When I worked at the bookstore, the best part of my job was handselling. This was when I put a book into a customer’s hand that they didn’t know they wanted. I love the look of surprise people get when you say the thing that makes them buy the book.
Then “Black Light,” my own book, came out. And I became weirdly silent on the subject. Not just online, but all my experience handselling disappeared too. I still struggle with marketing—I was raised to be self-deprecating, to a fault…literally, it turns out. Despite how much I love my book, how much I love the characters, and how hard I worked to write it, I couldn’t sell it. Not like I could sell Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, or Holly Black.
Black Light is a book about being queer in the 1980’s. Much of it is my own experience. Faceless people buying it from Amazon didn’t seem that difficult but handing the book to people over a table proved to be terrifying.
What if they’re homophobic? What if they don’t like the writing? What if... What if the book is actually not good.
Last summer I vended at Pride in Flint. I thought, well, I don’t have to worry about the first What if? there. That was great, but there were still a whole bunch of What ifs? yelling at the back of my brain. Just for that one day, I decided to give myself permission to hear them and not listen.
Here’s what I found out: to sell a book, your book, you have to tell a story. Over and over, I stood up when people came to the table. I put the book in their hands, I told them what it was about, and why I wrote it. I told them that it was about everyone I knew in the ‘80’s, but skinnier. I told them it was about the very first time I got my heart broken. And I told them it was about magic. My partner at the table had to have been sick of the same stories I told over and over. But at the end of the day I’d sold more books than I ever had at one time. Just by telling people what the story meant to me.
Same as the old days, at the bookstore. I’m not quite to the point where I value my writing on the same level as Gaiman, or Black, or any of the rest of my hand sells back then. But I’m getting there.