Wednesday, 20 May 2015

An in-store experience - Jo-Anne Berthelsen

I enter the bookstore and find a table already placed in a strategic position for me. On it are copies of my memoir Soul Friend and my sixth novel The Inheritance, along with one of several posters around the store advertising my visit. I notice the comfortable chair behind the table and am thankful—this is my fifteenth in-store book signing and I know they can be tiring.

I get out a bundle of bookmarks supplied by my publisher and try to set them out in an attractive way, along with my own business cards and a copy of each of my five earlier novels. There are none of these in stock now, but I like to have them there to show anyone interested.

The young manager comes to ensure I have everything I need and offers me some coffee, but I am too eager to move around meeting people and hand out bookmarks. At first, it is slow going—there seem fewer customers than usual. Every half hour, a staff member announces my presence over the PA system and I am grateful. But I also laugh when I hear him call my latest novel a ‘Koorong classic’!

Eventually, a lady I spoke to earlier approaches me.

‘Would you please sign both your books? We’re going away on a long trip and I’m trying to find some good books to take with me.’

Feeling relieved, I tell her she is my first customer. But I also remind myself it’s not only about promoting my books. I have prayed for some ‘God conversations’ in that bookstore and am looking forward to seeing what shape these take.

I soon find out. I meet an African pastor and chat about his home country. I give him my card and he gives me his, telling me he would love me to speak to the women at his church. Not long after, a lady comes by with her teenage daughter. As I explain how I began writing in my fifties and how I believe God can weave all our life experiences together to accomplish the next thing we are called to do, her eyes fill with tears.

‘That’s just what I needed to hear today,’ she whispers.

She buys both my books and asks me to write her daughter’s name, Lily, in one. I pray for Lily as I do –both seem so open and vulnerable.

The hours pass. I meet a teacher who remembers hearing me speak at his school and encourage him. I relate to someone from our own church who seems so lost and sad, giving her a hug in the middle of the store. I talk up a friend’s book I see someone thinking of buying (Integrate by Adele Jones). I manage to sell a few more of my own. As my day draws to an end, I am grateful for those sales, but even more grateful for those God moments along the way. I have done my best to be sensitive in all my conversations and actions—the results are in God’s hands.

Yes, I know in-store book signings can be discouraging at times, but I still believe they are well worth the effort. What about you? How do you feel about such events, either as an author or a customer?

Jo-Anne Berthelsen lives in Sydney but grew up in Brisbane. She holds degrees in Arts and Theology and has worked as a high school teacher, editor and secretary, as well as in local church ministry. Jo-Anne is passionate about touching hearts and lives through both the written and spoken word. She is the author of six published novels and one non-fiction work, Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey. Jo-Anne is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and four grandchildren. For more information, please visit www.jo-anneberthelsen.com.

14 comments:

  1. I love having books signed by the author. It makes them just that little bit more special :) As an author, the only book signing I've had so far was at my book launch.

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  2. I always feel so privileged to be able to sign my books, Melissa. This little action reminds me of what God has done in my life, but it is also my opportunity to write 'God bless!' before I sign my name, which is my little prayer that whoever reads that book will truly be blessed in some way.

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  3. I've never been to a book signing by an author, but I sure would love to meet some of them (ok, really ALL of them). To put a face to a name would be really great! To talk to them in person would be a real treat, although I am a bit shy so it may take a few minutes to warm up :-) I'm glad that God gave you some moments to pray with some people, give a hug or two, or just encourage them and they you as you talk more. Thanks for being open to God's leading, that's so encouraging to me! It sounds like it went just as the Lord had it to, He placed people in your path that needed to be there just at the right time. You really can't beat that...He's so good! :-)

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    1. I agree, Trixi--and thanks for your encouraging comments. I hope you are able to get to a book signing somewhere by one of your favourite authors in the near future. When I was growing up, I used to think authors couldn't possibly be real people! Instead, they must be some exotic race who sat and wrote and did nothing else. So book signings are a way of getting rid of fantasies like that, apart from anything else!

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  4. It's so true, Jo-Anne - it's not about the sales, but about being a blessing and living out those appointments God has arranged so you can point others to Him. It can be hard to keep that perspective. I thank God for you and the ministry He's given you and that you were available in that store to reach out in His name.
    I had decided not to do any more Koorong signings as at my first one an atheist school friend from Primary school saw on Facebook that I would be there and she came in with her toddler son who kept taking books off the shelf, while she stood in front of me and talked for over an hour and a half. I had travelled 3 hours to get there and sold 10 books. However, that friend has now moved closer by and I am able to reach out to her a lot more effectively. The question is, if that was God's purpose for me - the whole reason He wanted me there, is it enough? And I answer my own question with a resounding 'Yes!' In the light of eternity it is more than enough.

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    1. Thanks so much, Jenny, for those lovely comments. My books have opened lots of doors for me to reach out in interesting ways and I'm sure that's part of the reason at least that God enabled me to write them.

      I relate so much to your own story though, Jenny, of driving all that way, then having someone stand there talking to you for so long! Amazing how God used that time though--that's wonderful. It can be difficult when friends come in to a bookstore like that to say hi, then stay and chat so that you can't really move around the store and engage in conversation with others, but most people seem to be quite sensitive about that, thankfully.

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  5. How lovely, Jo-Anne. I really appreciated you taking us through your experience. The God moments you shared are so special. I pray the words and love that were shared in those moments will linger in all of your hearts. They sure touched something in mine.

    Thank you. God is so good how he uses such occasions. But well done in continuing to do them - 15 - wow. Yes, the sales are great but golly gosh, those special times revealing God's love can be life changing.

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    1. Thanks so much for your encouraging and honest comments, Ian. You know, I rarely sell many books at these in-store book signing events--I'm not some high profile, well-known person people are dying to meet, after all! I still like to do them, however, because it helps sell a few more of my books that otherwise might not have sold and also fosters a good relationship with the bookstore. But beyond all that, as you point out, it's those God moments when we can share God's love with someone that make it really worthwhile, for sure.

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  6. Thanks for the post, Jo-Anne. God moments of connection are really special.

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    1. I agree, Paula. And I always think how blessed we are as authors to have been given these unique opportunities to connect with others via both our writing and face to face--something I have to remind myself never to take for granted.

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  7. What a wonderful time you had, Jo! I've only had two such occasions, and both times the opportunity to talk to folk shows just how much they appreciate the willing ear. Yes, it sure is about spending time with people. Exactly what Jesus did. Not only the multitudes but the one-on-one with people in need.
    One funny thing happened, though. A girl knew hurried by and I wondered why she looked kind of embarrassed. Then I recalled seeing her holding several books. Maybe the poor girl felt guilty she hadn't bought one of mine!!!

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    1. Rita, I can totally relate to your funny experience! Because my table was just along from the store checkout area, I could see how some people who took one of my book marks and even chatted to me for some time DIDN'T end up buying one of my books. I tried not to catch their eye, as I understand there is such a vast choice of books in the store, plus they might have come to buy some specific item. But sometimes when I did, they would look a little embarrassed! I try to remember though that I wouldn't like to feel obliged to buy someone's book just because they were promoting it in a store, so I want to extend the same courtesy to them.

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  8. I like your attitude, Jo. I'm not a published author, but I suspect if you go into a signing wanting to sell books, you will be disappointed. But going in looking for "God conversations"? God will honour that, and will grant your prayer.

    Thank you for the encouragement.

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    1. Thanks, Iola. And yes, I think you are right. Those book sales are good and I pray for them as well, not only for my own sake but for my publisher's sake. But I think it's important to make the most of such an opportunity in every way, so also look for those God appointments.

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