My string of past bookstore adventures (and current memories) begins way back--before the Internet, before e-publishing, and even before self-publishing was acceptable. Bookstores were as much a staple in most towns as grocery stores. For authors, it was mostly a matter of picking which to visit for a signing. In my experience no bookstore manager ever said "No" when I offered to do an "event" in their store. After all, those events, well advertised, brought in customers. At one bookstore I remember being greeted by a collection of my novels and non-fiction book displayed on an end cap across from the front door. At another, an enormous lighted sign next to a city expressway proclaimed "Radine Trees Nehring, here today, 1:00 to 3:00. (That still impresses the heck out of me. I have a poster of that sign in my office, since my husband caught it with his camera just as the "Radine" was centered perfectly on the moving message.) I have thought since then that, though most people viewing the sign had probably never heard of me, seeing the sign sure could have made them think they wanted to attend the event or they'd miss something, um, "important." Author visits were entertainment., often with refreshments added.
Fitting that entertainment issue was a related fact which, I assume, most authors were aware of. We were viewed by many bookstore customers as exotic creatures. Back then, no one who came to a signing asked "Oh, did you write these?" They knew, usually as a result of promotion by publishers and bookstore owners, who you were and why you were there, and they came to look at you, if not to buy your book. Therefore I learned early to dress in something that wouldn't pass muster in a church or business office. And, as many reading this know, I always had a hat on my head.
Carrie, the female protagonist in my "To Die For" mystery series, is a reluctant cook, creating her own rather peculiar (and easy) recipes when cooking is necessary, and there are two or three of her unique recipes in the back of all but the first of my novels. At one signing (in the long closed Corner Bookstore in Bentonville, Arkansas) local members of our Sisters in Crime chapter made two of Carrie's "sort-of" cookie recipes and served them at a signing. Their cookie caper was a surprise to me, and I now remember that signing as one long, riotous party. I sold books, but that isn't what sticks in my memory. I remember "Carrie's Cookie Crisps" flaking into my mouth, and chewing the somewhat squishy bar cookie recipe Carrie ends up feeding to a baby in A Valley to Die For, the first novel in my series. Most of all, I remember and cherish the friends who made these treats, and the bookstore clerks who welcomed us.
Moving on, I did a number of events for Barnes and Noble after they built a store in Rogers, Arkansas. I had already made friends with the then Customer Relations Manager at the store in Fayetteville, AR and, when she moved to the new store, she friended me--in real life, not on a computer. (I did two or more events at area Barnes & Noble stores until that pleasure faded away.) One spring I offered to do a June bridal event in the Rogers store, featuring my novel A Wedding to Die For, as well as (I suggested) a display of the store's wedding advice books and magazines. The CRM loved the idea, even though I had done an event for the same book in her store only a few months earlier. I dressed as a mature bride-to-be, in a frilly white hat and appropriate costume, and the store held the well-advertised and successful sales event. I also headlined that store's first anniversary celebration, and was invited to make the first cut in the huge birthday cake positioned next to my signing table.
Those were the days.