I did the annual Junior League of Richmond's Book & Author Dinner last night. Not to brag, but I was pretty much the least famous author there. (Cokie Roberts! Lesley Stahl! Former Governor Doug Wilder! Floyd Cardoz! Kathleen Grissom!) During the cocktail party before the dinner, two women approached shyly. "Oh, do you want to meet Floyd?" I asked.
No, they said. We want to meet you. Are you an author?
Yes, I said. But why do you want to meet me if you've never heard of me? How did you know I was an author?
Well, said the older of the two women, you just look like an author. (We'll come back to this.)
The women, Alice and Karen, were mother and daughter, both hospice nurses and avid readers. They had never attended anything like the Book & Author. They had never attended a single author event. But they read about it in the newspaper and decided it was something they wanted to try. Alice told me that books had been her means of escape during a sometimes difficult childhood. Karen, the oldest of Alice's eight children, said that money had been scarce, "but if you have a book, you can go anywhere."
I loved them. After the event, I was so happy to see them in the signing line, so honored that they bought my book.
Earlier that day, one of the women from the Junior League asked which I preferred, a bookstore setting with, say, forty people, or an event such as the Book & Author dinner, where I spoke in front of 900. I said I love both, but they're different. In bookstores, I tend to meet with people who have already read my work. At events such as this, I have a chance, if I'm lucky, to win some new ones.
Inevitably, someone will say: "I have a confession to make. I have never read you." I always assure them that this is not, in fact, a misdemeanor or even a venial sin. It is the reason I go on tour. I admit, social as I am, if everyone knew who I was, I'd just stay home. I miss my family when I'm on the road.
I promised some women in Richmond that I would recommend some writers I like. I'll try to do that later this week. Meanwhile about that "looking like an author" thing: Lauren Rothman, a stylist, redid my closet recently and gave me some good advice: "You've been dressing like someone who goes to a book event, which is nice enough. You need to start dressing as if you were the focal point of the event." According to Alice, I nailed it!