Mystery author J.A. Konrath, who is on a summerlong odyssey to hit 500 bookstores to support the release of his newest book, RUSTY NAIL, came through my neck of the woods the other day. Joe spent the night at our place. I cooked him dinner (shrimp and grits). Then I escorted him to a bunch of local bookstores the next day. I can report that:
* Joe does not eat leafy vegetables.
* He can hold his own at rum sampling (we made it through about a dozen different labels from my rum bar and agreed that my newest acquisition -- El Dorado 12-year-old from Guyana -- was the very best.)
* Joe is having an affair with a hot chick named Sheila.
Actually, Sheila is the name Joe has given his companion on this journey, a dashboard mounted GPS that speaks in sultry tones and gives directions to all the bookstores that are programmed into her. She's an unforgiving bitch, but at least she doesn't sleep around.
Thanks to Sheila, we managed to hit 10 bookstores in less than four hours. The drill: Joe and I would go into the bookstores, grab our books off the shelves, then go to the customer service desk, chat up the employees, sign our books and then hit the road. Since this was Joe's show, I let him do most of the glad-handing, which he has down pat. He hands out free stuff (drink coasters) and gets booksellers to sign his log book so he can mention every one of them in the acknowledments of his next book, DIRTY MARTINI. This is gonna take something like seven pages of double columns and really small type since there will be thousands of names before he's all done.
My day with Joe was both gratifying and vexing. I'd been to most of these same stores last fall when JAMAICA ME DEAD came out. The paperback of BAHAMARAMA was released at the same time. All these stores had copies of both and I signed lots of books. But at the first four stores where we stopped -- two Barnes & Nobles, a Waldenbooks, and a Borders -- none of my books were on the shelves.
"Oh, those sold really well," said one bookstore manager.
"Gee, that's great," I said, because that was the gratifying part.
"We should probably order some more," the manager said.
To which I wanted to say: "Duh." But I just smiled and said: "That would be nice." Because that was the vexing part.
I can't begin to figure out how these big chain bookstores work, I really can't. It would seem to me that if a book sells really well, then the store would automatically order some more. Ya know? It's that whole supply and demand thing. But the way Joe explained it to me -- because he has become an expert on such matters -- most bookstore ordering and re-ordering is done through corporate headquarters and, while individual stores can jump in and do their own thing, most bookstore managers have so much on their plates that they don't keep track of how individual books are doing and what might need re-ordering.
The good news is that my visits to the bookstores did result in the managers ordering 50-60 copies of my books, and pre-ordering extra copies of the mass market version of JAMAICA ME DEAD (October) and hardback of BERMUDA SCHWARTZ (February 2007.)
Which is actually good news and bad news. Because now I am wondering: Holy shit, what does it take to keep your books on the shelves these days? Am I gonna have to hit the road and go to a thousand bookstores? Is this the plight of the modern author—to write books as quickly as possible then spend the rest of the time on an endless journey to bookstores, schmoozing with booksellers and reminding them to please, pretty please, re-order your books if they sell the ones they've got?
All I know is that I am shopping around for a GPS to mount on my dashboard. I think I'll call her Tawny. And I'm gonna program her to talk dirty to me...