Bookstore Bingo Is Worse for Authors

04/19/2011 12:16 pm ET | Updated Jun 19, 2011

The Huffington Post just ran another edition of Bookstore Bingo, the odd things customers say to staff in bookstores, but most authors can usually outmatch those stories.

When you start appearing in bookstores at the beginning of your career, you're worried about how you look, how you sound, if people are connecting with what you're reading, if you handle the Q&A with wit and substance. You're usually not expecting bookstore bingo.

Nobody prepares you for the fact that being out in public, you're exposed to all sorts of comments, and to questions you could never imagine asking an author yourself.

At one reading on my first book tour, someone aggressively asked me, "What does your book have to say to women?" I was so surprised, my reply was a feeble joke: "It says 'Buy me!'"

Well, what would you have said?

Someone else asked about that same book of short stories, "Why should I buy this book?" I was dumbfounded. I'd done a reading, I'd answered audience questions about the book and myself for half an hour, and this customer still wasn't convinced? A quick-thinking friend standing nearby said, "Well, if you count the number of stories, and check the list price, each story prices out at less than a dollar, and that's a pretty good deal, don't you think?" She did think so, and bought the book.

Someone else who sounded like The Situation came up to me on another tour for that collection and said that my stories seemed short. He wondered if maybe "they left something out at the factory." I assured him the book was printed as I'd written it.

It got more personal than that. Through a very odd chain of events, I ended up on the cover of my first book of short stories. Yes, that's me, back when I was lifting very heavy weights and had a lot more muscle on me. A fan came up to me and said I must have really nice armpits. Another said that he had found my book very inspiring and he read parts of it in the bathroom. He leered in case I wasn't following.

How did I respond to TMI at this signing? "Thanks! I really appreciate it!"

He bought another copy for a friend.

And then there was the guy who wanted to know during Q&A if I was circumcised because I'd written about a Jewish character who wasn't.

I told him to ask my editor.