Monday, June 20, 2005

Sorry, I'm Not Ms. Woods

On Saturday, I had a signing at the Waldenbooks at Kings Center Plaza, my first of several appearances in Brooklyn. According to my publicist Angie, that particular Waldenbooks is the 3rd largest African American bookseller in the country. Who would've thought that one particular location of a large chain would have such a distinction.

I have to be at the bookstore at 1 PM so I leave my home in the Boogie Down by 11 AM. That's right, I gave myself two hours and still ran late. All I had to do was take the 2 train to the last stop then switch to the B41 bus to the shopping center. But of course, it's the weekend which means the MTA is doing track work so I can forget about having a direct ride to Flatbush. By the time I reach the last stop, it is already 1 PM. Instead of taking the bus (which would've been a 15 minute ride), I hail a cab and call the store to let them know I'm on my way.

When I get there, the friendly staff sets me up right at the entrance. Across the way, I see they have a table set up for Daamiah S. Poole. I have mixed feelings about the prospect of her signing at the same time I might be. On the one hand, I know she'll draw readers into the store which can only benefit me! On the other hand, she was kind enough to sign her latest book What's Real for me at the BEA, but I have yet read it. Well, not that she would remember meeting me as I'm sure she was swamped with fans at the expo. Then I realize that Daamiah's scheduled to appear some time other than my four-hour block which means I'm on my own when it comes to getting readers to my little table.

As outgoing as I am, I hate selling myself or my work. I can sell anyone or anything else I believe in, but self-promoting makes me cringe. I prefer to do my thing and just be (which ironically for the most part means NOT shy) and let that speak for itself, but that's naive. So I start coaching myself and pushing my comfort zone. Being so close to the entrance, I grab a few Picture Me Rollin' postcards and position myself right outside the door to hand them out to folks and let them know that, yes, I am indeed the author and would be happy to autograph my books for all who buy them today.

One can never tell what makes for a successful bookstore appearance, but I do know I sold more books than I would have had I not been there, and that by being assertive, I sold more books than had I just sat there and waited for folks to wander over to me, wondering who's the snazzily dressed chick with the sugar cookies sitting by the enrance. I know for a fact that several people came into the store on impulse to just browse and walked out with my book -- and some of those with my book ONLY -- so what if I had not been there?) And I had some memorable moments to boot.

One young woman looked at my author photo then at me and said, "That doesn't look like you." By her tone, I knew it wasn't a compliment, but just in case I missed it, she was sure to add, "I guess not since you had to put all that makeup on and after all the retouching." Lots of makeup, yes, but tons of retouching? Give me some credit. I ain't Veronica Webb, but I hardly frighten children and small animals. With the exception of the flawless skin in my photograph, I actually think I look better in person because I smile a lot more than my ghetto fabulous headshot suggests! But to survive in this world, a sister has to think highly of her appearance (or at least front like she does) even if no one else does. Anyway, I made my usual joke when folks comment about my glamourous author photo, "Well, it's me all right, I just don't look like that everyday. I can't. I have more important things to do every day than spend three hours on my hair and makeup. You know, like, write books." Anyway, Missy was less impressed with my humor than with my natural beauty (I tried hard to sound gracious even though I felt a bit insulted, but maybe, just maybe, a little snootiness sneaked out in my voice despite my best intentions), and she kept it movin'. Even though I forced myself to smile warmly, I was thinking, "See ya! MEOW!"

An older woman who actually bought a copy of Explicit Content made up for it when she said, "Your picture doesn't do you justice at all. You look so much better and younger in person." God bless you!

Near the entrance was a poster of Teri Woods latest novel with her photo juxtaposed in the center. Scrawled across in the upper-right corner is a notice that she'll be appearing at the bookstore the following week. I note that not only is she very pretty, but her photo's also very accessible. She's lying on the floor with her feet folded and crossed just like she might if she were your homegirl crashing at your place after a long night of painting each other's nails and sharing the latest gossip.

The funniest moment comes when someone comes into the bookstore, darts her head between me and the poster a few times and then excitedly asks, "Are you Teri Woods?" I just had to laugh before replying, "Sorry, I'm not Ms. Woods." Then I add, "I wish!" Not because I aspire to write the kind of stories Teri does (I honestly don't -- street lit's just not my genre as a writer or reader, and anyone who has ever had to suffer my spiel knows how much I wish to hell everyone would stop to assigning the term to "hip hop" to any book or film about about "the game.") But I do aspire to be as successful at writing hip hop as Terri Woods, Vicki Stringer, Nikki Turner, et al are at writing street life, and hell, when I started to think about it, I had to take the physical comparison as a compliment because what can I say? The sista's goodlooking!

I met a brother who looked at my book covers while I gave him a synposis of both novels who eventually said, "Oh, this looks like it's just for women." "Now, now, now," I say, "just because it's by a woman and the main characters are women doesn't mean a man cannot enjoy the story. These stories are edgy. This is far from chick lit." (And this is one of those rare occassions when I keep the fact that I DO write chick lit under my real name for another house to myself.) Still he passed... I can't say I wasn't disappointed that he rejected the book for that reason. I'm cool with folks passing on my work for a variety of reasons like they're not into urban fiction or hip hop culture. But for a man to pass on a book (although he was quite diplomatic about it, I must say) simply because the author is a woman and the main characters are women is disheartening. OK.... it irked me a bit. Like I said, since he was nice about it, I couldn't really get worked up to pissed so let's just keep it at irked. I cannot begin to fathom the assumptions underlying that rationale for rejecting a novel! But as my assistant A.I.R.E. (who wrote the poetry that appears in Picture Me Rollin') often says, "Waddayagonnado?" I can't reach or please every reader, especially if their selection criteria is based on things I can't or won't change (like, er, my sex for instance), but at least I tried.

And as a result, I reached a few people that I might not have otherwise and got likened to an attractive, popular author to boot. I'd make another two-hour trek to Brooknam for that. In fact, I'll be at A&B Books tomorrow and back at that same Waldenbooks in late July.

1 comment:

LaEquis said...

Hi Black Artemis,
Just wanted to wish a fellow AfroLatina much success on your book tour. I ran across your website a few months ago & finally picked up a copy of "Explicit Content" even though it's not my usual preferred genre to read. But I am a fan of the old-school rap, especially Tupac whose "Dear Mama" still gives me calor-frio. I like Cassandra and Leila because they remind me of me when I was growing up. I haven't finished the book because I'm currently editing my second book, but I just wanted to let you know you have a fan in Chicago.

p.s. You do look like Veronica Webb :).

Xenia Ruíz
Author of Choose Me
“Told in alternating voices, this debut novel is the tumultuous story of a Latina and an African American man whose search for one another takes a detour through the perfect love of God.”
(NOW Available at Bookstores Everywhere – June 20, 2005)