I’m not a devious shoplifter casing the store for a future caper. Nor am I a crazy bag lady taking shelter from the rain.
I’m merely a stalker. A stalker of books. Or, more precisely, a stalker of book shoppers.
My recent (i.e., yesterday) discovery that my book is in stock at my neighborhood bookstore – the one I shop in all the time – has turned out to be both a blessing and a burden.
It’s a blessing, because there are simply no words to describe how amazing it is to walk into a bookstore and see your book – YOUR BOOK – sitting on a display table, toward the front of the store, prettily arrayed among the “real” books, looking for all the world like it actually belongs there. You might even be so overwhelmed by the sight that you utter a tiny squeak, turn around, and flee the store in a blind panic. It’s been known to happen.
And it’s a burden because, well, it has exacerbated one of the more unpleasant aspects of my personality – my complete and total inability to ever be satisfied with anything I do. This unfortunate trait came to the fore almost two years ago, when I first began toying with the idea of pursuing a book deal, and rapidly spiraled into near psychosis the further into the process I got:
March, 2005: I’ll be happy if I just get a personal note, rather than a form letter, from an agent, even if they reject my query.
April, 2005: I’ll be happy if they just ask to read the proposal, even if they don’t like it.
May, 2005: I’ll be happy if they just take me on as a client, even if they can’t sell the book.
August, 2005: I’ll be happy if they just sell the book, even if I only get a tiny little advance from the publisher.
September, 2006: I’ll be happy if they just give me a cute cover, even if I end up being an Amazon-only book.
December, 2006: I’ll be happy if I just show up in a bookstore, even if it’s a tiny little hole-in-the-wall in Duluth, Minnesota and they only have one marked-down cop at the bottom of the remainder bin underneath a big pile of deeply-discounted Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus paperback leftovers.
January, 2006: I’ll be happy if someone just buys one copy, even if it turns out to be my dad trying to make me not feel like a total failure.
And so on.
Given this annoying little quirk of mine, it stands to reason that, despite the twisted sense of personal validation I feel every time I remind myself how nice my book looked sitting on the table – and how the comparative shortness of my stack to the surrounding stacks was a happy indication that someone had bought at least one copy - I’ve been in a positive dither about its sales prospects.
Yesterday, when I went into the store, there were four copies on the table. That should have been good enough for me, particularly since, as I said, it was obvious someone had bought a least one. But, me being me, I obsessed all night about those other four copies. What if nobody bought them? What if they sat there, week after week, month after month, until the staff finally threw them into the remainder bin – or, worse, shipped them back to the publisher, unsold?
Goodbye, next book deal.
Given all this worry, how could I stay away? The store is two blocks from my apartment – right on the way to my favorite nail salon, where I happened to be headed this afternoon (Shut up! My nails were a mess! Really!) Thus, despite my best intentions, I found myself “casually” dropping in again today on my way to the nail place. I promised myself it was a one-shot visit - I'd pop in, take a quick gander, and be on my way.
The four copies were still on the table. The stack had not shrunk. Not only that, I saw as my fragile ego shattered into pieces around me, the top copy was a bit askew…as if someone had picked it up, looked at it, and set it back down again! Or, rather, tossed it down again like an old shoe, not even bothering to straighten it out!
I fumed. How dare they? Whoever they were.
I resisted the impulse to reach out and straighten the pile, reasoning that maybe the crooked volume would attract the attention of the next passer-by, who might think, "Hmmm....somebody was interested enough in this book to pick it up. I wonder what that's all about?" and rescue my little tome from ignominous obscurity.
Instead, I did what any self-respecting, consummately professional, soon-to-be-bestselling author would do under the circumstances. I spied.
Lurking behind a display table laden with half-price Christmas cards – a prime vantage point from which to observe the “new non-fiction” table on which my book sat – I spied ruthlessly on my fellow shoppers. For an hour. And my anxiety grew with every passer by, to the extent that I actually found myself hating the people who ambled into my view, viciously berating them in my mind for the sheer audacity of their presence:
Old man in bowling jacket camped out in front of table: Get out of the way! Get out of the way! You’re never going to buy my book, and you’re blocking the access of people who might!
Woman wheeling double-wide stroller slowly down the aisle toward children's section: Oh, for God's sake. Don’t even think about stopping. There are people behind you! Come on – step on it!
Exuberant couple greeing friends in middle of aisle: No! Don’t put your bags down ON TOP OF the books! What are you thinking? Neanderthals! MOVE! MOVE!
Lone woman browsing the opposite side of the table: Just drift on over to the other side…come on…that’s right…a little to the left…okay, stop! Right there! Keep reaching….reach….NO!! Not “Surviving Divorce – a Practical Guide”! Put that down! Damn you! Damn you!
Sour-faced woman flipping through “Why Men Love Bitches”: No, they don’t. Take my word for it and move along.
Bright-eyed, twentysomething woman in cute leather jacket bustling past: Wait – slow down! Look to your left! Look to your left! Come back…pleeeeease…
I'm not sure whether it was my painfully contorted facial expression or the fact that I hadn't changed position in nearly an hour that gave me away, but eventually the security guard at the front of the store took note and began eyeballing me suspiciously. Guilty yet defiant under scrutiny, I scurried over to the display table, snatched up the first book I saw - Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room - and carried it up to the register.
"Hi," I said, smiling broadly at the sales clerk, wondering if he'd recognize me from my author photo.
"Do you have a Barnes & Noble 10% discount card?" he inquired, not looking up.
I did. It was in my wallet, but I pretended I had forgotten it so he would have to ask me my name.
"No problem. We can look you up by phone number." Damn.
I recited my home phone number.
Finally! "Talbot," I replied. "Leslie Talbot," I added, in that expectant tone one uses when trying to prod someone into what should be an obvious connection - as in, You know, the Leslie Talbot with the book that's sitting on your "new non-fiction" table that has sold at least one copy in the past week? THAT Leslie Talbot? Hello?
"Okay, your total is $15.18. Cash or credit?"
I sighed, handed over my debit card to complete the purchase, and exited the store, defeated and depressed.
I was halfway to the nail place when it suddenly occurred to me that, in nearly an hour of lurkage, only one person who visited the "new non-fiction" table had actually purchased a book. Me. Everyone else had simply drifted by, picked up a book halfheartedly, and then replaced it. I found that rather reassuring. It's bad enough when nobody buys your book - but far worse, I reasoned, if people were buying every book but yours.
Thus comforted, I enjoyed my manicure immensely, and, when my nails were dry, strolled out of the salon back into the bright January sunshine. That should have been that. I'd go home, feed my cat, finish my blog update, and maybe grab a bite of dinner with a friend.
Of course, there was that little matter of having to pass by the bookstore again on the way home.
I tried. I really, really tried. But then I remembered that they were having a "two for one" sale on boxed-set TV show DVDs, and, well, nobody loves a good boxed-set TV show DVD more than I. And it wasn't my fault that the DVD section is in the back of the store and the only way to get to it is by walking down the center of the aisle past the "new non-fiction" table. Plus, well, the left-hand side of the aisle was really crowded so of course I had to walk down the right-hand side. And what was I supposed to do then? Not look?
Three copies. Three.
DVDs forgotten, I turned around and went home, not wanting to push my luck any further.
After all, tomorrow is another day.