Selling Yourself

I can't say I've followed Debra Winger's career very closely - I didn't even know she was an anti-fracking activist - but watching her Up Late with Alec Baldwin on MSNBC the other night, I bonded. I loved the moment when she realized she had left a green hair tie on her wrist. I empathized with her incoherent babbling - I could certainly top her at that. But she really got me when she, quite coherently, said that she only wanted to work with people who wanted to work with her. She had stopped trying to sell herself.

You've gotta sell yourself.

I hate that line. I've hated it ever since the very first time I heard it. I don't remember exactly when that was, but it was at least 50 years ago. Sell yourself? What does that mean? Sell out? Hang a price tag around your neck? Put yourself on the auction block? For the highest bidder? With your own chains? What if nobody is buying? Can you have a sale?

I was in a bookstore/cafe the other night with a chance to do just that. I'd gone there to hear a long-time musician acquaintance of mine play, but I'd also brought a copy of my new novel, Ghosts of the Heart. As a self-publisher, it's my job to try to sell my book, and I had hoped for a chance to talk with the owner of the bookstore about putting a couple of copies in his shop on consignment.

I didn't get it.

Well, I could have gotten it, but I couldn't take it.

See, here's how I had imagined it might happen. I would show up at the gig with my friend, there would be a nice, happy little musical interlude back among the books, and afterwards there was a chance that the musician would come talk with us (he and my companion for the evening are very good friends), and there was a chance - a good chance, I thought - that the owner would join us. At that point, my companion would mention that I had just published my second novel (I hadn't, however, prepped him on his lines) and there would be a short interval of congratulations and mild interest. At that point, I could ask the owner if he had a policy of taking books on consignment, especially books by local authors, and he could say yes or no or let me see or whatever, it would be fine with me. I wouldn't dream of trying to talk him into anything. I wouldn't dream of selling myself.

None of that happened. When I arrived, the musician was talking to someone I didn't know. The owner could have been any of the other aging hippies getting the back room ready. I don't break into conversations. I don't go up and introduce myself. I just don't. I can't. It seems rude.

After the show, the musician came over to say hi, but the owner wasn't with him. My companion offered to introduce me (I'd already shown him the spanking new copy of Ghosts that was lurking in my bag). But I couldn't do it now. It wasn't a natural progression anymore. Talking about my new novel wouldn't be just another topic in a short conversation. I would have to go sell it. I'd have to sell myself. And I couldn't do it. I couldn't allow myself to be introduced to someone solely for the purpose of selling him something.

I had a picture of myself babbling, begging him to put this wonderful book on his shelf for a week. Trying to convince him that it was a wonderful book. When I don't even know if it is a wonderful book. I mean, I like it. I'm proud of it. But I don't know that anyone else will.

See what I mean? I'm babbling already, just thinking about it. I know. There's something wrong with me

I panicked, said my goodbyes, and nearly ran out of the store.

Now, I'm not quite an idiot. I know that Debra Winger and I occupy very different positions in our chosen professions. That is, Debra Winger sold herself early enough and often enough that there are people who know who she is and who actually want to work with her. Who the hell is Barbara Stoner? Nobody knows.

Which is why I am going to try to step up to the plate. I'm going to make the rounds of Seattle bookstores, and I'm going to ask them if they take books on consignment. It's okay, I tell myself. I'm not selling anything. I'm just asking a question.

You aren't idiots either, you who might have hung on this far. You know that I'm still selling something - and you probably know there's nothing wrong with that! In my heart of hearts, I know it too.

But still, there's something about those words, "You've gotta sell yourself." I still don't like it. I don't think I ever will.