Excuse me, but where’s the restroom?

Years ago I wrote local histories for publishers like Windsor, Donning, American Historical Press, and Arcadia. The nice people in their publicity departments arranged for me to appear at book signings at places like County fairs, Costco, Barnes and Noble, and other bookshops that are no longer around.

Because these publications generally were large format coffee-table picture books, I didn’t have to bring the books with me. All I had to do was hop in a plane, claim my rental car, and drive to the bookstore. There, I’d park in a remote part of the lot and change into author clothes. That usually meant wiggling into pantyhose in the front seat of the car, quickly squeezing into my suit skirt, and sometimes pulling a tee shirt off and a sweater on, hoping no one strolled by in front of the windshield and call the cops for indecent exposure.

Inside the store, I was greeted warmly, placed at a table right by the front door with a stack of books, and abandoned. Customers sometimes knew why I was there, but most nervously walked around me.

I learned to smile at the people walking in who thought I was A) the official greeter; B) purveyor of directions C) the checkout line. The most common question was “Can you direct me to the bathroom?”

When I was through, the chair and table would be removed, I’d autograph a few books (if requested by store personnel), slap a little gold sticker on them that said “autographed copy” and head back to the car where I’d furtively change back into airplane clothes and head for home.

How things have changed.

I attended my first-ever fiction book signing Saturday at Francis Ford Coppola Winery near Healdsburg, Ca. Sharon Hamilton, a successful local romance author, organized the event. Thirteen of us sat in a room with our books in front of us, various items of swag, and big smiles. Those attending bought a ticket to attend.

Questions were “what are your books about” or “how long have you been writing” or “what is your opinion of Pushkin and Chekhov.” Fortunately, I minored in Russian Studies so I could answer the last one. People drifted in all afternoon, sipping wine, munching on dainty desserts, and buying books. One woman left with two bags full.

Sure, they get free stuff. They get bookmarks and magnets and paper fans. At my table, I gave away plastic wine corks, pencils with my book names on them, and candy kisses. The best part? I talked to so many people I was hoarse by the end of the day.

I guess if you’re Nora Roberts or Janet Evanovich your publisher might send you off on an all-expense-paid book tour where you give a little talk and then sign books. At least that’s how it was in the old days. Now I suspect tours are arranged by the author’s publicist and the author pays her own way.

Saturday’s event was fun. I made lots of new friends and hopefully gained some new readers. And not one person asked me the location of the restroom.







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