The concept of being a World Book Night book giver is simple. First, you sign up for your area and, if approved, second, you select the book you’d like to give away. Third, you choose the book store where you’d like to pick up your books, and finally, you identify a location where you would like to hand out your books. Easy!
I signed up to do this last year, but because my life was chaos at that time, I wound up not being able to participate, and I chose to have my books donated to a worthy charity. This year, I was determined to be part of the fun! I signed up early, selected my book (GOOD OMENS by Terry Pratchet and Neil Gaimon – two of my favorite British writers), and chose to give them away at the new City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake, a very upscale shopping and dining destination that I thought would be a good source for readers and people who supported literacy and books.
I picked up my box of books the day before the event from a rather surly book store clerk (she treated me surlily – okay, sorry, inside joke). However, I was still very excited about the opportunity to participate in this important event. At about 6:30 p.m., I arrived at my destination and began handing out books to anyone who wanted one. I was standing just inside one of the main entrances near an indoor stream, and thought I had a prime spot.
According to mall security, I didn’t. I needed to be outside on the public sidewalk. Something to do with having permits and competing with mall businesses. I was slightly miffed, but I guess it’s a policy or something, so I relocated outside. There were planters with wide edges, benches, and a light rail station that was fairly busy, and I figured this wouldn’t be a bad place to catch folks. I should clarify here that I am not in any way a sales person. I get uncomfortable trying to force something on people, even something as awesome as a free book. When I go to book signing events, I’m as likely to talk about someone else’s work as I am to say anything about mine. If someone asks, that’s one thing, but I hate feeling pressured by someone, and I hate feeling that I’m pressuring someone, so this was really a challenge.
What I discovered is that the clear majority of folks I offered a book to were so skeptical that, before I could even tell them that the book was free and there were no strings attached, they put their hands up and said “No” to me and walked away. I started telling people “I’m not selling anything, it’s just a free book for World Book Night,” and most of them still walked away, either ignoring me like I was panhandling, or glaring at me like I’d said something offensive. A few of them did stop and show an interest, and what’s funny was how often, after handing them the free book, how many of them asked, “How much is it?” Um . . . free? Then, when I said, “Have a good night,” rather than, “Can I interest you in outrageously priced cleaning supplies?” a few people acted completely surprised!
I managed to give away 18 of my 20 books before the mall security guy came out to tell me I couldn’t put my box on the edge of the planter, but I could put it on the bench 20 inches below. At that point, my allergies were getting the better of me, and I decided to call it a night.
If I were to do this again, and the good news is I have a year to think about it, I would do it with a few other people who were giving away different books. I would have posters that said World Book Night on them, along with the website www.worldbooknight.org so those walking by could quickly look it up and see that I didn’t have any ulterior motive to offering them a free book. For me, it was uncomfortable and scary, and despite my support for this organization and it’s work, I will really have to consider how I approach this if I decide to do it again next year.