December 11, 2014

In Which The Author Appreciates Why Amazon Might Sometimes Be Not So Bad, or, Why British People Can't Go Anywhere

Two months ago I wrapped up Conversations With Greatness, which for the last two years has been pretty much the only regular content on this blog. The plan was to start putting the time I'd been spending on CWG into actually writing on the blog more frequently, but this hasn't happened because my timing was terrible; in November I drove up to Edinburgh for my second festival of the year here, Edinburgh's Christmas, and since then I have pretty much not had time to do anything except Edinburgh's Christmas. (Also, eat sausages. Because I also haven't had time to buy food most days, except from the German market stalls on site.)

Another thing I haven't had time to do since Edinburgh's Christmas started is go to the bookstore, to do a favour for a friend back in London who wants to give a signed copy of my book to someone for a Christmas gift. (Side note: this is probably the best idea for a Christmas gift you will come across this year. It's certainly the best one I've ever heard in my life.) Since he's still in London and I'm in Edinburgh, it seemed like the easiest thing to do would be for me to buy one here to sign and send, and get reimbursed later. So today, two weeks after promising to do so, off I went to the Waterstones on Princes Street.

I picked this Waterstones specifically, because my book was listed as in stock on their website, so I figured I wouldn't have to awkwardly ask someone if they had my own book. (As an added element of shame, Alexander McCall Smith was just leaving when I got there, having spent the evening signing copies of his book that OTHER PEOPLE were buying.) But when I went searching for my book it was neither in the Scottish Fiction section where it has previously been shelved in this store (because I've checked, because I have a sad authorly existence), nor was it in the general fiction section. So there went my ingenious plan...
ME: This is embarrassing, but... I need to buy a copy of my own book, and I can't find it.

KINDLY SCOTTISH BOOKSTORE CLERK: Oh dear! What's your name?

ME [wondering what sort of tone adequately expresses "I don't expect you to know my name"]: Andrew Ladd.

KSBC: Okay... [taps at keyboard; frowns] What Ends, is it?

ME: That's the one.

KSBC: Is it... Scottish Fiction?

ME: Yes, but I checked there already and couldn't find it.

KSBC: Well, you should probably look upstairs in general fiction then. I expect it's been mis-shelved.

ME [knowing full well that it is not in general fiction, because I have already checked there too, but not wanting KSBC to feel unhelpful]: Oh, okay. Thank you.
I then went upstairs and pretended to check in general fiction again, considered asking another clerk but suddenly realised I didn't want to be the guy in the bookstore telling every employee I was an author, and finally returned downstairs to check the Scottish fiction section again, causing KSBC to cast a concerned glance in my direction from the till. After another few seconds exaggeratedly looking at the shelves for his benefit, I walked back over to him.
KSBC: Still no luck?

ME: No. Sorry.

KSBC [motioning to the clerk beside him]: Well, if you wait a second and ask my colleague, he'll probably be able to help. He's in charge of the Scottish Fiction section.

...a few moments pass...
GUY IN CHARGE OF SCOTTISH FICTION SECTION: So what was it you were looking for?

ME [now more self-conscious than ever about being the guy mentioning he's an author to every bookstore employee he sees]: It's, uh... What Ends. The book is called What Ends.

GICOSFS: Is there a question mark after that?

ME: No.

GICOSFS: Hmm. It says it's in stock. I know I've seen it. Weird.

ME [now regretting not telling him I'm the author in case KSBC has already mentioned it]: [nervous chuckle]

GICOSFS: Oh, hang on. It says it's in stock because it just came in this morning. I'll have to go get it from the back.
GICOSFS proceeded to disappear for what was probably five minutes but felt like fifteen. At one point I saw him leave the back room he had gone into and disappear into an elevator. I didn't even know this bookstore had an elevator. It was taking him so long I was really starting to regret not telling him I was the author, because if he thought I was just a normal customer this was probably no big deal, but if KSBC had mentioned it then GICOSFS was probably thinking, Jesus, who is this jackass who's sending me on a wild goose chase ten minutes before closing time to find him a copy of his own goddamn book, and won't even own up to it?

At last he reappeared clutching a copy of my book, and took me back to the till to pay. By this point I was kind of hoping that when I handed over my card he would notice my name and we could have a good laugh about it, so that I wouldn't leave with him still thinking I was jackass (or, worse, with me wondering if he thought I was a jackass)—but in the end he barely even looked at it. Then he gave me two extra stamps on my loyalty card, which he said was for "being so patient," and I was on my way.

Anyway, if you're reading, Guy In Charge Of Scottish Fiction Section at the Waterstones West End in Edinburgh: sorry if you thought I was a jackass. And thank you for being so helpful.