So I worked at the high-end kitchen store today. At the end of my shift, I drove over to The Awesome Book Store to chat with the owner about my book. I had already met the book buyer a few weeks ago, and she had given me a fantastic review of my book (“You have a typo on page 85”) and offered me the chance to have a book signing party (“I guess nothing else is going on the evening of January 21 … tell you what, if you pay for all the wine, we’ll do it.”). I was super-excited to finally meet the owner and to leave a few copies for the staff (with the ulterior motive that they might recommend my book to customers).
That was my plan.
Things don’t always work out the way you planned.
I walked into The Awesome Book Store with five books tucked neatly inside my purple and gold paper bag with the bumble bee logo. I approached the counter, where a cheerful woman who appeared to be in her early 30’s was reading a book.
“May I help you?” she asked, looking up from her book.
“Yes, please. May I speak to the owner?”
“That’s me. I’m Elena. What can I do for you?”
“Uh, hi! I’m MOV, and I spoke to—”
“Oh, sure! She said you’d stop by. So nice to finally meet you!” She shook my hand firmly, but for a moment I thought she might walk around and give me a hug instead.
“Great! Uh, great!” I was not used to people being so happy to see me. Just this morning, The Boss had greeted me with, “Oh—you. I forgot I had you on the schedule.” Then she had mumbled something that sounded like “Dammit.”
I struggled with my bag, then unwittingly dropped all five books on the floor. I hastily scooped them up and set them on the counter.
“I, er, I wanted to leave your staff some copies of the book. My book. Mom’s Had A Crappy Week.”
“You mean Mom’s Had A Rough Day?” she pointed to the cover.
“Yes! That’s what I meant.”
“Did she mention that we can’t technically sell the book here at our store for you until after your event? We promote the event in the weeks leading up to it, then they are available that night. Not before. That’s our policy.”
This was one of those times that Queen Virgo would ask to speak to a manager or the owner. But, Elena had already told me she was the owner, so instead I said,
“Sure! I know, she already told me. That’s totally fine. I don’t want you to sell any of my books! I mean, uh, I want you to sell all of them, but not until the launch party. These are only samples, I mean, preview copies. For the staff.”
“Oh, okay. Well that’s really sweet of you. I cannot reimburse you for them, though. They don’t count toward your sales.”
“Right! They’re gifts!”
“Thank you.” She ran her hand along the cover of the top book in the stack. “And I like your cover design.”
My heart was pounding. This woman could sell all of my books or none of them. She could talk my book up to every single person who walked through the door, or use my book as a coaster and spill coffee all over it. I desperately wanted to impress her, to have her know that I was a talented writer, and to feel happy with her decision to carry my book in her store.
I backed up from the counter. “Can I browse around? Is that okay? I know how to read, I mean, I like to read, and maybe I might find something to buy?”
“Of course. Browse around. You don’t get a discount though …”
“No problem. If I buy something, I can pay full price.” I was regretting saying this as the words tumbled out. I knew my Amex bill was past due, and if I bought a book, it might be declined. Maybe I could pay cash for a greeting card.
Right then, a really handsome guy walked in. He glanced my way, but then headed toward the biography section.
“Sir, can I help you?” asked Elena.
“Yes, actually. Where’s your humor section?”
Elena walked over to the opposite end of the store and showed him a few titles. I could hear them talking, but not the exact words. I stood staring at a wall of cookbooks. I felt like I never left the high-end kitchen store. Suddenly, I heard great peals of laughter.
Elena walked back to the register, wiping away tears of laughter. She was shaking her head. She had a book in her hand, which she set it down. I was too far from the counter to see the title.
Handsome Guy called out to Elena, “Excuse me, do you have that new book by Mindy Kaling? You know, the girl from that show? The Office?”
“Yes, it’s on that display right there.” She pointed toward it.
“My wife said it got good reviews,” Handsome Guy remarked.
“Shall I add it to your collection?”
Wow, Elena was good. Those were pretty much the same words I said a dozen times a day at the high-end kitchen store if someone so much as checked the price of an espresso machine—shall I add it to your collection?
He shrugged. “Sure, why not?” And then … “What else do you have that’s really funny?”
I turned to Handsome Guy for the first time. I smiled wide, and then I took a deep breath.
“Sir, if you like funny, you should read this!” I was holding up my book, which I'd picked up off the counter.
He walked closer, and then took the book out of my hands. I could feel my face flushing a deeper shade of crimson. Was he going to throw down my book in disgust, and then call me out for being an impostor writer?
“What’s it about?”
Elena and Handsome Guy both stared at me, wondering what I would say next. I was wondering myself. Finally, I spoke.
“It’s this book of short, funny essays, about life and about parenthood. Very funny. It’s supposed to be funny. I think it’s funny. Do you have kids? I have two sons, and they are really funny. They inspired me to write—”
“Wait—you wrote this book? You’re the author?”
He said the word author with a reverence normally reserved for Pope or President.
“Yes.” My face caught fire and the smoke detectors went off and the sprinkler system clicked on and doused us all with water and we stood there in a flood until the fire department came. That is what I thought might happen. This is what happened instead:
“I’ll buy a copy. For my wife.”
I felt woozy. I was wishing I had eaten lunch, a sandwich or something, instead of just a chocolate milkshake. I could feel my brain flipping around inside my skull. This guy had just wandered in off the street, and I had spoken to him for all of 15 seconds, and he was already buying my book! For his wife. Who was most likely my exact target demographic.
The words tumbled out before I could stop them. “Only one copy? Don’t you have, maybe, a sister or someone to buy a gift for?” I had not realized that I'd brought my other alter-ego, Queen Pushy Salesgirl.
Elena started furiously keying something into her computer. She leaned over to me and whispered, “I don’t have your ISBN number entered in the system yet. Let me do that real quick. Then you can sell your book right now.” She winked at me.
Handsome Guy paused for a minute. “You know, I do have a sister. I will buy more than one. And there are a lot of women who work at my office, and I need to buy a few gifts for them. I’ll take 20 books.”
Elena and I looked at each other.
“Twenty?!” I gasped. “Are you joking?”
“We only have five, sir, that’s all she brought,” offered Elena.
I suddenly remembered that I'd brought two boxes full of books in my car in case Elena had wanted to sell the book sooner than January.
“I have a box of books in my car?” I said like a question. “Let me go get them.”
I walked calmly out the front door and then sprinted to my car. As I rushed back in, Handsome Guy held the door for me.
“Are you really buying 20?” I queried.
“That’s all I need for now. If the book is as good as you say it is, I can always buy more.” He smiled, his teeth like a thousand light bulbs.
As Elena started to ring him up, I turned to leave.
“Aren’t you going to sign them?” Handsome Guy asked me.
Sign them! He wanted me to sign them!
It was my turn to smile. Was this guy flirting with me?
“Can I borrow your pen?” I asked Elena, as I subconsciously reached for her pen jar.
“No problem.” She handed me a thin, black Sharpie.
“Who should I sign to? Do you have a list of names?” Queen Virgo would’ve brought a list.
“Just write ‘Best Wishes’ and then your autograph. That way I don’t have to keep track of who I give which one to.”
I got right to work. I was signing something fun for a change, instead of the check to the electric company or Verizon. My hand started to cramp up at about book number 17.
“Okay, there you go, sir! And thank you!”
“No, thank YOU. Well, I guess I’ll see you on Oprah then. I can tell everyone I met you and knew you before you were famous.”
He looked so genuinely kind, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Oprah didn’t have a talk show or a book club anymore. Why embarrass him when he was buying 20 of my books?
“Yep, Oprah. Me.” I stared at him too long. “Bye then!”
I walked out the front door, the bell hanging on the door handle clanking loudly. I walked down the street toward my car. I got in and started laughing. Twenty books! Ha! I wonder what Elena was thinking right now.
Handsome Guy appeared out of nowhere with his box of books. He tapped insistently on the passenger window. I reached over and opened the door for him.
“MOV? Should I set these in the back seat?”
“Geesh, Sweetie! Don’t let the owner see you! Get in!” I said curtly to The Husband. “All 20 books? Oprah? That was laying it on a bit thick, don’t you think?”
He set the books down and climbed in the car. He leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.
Sometimes things work out exactly the way you planned.