Something strange is happening on book tour this year. It used to be that after I had given a talk and read from my book, I would sit behind a small table, and sign books. The line tended to move quickly, some people having questions that took a little longer, but I signed, made small talk, and left feeling much the same way as I did when I walked in.
Now that we all travel with permanent cameras built into our phones, everyone in that line asks for a picture. For the past couple of events this year, I bounced up and down from my signing table like a jack-in-the-box for pictures to be taken. It was fun, and tiring.
Recently I had an event in Cincinnati. I could tell instantly that this was a room of devoted readers. Mostly because they laughed uproariously at all my jokes, and audibly sighed with pleasure when I mentioned some of my older novels.
It was a wonderful talk. Afterwards I went to my signing table and the first two women came up, iPhones clutched in their hand. I stood up for the photos, sat back down again, stood up, sat down, stood up, and realized (clearly I am a little slow) that this would be much easier if I stayed standing.
I moved from behind the table to in front, and the strangest, and loveliest thing happened. After each picture, every single woman gave me a huge hug.
Now I know this happens to some authors. Glennon Doyle Melton, author of Love Warrior, turns all her events into love-filled hug-fests. I have also seen videos where she sits on the laps of her fans and cuddles them. Please know that this will not be happening at my events. Glennon is teeny tiny. If I were to sit on your lap, I may very well flatten you. The hugs, however, I will gladly take.
My boring old book signing turned into a glorious love fest, and my heart felt like it was going to explode by the end. This is only strange because my mother’s childhood nickname for me was “touch-me-not”. I never liked being touched, by strangers or anyone else, but as I have grown older, I seem to have completely shed that outer protective layer I carried for so long, and now there is nothing I love quite so much as a hug. Especially from a stranger on book tour.
I am fascinated by how I am changing as I am ageing, as I shed the insecurities, the fears, the need to impress or try to be good enough. I feel like I am finally Becoming Jane: more comfortable in my skin, more myself than ever before. And it is precisely by showing those vulnerabilities that enables me to connect with my readers in the way that I do, that ends up in a hug.
And so I have decided that for my solo events, I am never going to sit behind a signing table again. I am going to be standing in front, dispensing signatures, photographs, and many, many hugs.
(Picture is with the delicious Emma Straub, who is not only extremely huggable but the author of the brilliant Modern Lovers, and now bookseller extraordinaire at Books Are Magic in Brooklyn.)
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