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July 31, 2007

B.I.T.C.H.

B.I.T.C.H.

By Sarah

Dolly One of the perks of being on the road is hearing stories from booksellers and escorts about authors behaving badly. Oh, sure, there are the occasional tales of greatness, like when Dolly Parton encouraged a blind drummer to "see" her new and improved bust. Or how famed cook and former spy Julia Child exclaimed, "that's why I never cook the f***ers" when a well-meaning chef trying to impress her ended up dumping a whole cooked trout in her lap.

Those are inspiring, absolutely, but what I crave are the dirty secrets about the famous and mega bestselling: the superstar author so drunk that she couldn't go on A.M. television, choosing to toss ashtrays at her publicist instead. The primo don who at signings insists on ice for his wrists, cigarette breaks every ten minutes, perfect quiet and five Sharpie fine points, black. Or the hunkySharpie author who, famous for writing sensitive, weepy tales, ordered his escort to drive him across the street to a gym, wait while he worked out, and then drive him back across the street to the hotel, noting, "N.S. (he spoke in third person) does not take shuttle buses."

So imagine my surprise when the latest story about authors behaving badly involved none other than...me!

I found the news quite by accident while looking for a review. Let me just say this: I do not recommend Googling your name along with the word "bitch" unless you happen to be very thick skinned.

It was a blog written by an employee at a local mall chain bookstore not called Barnes and Noble (which leaves____.) It was entitled, Weekend & Bitchy Authors, and was one long rant about my visit to his small store last month in which I a) complained that the book was out before its drop date b) "demanded" I sign the copies on hand c) "Insisted" on finding autographed-by-author stickers and put them on myself and d) asked to move the books down one shelf so they could be eye level, even though corporate had not signed off on them being one shelf below. Then, apparently, I left in a huff when he said I could not move my book.

"Everyone at the store hates her," he concluded, adding that it didn't matter because they never sell any of my books there, anyway.

Bitch Really? Everyone hates me? Everyone?

Shit.

But, wait, that's not all. It gets worse. The piece d'resistance was that a reader standing behind me in line apparently vowed never to buy one of my books again because I was Such A Bitch! This according to his post.

Okay, granted, I get a little crazy when a new book drops. There's so much pressure to do well on that first week of sales even the most self-aware, centered author can't help but be, shall we say, shrill. And, yes, I did ask to move the book down to eye level and I was annoyed that he couldn't be enough of a human being to say to a local author, sure, what the hell. Dutton's paid for you to be on the hardcover display anyway. I don't think Jane Green will care. Go ahead, sport.

But the whole store hating me? I mean, I spend tons of money there. All my chick lit (and I buy a LOT of chick lit) I get there because Bear Pond, our local independent, is more, uh, highbrow. Those series my son reads? The YA stuff for my daughter? I must ring up close to $1,000. Plus, I ask how their new babies are. What they're reading. Harry Potter. How business is. I thought we were great friends.

And all along they...hated me? Why? I mean, what, exactly have I done wrong?

Needless to say, it was a blow. It was a five-minute time travel back to junior high and walking into the girl's locker room to find a cluster of my friends gossiping about how much they couldn't stand my guts. (Not sure that ever happened, but it felt like it did.)

In a second, I saw myself as others see me, some galumphing Brunhilde terrorizing bookstoreBrunhilde  employees, barking orders and, worst crime of all, not selling very well. A loser local writer in flats.

What to do? What to do? Well, there was only one option. As soon as I read the blog, I got me some serious chocolate and then, feeling better, made a beeline for the store. Just my luck, there was "Kevin," we'll call him, standing behind the counter reading. He looked up from his book and swallowed.

"Kevin?" I said.

He swallowed again. "Yes?"

"I'm Sarah Strohmeyer. Remember me?"

He squinted as if trying to recall.

"You should remember me because you just blogged about me being a bitch."

"You read that?" he said, swallowing one more time. (Poor Kevin.)

"Yes, I did. And you know what I think?"

Kevin didn't answer. His mouth was too dry to swallow.

"I think you deserve...a box of chocolates!"

Chocolates Whereupon I thrust into his hand a deluxe box of assorted Lake Champlain specialties before launching into one of the most painful, embarrassing and, honestly, sincere apologies of my life. By the end, I was near tears and Kevin was assuring me that while some people at the store hated me, the store was undergoing a staff turnover (Kevin included), and the manager who was staying had a really high opinion of me and my work. Also, I did sell. Sort of.

"No, no," I said. "Don't lie.I get what I deserve."

Here's the thing. No matter how stressed I am about sales or if my kids are driving me nuts or if I got on the scale and found I'd gained two pounds, that my Visa bill was overdue, that my car had engine trouble...There's no excuse for being mean. Especially to a bookseller. Not that I meant to be mean, but I wasn't paying attention to whether I was being nice, either. And sometimes that looks like the same thing.

Usually, I pride myself on being overly solicitous to those who help me make my living, whether they're editors, agents, publicists, publishers or booksellers. I would not be here today writing this without them. Last summer, I visited 23 Barnes and Nobles with goodie bags as a way of saying, "Thanks!" I send Christmas cards. I write thank-you notes. I'd get down on my knees and kiss their rings if I could.

But all it takes is one incident (see above) to get a reputation as a bitchy author. And while I might not be on the New York Times bestsellers list, I'd like to be thought of as a nice person, someone who answers fan email gladly and who is eternally grateful for the series of events - my great readers! - that have given me this wonderful opportunity to write what I love.

And you better believe I am.

Here's the other moral as I explained to my son. We're in a war right now because Certain People lackGeorge_bush  the humility to question their actions. Moreover, they attack their critics unflinchingly. I suppose the two - knee-jerk defensiveness and lack of introspection - go hand in hand. It'd be a much nicer, much safer, kinder world if there were more mea culpa and less youa culpa. Hence, the apology.

And those stories about authors behaving badly? I'm giving them up. Now I see how easy it is for an otherwise normal and nice author to get a bad rep simply because he or she made a snide comment or issued a crazy request. We all have bad days. All of us. We can all be bitches. Even men.

Though, I'm not sure I'd ever ask an escort to drive me across the street to wait while I worked out.

Yours from the doghouse,

Sarah 

PS - If I have been a bitch to any of you reading today (or whenever), I apologize. Like Richard Scarry said about the Naughty Bunny, I try to be good, but sometimes it is very easy for naughty bunnies to forget.

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Comments

Sarah, you are a goddess! And not only that, you have balls! And you are very, very spiritually evolved!

If that were me, reading about me, I'd be hiding under the bed for 2 weeks, quivering.

Ah, so, this explains quite a bit.

Has Lisa (your best friend since kindergarten) mentioned how she and I dish about you all the time? She CAN'T STAND [insert something incredibly personal here], but has held her tongue for 40 years for fear of [something else personal].


Wow, Sarah. First of all, how horrible to read something like that about yourself, especially from someone you know and see frequently.

Secondly, I would never have the guts to do what you did. You're awesome. It sounds like what he wrote was certainly exaggerated and a bit mean-spirited, but you still apologized. Kudos to you for recognizing the grain of truth and wanting to put it right.

You're so right, it's so easy to have a bad day and make someone who doesn't know us well get a possibly irrevocable bad impression. I'm very guilty of being snippy when I'm tired or upset, and many times I can hear myself doing it and regret it even as it's happening.

I only hope in the future I'll have the grace and humility to handle it like you did.

Okay....But now I'm worried about him. This is what he wrote in his blog yesterday, after noting how bad he felt that I'd read HIS blog.

"So, Mrs. Sarah Strohmeyer, I'm sorry. Coming into the store probably was hard, and for my part of that, I am truly sorry. What you did has humbled me. Everyone else, forget what I said earlier about the subject, because it was unprofessional, out of line, and just plain rude on my part. And for that, I hate myself and that I know I'm a horrible person. Maybe it's a good thing that I'll be leaving the bookstore. I think I'll turn in my two weeks earlier than I figured I would."

EEEP!

Okay, I'm going straight to Google to type in my name and "bitch." As soon as I work up the courage.

Wow. Wow and Wow.

You are the bravest person I've ever heard of. This story is an inspiration for me. I can't really believe that someone as good-humored as you could treat people badly. But, I'm thrilled to have a template for how to behave if people even THINK I have (and I know I do sometimes behave badly.) Chocolate. Apologize with chocolate.

Still, I think the real lesson is not to search for ourselves linking our names with that word.

And I'm pretty impressed with the clerk's blog-update too.

Thanks for sharing an amazing story.

Nancy and Sarah,
Thanks for the tip about Googling (sp?) your name with another adjective, I have to try that.

I discovered that there is a fake "Cinema Dave" in my local area that uses my name in vain. Why? I do not know, but this sad individual has a fixation on my love life, or lack of therefore.

The B.I.T.C.H. story reminds me of a celebrity that I met on two ocasions. Once at the black tie film festival AND at a horror movie convention. At the black tie event, she treated me a bit snotty, but at the horror movie convention, she was nice to me - she wanted me to buy her autograph.

Sorry, the only moral I see here is that drop-in signings are hit-or-miss. Knowing you, Sarah, you couldn't possibly have been enough of a bitch to warrant his reaction, and it sounds like you don't think you were.

I find that in some significant minority of the cases (maybe 15-20%), the sweetest approach to a bookstore employee during a drop-in evokes the reaction that I'm causing a problem. In fairness, maybe I am. I've run across lots of bookstore emplyees who have no interest in meeting an author, who don't feel comfortable or think they have the authority to let somebody to sign stock, and who hear the follow-up question of "Is there a manager I could speak to?" even when said nicely, as a threat and a criticism. I've met many more who are welcoming and enthusiastic, but still, you have to wonder if this approach makes sense or even makes a dent in the whole world of bookstores out there.

Just to clarify, I'm not being critical of the employees who are not welcoming. I'm really trying to see things from their perspective and ask, is it possible that doing drop-ins is just not welcome in some stores?

Oh...typing your name on Google with another..."adjective"...works...here is an example I just discovered since I wrote my last post a few minutes ago -

http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com/pulp/2007/07/cinema_dave_imposter_on_loose.php

Thanks to Bob Norman!

Hey Sarah, I think you are a bitch and I'd like some of that fancy Swiss chocolate.

You have my address.

Kidding. Unless, of course, you do have that fancy Swiss chocolate.

Great story!

Yeah, you're probably right, Michele. Except that when I go down to Bear Pond and sign it's no big deal. Usually most stores like it when you sign books because it's one extra way for them to sell a hardcover.

But I think that the people at this store - a very small mall chain store in a very small mall - do think I'm being bossy. As the clerk wrote on his follow-up blog:
"Her book was just out, and she just wanted to be helpful, where I thought that she was being possesive and stubborn."

So clearly there's a disconnect there...

I want to live in a place called Bear Pond. But probably it's too small there to accomodate two bossy and stubborn local authors.

Sarah, this is a perfect example of the old expression "Class will always tell." You handled the situation with aplomb, style, and a sense of humor.

Do you give lessons?????

How gracious of you to 'kill him with kindness' no matter whether he deserved it or not. That's class. It doesn't matter how bad a day (week or month) he was having; blogging his opinion to the world was class-less. Having had some bad bookselling days myself at the big B&N (usually from customers),I understand up to a point, but I also know that authors want to sell their books,and bookstores are in the business of helping them do just that. Bad-mouthing an author, any author, gets around...and who wants to sign at a store where someone is waiting to ambush them? Located where we are, we get few authors for formal signings, but several who drop in. We love them. And we recommend them(and Sarah's on our front of the store octagon right now). I'd bet you a box of Belgian chocolates that all you were doing was making sure your book didn't disappear into floor-level oblivion.

Well handled. But it's a story that's been going on since the beginning of the internet, and I'd say every person who has written words for a global audience eventually learns not only how to take it, but how to _politely_ dish it out. And, of course, we all need to keep tabs on what a search on our own names returns!

Glad to see that you both made nice and cleared the air. It speaks well of both of you.

Wait a second. If I write nasty things on my blog, you will visit and gift me? I mean, I shouldn't have candy, what with the diabetes and all, and I don't drink, what with the surgeries and multiple SSRI's, but I'm sure we could come to some accommodation.

I googled my name and "bitch" and up popped porn sites. Who'd have ever thought? Wonder if that's why the guy at the bank gave me that funny look last week...

Apologies are always good. Chocolate is even gooder. I'm kind of sorry you've never offended me, Sarah. I could use some chocoltle turffles today.

Sarah, well done in your handling of the store employee. You definitely handled that with the grace and kindness that I see in you. So this means that it was just either a bad day or miscommunication, as I don't know that a true b*tch would ever bother to even consider apologizing.

Here at my job, we could be fired for something like that, so the fact that he was already planning on leaving may have been part of his inspiration for his vent. So glad that he apoligized as well in the arena where he stirred things up.

Sarah, that was grace personified. Sounds like Kevin manned-up out of it, too.

Mea culpa/youa culpa will be entering the family lexicon. How perfect.

Thank you.

Having worked in bookstores all of my life (whenever I would try something out of the book business I would get into trouble), let me just say that many people who work in bookstores think of it as just a job. It is amazing how many I have run into that don't even read. It's just a job that their parents made them get to help with the car insurance.

They don't realize that it is not just a jog, it is a disease...for some of us the symptoms are manifested in the writing, some the publishing, some in the selling.

You handled the issue with great class. While you may have not come across to him as gracious and you thought, he should be ashamed of himself for posting it with your name. Just shows he probably doesn't belong working in the store!

boy, the typos! Job not jog...
as gracious as not and...

You'd never know I got an A in typing in high school!

Okay, as a reader here - I'm offended that you (the writer) can't sign your books without jumping through hoops! I'm WAY more likely to buy an autographed book, especially as a gift (e.g. when I haven't decided what to get someone yet). Any offending bookstores are losing out; and ought to have a policy of encouraging the drop in (and signing and that cool sticker that goes on the front - love that, easy to spot, looks impressive if it's a gift).
Okay, done venting.

Sarah, I'm impressed at your classy response (tho' part of me was hoping to live vicariously through his dressing-down). But you got him to apologize for his dorkfish-ness: something that was probably unlikely if things had been escalated.

Ooh - since you've been a good influence this week, does that give the rest of us license to be a bit more of a bad influence this week?? (As a mom of younger kids I SOOOO yearn to be a bad influence every now and again.) I wouldn't want that whole yin-yang thing to get outta wack...

Wow, Sarah -- you rock. And I, too, love the "mea culpa, youa culpa" line. Maybe that's our next bumper sticker?

When I Google my name and "bitch", I get a lot of sites about Kerry Blue Terriers. Go figure ;)

Sarah, what a class act. I knew I liked your books for a reason! I am so glad I've found this place.

Good for you Sarah, I think you handled that with extreme grace and style.

When I Goggled my name, the very first thing to pop up was the link for TLC and the posts from last year’s RT Convention. I just love this, cracked me up. I will mention my name wasn’t used in the same sentence as bitch, but still funny in my world.

Beyond that there was nothing else interesting with that combination of words, bummer, I must try harder in the future.

Wow. If it had happened to me, I would still be ranting and raving about the unfairness of it all. Which would do absolutely no good. Kudos to you for a wonderful, and productive, response.

Hi Sarah -

This is Lake Champlain Chocolates (no kidding). Let me know if we can send you a box of chocolates. Thanks for mentioning us.

Chris

Hah! Hah!!!!

I KNEW GOD EXISTED!!

Woooweee! Lake Champlain, here I come!!

First Mrs. T's, now this. See what healthy living can do?

How come Harley didn't think of a product placement yesterday? She could use the chocolate, and she even used to be in The Business.

Tomorrow, maybe Elaine can slip in mention of a Bentley.

Actually, Josh, as much as I would love to accept a box of chocolates. As much as I love Mrs. T's pierogies. I'm afraid I have to turn down Chris's kind offer.

We're just a blog, not a billboard. And while I'm glad to give Lake Champlain a plug because they're from Vermont, blah, blah, blah. I mentioned them because I actually did give Kevin a box of Lake Champlain. Wanted him to know I went the extra mile, so to speak....It is really good chocolate.

Thanks, Chris!!!

However, that Bentley....

Hat's off to you, Sarah!

I would still be complaining about it, but you went and set a great example for everyone.

I've pulled hair out in frustration at the fact that no one in Washington is capable of saying "I'm sorry." It's nice to see that opinion in print, and I hope they remember their manners someday!

[insert applause] Well-Done Sarah. It takes GUTS to do what you did!

The ONLY think I've ever done close is when my ex-husband married his lover (the one he was f**king while married to me), I sent a wedding present! Yep...I knew it would piss her off beyond description, but moi? I was only be nice.

And at my home BITCH, stands for "Butt In The Chair, Honey" when I need to write (rather than surf)

HEY - HEY, HEY, HEY - Sarah, don't go declining Bentleys on Elaine's behalf until after you've spoken to Elaine (and her 'better half'). Tall people need cars that fit, too, you know?

In that connection, though, some day it'll be appropriate to tell the tale of the Free Rolls Royce, and how many ways (oh, let us count the ways) it wasn't. Come to think of it, the Giver never did apologize to the Receiver . . .

Sarah said: We're just a blog, not a billboard.

Speak for yourself, Blondie...:)

"Dear Aston-Martin Corporation: My name is William Simon and I live in Houston, Texas, and I just wanted to say...."

Dear Mr. Steve Jobs-

I had an argument with my teenage daughter, and now she feels bad. She would like to get me a brand new MacBook Pro 17" laptop, with 4gigs of RAM and a 180G hard drive, but she only has $135.00 to her name.

Thank you very much,
Rebecca the Bookseller

P.S. To Sarah: Brilliantly handled. Take the chocolate!

Jeez, William - wottsamattah you? Think big!

Dear Mr. Gulfstream;
We all want to tell you how much we admire your pretty white airplanes. We'd all get together more often to watch CRIMINAL MINDS (and cheer when the nice air-to-air clips of G4s and G5s come across) if you'd give us one of your spare G5s. Michele's brother Michael has many nice ratings, and he won't need too many weeks for training at Flight Safety. Michael said Michele would work the radios, and file perfectly civil complaints when they didn't work right. And we would polish the nice plane, and wax it, and name it Sarah for the nice Book Tart Lady who (sorta) suggested we ask you if we could please have a Gulfstream of our own.
Thank you, it was fun writing to you,
Your pal Billy (age 8) (and my Aunt Margie helped me spell some of the hard words)

You guys are pathetic. Me, I love Chanel. Boots, handbags, couture, even the perfume. I love, love, love Chanel and will be happy to plug it on a regular basis. Who needs Nicole Kidman when you have TLC??

Okay, fair enough - just for Nancy, we're now asking for the Chanel Edition Gulfstream G5. With matching luggage and couture and Stuff.

The heck with ya'll. I think I will ask for the big White House on the Right Coast. Couldn't hurt the global image, could it?

And an uneducated woman from the Midwest couldn't do any worse, right?

I just want to know why you were googling your name and bitch in the first place???

Actually, it should be the Chanel #5 edition of the Gulf Stream...

Watch out: seriously long comment coming:

Not sure it's needed, but here's a bookseller's perspective. (My perspective is one of an indy bookseller's, so I'm sure it differs from a chain employee's...I can only guess that there is only the normal bookselling pressures on the latter seller, plus the corporate requirements.)

Anyway, sometimes authors forget (and again, not pointing fingers in this case) that booksellers are at their jobs - doing their jobs of selling books to readers! - when they're approached. A surprise author drop in can be like dealing with a telemarketer on the phone, frankly. We deal with a lot of self-published authors these days too, who are just certain we'd like to sell 10 crates of their special story for no discount to us, and at $30 per 20-page book, or whatever. So even if you turn out to be our favorite author, at first, we're going to approach every "author" who approachs us with wariness.

And, having stock signed can help it sell, but if there ends up being overstock(sorry!), it can't be returned once it's signed in most cases. Booksellers are generally nice, so we don't want to hurt authors' feelings by suggesting your book might not burst onto the NYT and sell a gazillion copies. Plus, while we're helping you, the author, find books to sign, and then find a place to sit and sign, we're not helping the customers who have come in to buy books, and might have questions about said books, and we're missing handselling opportunities, whereby we might be selling your book...

So, though meeting you, the author, probably will end up being a good experience, maybe it won't, and we've all had enough bad experiences to guard ourselves against all authors at first. Sounds like you handled it well, though, Sarah. I'd hand-sell your book if you gave me chocolate! Have you been reading Bookseller Chick's give-a-bookseller-a-cookie theory?

Lily...

Thanks for the insight. And, yes, normally I call ahead - often by as much as a week when I'm going on the road. Then I bring goodies for the bookseller, too.

However, in this case this store knows me and I usually take the books down myself and sign them after asking how many they want me to sign.

Still, I must have done something wrong if they hate me there. Never going to the store again, that's for sure.

I thought they changed the rules about returning signed books?

A Gulfstream Five (V) Chanel No. 5 Special Edition?

Nicole Kidman could ask no more!

Come to think of it, you can fuel a jet turbine with perfume . . .

Sarah,

I try to remember to apologize. I think none of us very good at it because we're taught to be confident and to believe in what we say, which easily turns into believing you are right, or you have the right to be wrong or whatever. Apologies are rare and I've learned that you won't melt by saying "I'm sorry". Going to Kevin with an apology was hugely brave and so smart. You made a mistake. You apologized. And look!!! You're still standing!

There is this Thing out there that says "apology is weakness". Bull#($*^*!. But we see it certainly in government, certainly in our leaders who cannot say the words "I'm sorry/we're sorry." In some recent administrations, I was stunned because certain presidents actually DID apologize for acts by the US government that were wrong. It's stunning because the common wisdom is that you never admit to making a mistake, that somehow that weakens you. Bull@#($*^ again. It shows you think. It shows you LISTEN (wow, what a concept). And it shows you're human (wow, ditto.)

I've learned about "taking the high road" and how hard it is not to respond to nasty with nasty and how, in fact if you don't do it, you get to feel not only superior but righteous and smug. (BUT DO NOT show that publicly!) It's a great feeling if you can do it. Pretty impossible but if you can manage - and you did here - it feels really neat.

And you don't melt. And you do often put things right.

So good on you. I'm a tad surprised that an employee of a bookstore would blog such a thing but we all have to vent some time, I guess and blogs are the way we do it now. But I would hope that at least names would not be used and enough facts would be altered that everyone didn't know who it was. Then again, I know someone who went on a first date and blogged about how it was nothing special and her date saw it and was upset. Well, YEAH? And apparently it never occured to her that "public" blogging means that YES, people see what you write. Well, duh.

what's cool here is that no matter what, Kevin is now left with a FAR classier impression of you than he started with and that's the one that will stick, I betcha.

Good idea!
P.S. A U realy girl?

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