We are so pleased to have Michelle Gagnon on Killer Year. If you haven’t had a chance to meet this engaging new author, I suggest stopping by one of her signings or making a special trip to a conference where she’s appearing. Not only is her work magnificent, her enthusiasm and energy is like a double shot of espresso injected directly into a vein. Michelle is a fellow Mira Deadly Seven author. Her debut novel, THE TUNNELS, is available now.
Without further ado, may I present… Michelle Gagnon!
MISADVENTURES OF A DRIVE-BY SIGNER
MY KINGDOM FOR A GPS
“What are you doing?”
“Signing.” I said, raising my pen from the title page.
The clerk yanked the book away from me, incensed. “Is this a store copy? You’re, like, going to have to buy this now, you know.”
I tried not to get defensive, maintaining a sweet tone as I answered, “But I wrote it. I already have a copy. Several, in fact.”
It was my fifth bookstore of the day, and in all fairness to the young man standing before me, I probably should have waited before whipping out my pen. But I was fried. Navigating through a sea of Massachusetts drivers in ninety degree heat had shot my nerves, and honestly, not a single store out of the twenty-odd ones I’d visited so far had said No thank you, we don’t want you to sign your book. Initially, in fact, it was an extremely pleasant experience. I got a glimpse of life if not as an A-list, then certainly a C- or D-list celebrity, the temporary queen of whichever mall I happened to be standing in. Particularly in my home state, Rhode Island, I was almost always the first author any of the staff had ever met in person. Some of them bought my book on the spot so that I could personalize it for them, which was tremendously validating.
But here, in a suburb of Boston that shall remain nameless, I was forced by a surly teenager to shell out seven bucks for my own “defaced” book , then slink back to my sweltering car under the watchful eyes of mall security.
So goes the “Drive-by Signing Tour.” It sounds far more glamorous than it is, the words “drive-by” adding a hint of danger to an otherwise mundane experience. On a drive-by signing tour you hit as many bookstores as possible in one day, signing every copy of your book in range. Feeling inspired by J.A. Konrath’s marketing tips blog (which is chock full of good advice,) I outlined a fairly ambitious schedule for myself. On the East Coast, I’d hit all the bookstores in Manhattan and Rhode Island, and as many as possible in Boston and its environs. Then once I returned to California, I’d divide a regional map into sectors, and would target a sector a day until I’d covered a swath of several hundred miles in each direction. Sounds easy, right?
I’m just over three weeks in, and I’m losing my mind. There were a few things I never factored into my calculations:
Thing 1: I have absolutely no sense of direction. Seriously, it’s embarrassing. I get hopelessly lost in cities I’ve lived in for years. When I read the story of that poor family that turned down the wrong road in Oregon and almost all perished, I decided to never, ever drive in Oregon, because if I could manage to get lost on a weekly basis in Manhattan (the upper section, where it’s a grid—I don’t honestly know how anyone finds their way around lower Manhattan), I’m a goner in anything approaching wilderness. The last time I went camping, I took a wrong turn out of the restroom twenty feet from my tent, wandered off into the woods, and had to be rescued by park rangers. Sad, but true. So you can imagine how well I’m doing now, driving all over god’s green earth trying to find a bookstore in a haystack. Even with the GPS system we borrowed from a friend to navigate around Boston, my husband and I got lost and ended up in South Boston when we meant to go downtown. And I’m not talking about the Good-Will-Hunting-blue-collar-South Boston, either; this South Boston was far more reminiscent of Boyz in the Hood, with angry looking young men glaring from porches as we drove past, windows rolled up, my husband gritting his teeth as he said, “God Damn it, I told you we should have brought a map.”
Thing 2: J.A. Konrath apparently hits something like a hundred stores a day. I might be exaggerating that number slightly, but seriously, the man must be a machine. The most I ever managed was eight, and that’s counting the one where I was forced to slink away. Lately I’ve limited myself to a far more manageable three or four stores a day. It means I’ve had to scale back my plans considerably, but I’ve become convinced it’s worth it to salvage my remaining shreds of sanity. Because here’s how the day generally goes:
After a considerable amount of driving, terrifying/angering those sharing the road with me while I berate the gods of Yahoo and Google Maps, who snidely tell you to “proceed from the parking lot 3.5 miles toward Avenue X” without giving you any clear indication of whether you should take a right or a left out of said parking lot, (Seriously, has anyone else tried to use these directions? Half the time you’re sent 3 miles out of the way, and you realize in the end all you had to do was take a right and drive 100 yards. Maddening…) I arrive at the store. The next goal is to find every copy of my book, which also sounds much, much easier than it is in actuality. At one store I had four staff members searching high and low for forty minutes before ten copies were found in the Cooking Section. Another time I found them filed under “M,” as in “Michelle,” apparently because someone decided they’d be just as easy to locate under my first name as my last. Once I’ve found the books, which can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour, I bring the copies to the information desk if there is one, or to the register is it isn’t.
Then begins the exciting game I like to refer to as, “Find the ‘autographed copy’ stickers.” This involves an increasingly irritated staff member digging through bales of stickers ten deep, so many stickers that you wonder why they’re not smothering the covers of ever book in the store. Attempts to offer my own stickers are generally summarily rejected. After the books are signed and stickered, I offer to replace them in the shelves…if I’m lucky, they say yes, and then I proceed to re-stock them in more visible locations throughout the store. And then it’s back on the road, where I dig through a sea of shredded power bar wrappers, muttering angrily that Lee Child probably doesn’t have to go through this, before giving up and tearing across three lanes of traffic to the Taco Bell drive-thru.
Yes, it’s glamorous indeed. The next time you happen to notice a “Autographed Copy” sticker gracing the cover of a book on a shelf, take a moment to pause and reflect on how that signature arrived there, and feel a moment of compassion for the crazed writer who at that very moment is probably weaving away from an 18 wheeler, clenching a crushed map over the steering wheel, praying for a GPS system to materialize on her dashboard.
After graduating with honors from Wesleyan University, Michelle Gagnon spent five years performing as a modern dancer, modeling, tending bar, working in a Russian supper club, and walking dogs in Manhattan. Lured to the West Coast by the promise of halcyon days, she composed web content during the fleeting dotcom boom. In the aftermath she survived by founding Infinity Personal Training, specializing in prenatal and postpartum exercise. She also found a niche writing health, lifestyle, and travel articles for a variety of publications such as Glamour, CondeNast Traveler, San Francisco Magazine, and Yoga Journal.
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