Where were you when Borders declared bankruptcy?
I happened to be in the middle of a book tour. Which you might say was Ground Zero for an author.
Part of being on tour includes doing what we call "drop-ins." Basically, you drop into a bookstore and sign copies of your books, which are then slapped with a sticker that says "autographed copy" and displayed prominently, one hopes. There are many benefits to doing drop-ins; of course, you expect the signed copies will sell out faster. And it's generally believed that booksellers can't return signed books for credit, although that's not really true.
You also get to meet lovely booksellers, and shake their hands and thank them for selling your books.
The day before Borders declared bankruptcy, I was in Dallas. My media escort took me around to several Borders and Barnes and Noble stores to sign stock. There was no getting around the fact that in the Borders stores there was uncertainty in the air, bare tables, and employees putting on a brave face. I thanked them all profusely, and when we were back in the car, driving to the next bookstore, my media escort and I kept checking our email for any news concerning these nice employees' fates.
The day that Borders declared bankruptcy, I was in Austin. My media escort decided not to drive me to any Borders to sign stock, which meant I went to about half the places I had the day before. I signed half the books, shook half the hands. And tried not to think about what this meant not only for those nice employees, but for my future as an author.
While we in the industry understand that it was a series of poor business decisions over a period of years that led to Borders' current situation -- decisions that were not always directly related to the selling of books -- the general public does not. They read the headlines only, and of course what they take away from this is that not enough people are buying books. Or, at least they're not buying books at Borders.
And maybe this is true. It's very hard to take an optimistic look at the situation, right now. I try, we all try, but it's just difficult. All I can think about are the nice people whose hands I shook the other day. I looked at the list of stores that were slated to be closed; several of the ones I had visited were on it.
I also can't stop thinking about the books I signed, and the book I have coming out, and wonder who's going to buy them, and where.
The night following the day that Borders declared bankruptcy, I was in an independent bookstore called BookPeople, where I talked about and signed copies of my book.
BookPeople was packed. Lots and lots of people were there -- book clubs were meeting in the café; the upstairs was full of people listening to me yammer on; and a consistent stream of customers were roaming the aisles, a book or two in hand, occasionally stopping to ask one of the friendly staff members for a recommendation. In such an environment, I could almost forget about the news of the day and indeed, I think I did. For an hour, anyway.
There was a marquee on the outside of the store listing all the authors who were scheduled for events in the upcoming weeks. If you don't know my name, I guarantee you know the names of many of the other authors listed.
I thought about taking a photograph of my name up there on the marquee, just one name among several -- all of whom write books, love books, read books. All of whom need bookstores -- all bookstores, selling all formats of books -- to thrive. I didn't take the picture, although now I wish I had.
I bought two books after my signing, and declined the special discount they offered me as a thank you for my reading. I wouldn't hear of it--I never hear of it when bookstores do that. Some even try to give you a free book, as a way of thanks. I always thank them, and buy one instead.
The night after the day Borders declared bankruptcy, I paid full price for two wonderful books. And as I did, I offered up a little prayer that others were doing the same.
It seemed the only thing to do, under the circumstances.
Follow Melanie Benjamin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MelanieBen