Saturday, 28 March 2015

Book Fair Nightmares - Clémentine Beauvais

The Paris Book Fair has just ended and, on the French closed Facebook group for authors that I'm a part of, there's been some nostalgic recollections of cult moments from book fairs.

By 'cult moments', I mean those moments when you'd really like to... not be at the book fair.

Because, of course, book-signing is HUGE FUN, especially the French way (2 days on end, for 3 to 5 hours at a time with a lunch break)... You know that time when you're behind your table and you've been signing for hours and your hand hurts like hell? No? Me neither. 

A Book Fair

Here are the 'classics', that everyone's had to endure:

- 'Hi!'
[You, hopeful]: 'Hi!'
'Where's the toilet?'

- 'Hi!'
[You, still hopeful]: 'Hi!'
'Do you know if [famous author] is coming?'

- 'Can you sign this book for my son?'
'I can't, it's not mine, it's Harry Potter.'
'Oh, it doesn't matter, just sign it, will you?'
(alternative version: 'Oh, don't worry, J.K. Rowling will never know!')

- 'Can you draw a little something?'
'I can't, I'm a writer.'
'Can't you try?'

Book fairs are stressful and awkward. You're there with your piles of books, and people drift by, and conspicuously avoid looking at you in the eye when they pick up your book and decide that they DEFINITELY do NOT want it. Or, that they do NOT want their child to have it.

'Put that down!!! Can't you tell it's a girls' book?'

I could have killed that woman, but I only had books and books make terrible weapons.

Sometimes they say, 'I'll have a look around and come back'.
--> HA no you won't.

Sometimes you manage to talk to them a bit and try to handsell your own book (epitome of cringe):

'So it's about three teenage girls, it's a road trip but kind of a maturity tale too [dammit, in which pocket of my brain did I put my elevator pitch?]'
The Parent: 'Hmm. Do you have something a bit like Cherub? My daughter only reads things like Cherub. Do you have a saga? Your books aren't very big. She only likes big books.'

Life is just great right then.

Oh and that:

'NOOOOO I don't want the lady to sign the book!!!' 'But my darling, it's the only reason we bought it!'

There's also those book fairs when you're sitting next to Big Name Author so you kind of become the crowd control person for their line. Don't push! Sir, you're skipping the queue. It's that way. Yes, he's here until ten past. No, he's run out of that picturebook, but there's this one too, which is great too.  Wait, why am I promoting his picturebooks? He hasn't even talked to me!

ZOMG Big Name Author is talking to me!
'Hey, Capucine... Clémence... Célestine... whatever your name is, do you have another Sharpie?'

Then there's the times when you're sitting next to a sleazeball of an author in mid-life crisis who spends most of the very empty afternoon giving outfit suggestions.

'You see, Clementine, this morning I was looking at girls in the harbour and I realised I really like nude back tops. Wouldn't you wear a nude back top?'

How many more hours of this again?

The kids who want you to sign their school diary. Their pencil-cases. Their hands. A Post-it note. Because they are 100% cute, you do it, dying a little bit inside. 'Don't you want to buy the book?' you ask feebly. So feebly that they don't hear you at all and go spend their book voucher on a Frozen book of stickers.

'things we sign'

That woman who stared at me for ten seconds. Ten seconds is a long time to be stared at. And then:
'How old are you?'
(With 'tu', not 'vous'. T'as quel âge, toi? Written language can't convey the disdain.)


But then there's...

Those book fairs which are right by Lake Geneva or the Atlantic ocean.

Those book fairs when kids come back to meet you because they've read the books and studied them in class and you went to their school for a visit.
bonus point if their face is actually an emoticon     
Authors you meet and who are NOT huge sleazeballs and who make these long afternoons and mornings seem very short.

Insa Sané
Zad et Didier

And who are talented illustrators, and play the ukulele, and are actually Keith Richards.

François Place

Nathalie Tual

Keith Richards. Maybe.
And people who bring you pastries or coffee purely out of sympathy GOD I LOVE THESE PEOPLE THANK YOU 

There's always an 'end-of-summer-camp' atmosphere when book fairs are over. We say goodbye, thank you for the good times, I still owe you a drink, really nice to have met you, finally, really nice to see you again, looking forward to when that book you were telling me about comes out. See you soon at another book fair, maybe! No doubt. But probably in a year or two. You'll have had that baby by then... yes, hopefully! Will the next book fair be as disastrous? I never want to do another book fair. Will the next book fair be as amazing? I don't want to go home! How many books did you sell? ... Ha, me neither.

It's exhausting, hilarious, terrifying and nightmarish. The next one for me is in less than two weeks' time. Can't wait.


Clementine Beauvais writes in French and English. She blogs here about children's literature and academia.


A Wilson said...

Thank you for this - it made me laugh! My "favourites" are: "Are you related to Jacqueline Wilson?" "Have you met Jacqueline Wilson?" "How much money do you have?" and "I'm just having a look today because it is easier to buy books on Amazon."

Penny Dolan said...

Lovely post - and that lake must ease the soul anyway! Also there's the matter of managing your reaction when - sat too long between popular long-queue authors - a child (and parent) actually do come up to you! The surprise and joy feel so great ("You mean you actually want my book? Not some mistake here?") that you can end up warbling effusively - and watching the child start to wonder if they really do want a book written by such a weirdly over-reacting author!

Clémentine Beauvais said...

Hahaha yes being called Wilson must be very confusing for the little ones!

The Amazon one unfortunately I recognise too - and being asked to sign a piece of paper that they will 'put in the book when they receive it'...

And Penny, that's definitely an experience I've had too - I think people actually find it very sweet when authors overreact :)

Joan Lennon said...

Laughed and cringed with you all the way!

Emma Barnes said...

Made me laugh, Clementine!

I've been asked to sign books by Roald Dahl (to be fair, this was at an event where the bookshop had run out of copies of my books.) So I did. I reckoned he wouldn't mind.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Oh, yes, sounds familiar! I've been at tables next to people much better known than me. And then there are the booksellers who haven't brought any copies of your books. A friend of mine brings his own, just in case, and hands them to the booksellers to sell for him. Otherwise, you get kids who want your book and parents who say firmly, "We can't afford it, Jimmy." Then they *might* buy it if you give them a special price.

But sometimes there are pleasant surprises. One time, the bookseller had brought copies of my YA novel to a children's book fair and they actually did sell some to primary school kids. Who came and got me to sign them. And there are the ones who want their picture taken with you, even if, you suspect, they haven't heard of you. But it's nice. I take a pile of bookmarks with me to sign. They'll accept a freebie and there's enough info that they might just buy it later.

When my novel was supposed to come out and hadn't, yet, the publisher gave me bookmarks, posters and a sample chapter to take. I was sitting next to someone with a long queue and said, shamelessly, with a big smile, "While you're waiting, would you like a sample chapter? I'll sign it for you."

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Absolutely brilliant! We all recognise ourselves here Clémentine, but you've said it better than most! Bitter sweet and yet we do it! If we're not out there do we exist sort of thing??? The cameradie of other authors is certainly a bonus.

Anne Booth said...

That was a great post!

C.J.Busby said...

Very funny - and I recognised much of it from bookshop signings. But what a mammoth undertaking - all day over two or three days! Phew!!