Guest Post: The Smell of Reading by David Bell

The Smell of Reading by David Bell

I have a confession to make: I used to work as a telemarketer. In the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t one of those telemarketers who called people in the middle of dinner. At my telemarketing job, we only called businesses. That was the way I justified my participation in this endeavor. I only called businesses. Back then, I didn’t see it as an intrusion to call people at work mainly because I was a college student who didn’t have a real job or any real goals. I would have loved it if someone had called me at work. I would have welcomed the distraction.

            Why did I call these poor people and interrupt their day? Because I wanted to sell them cleaning supplies. I’d ask for the person in charge of purchasing, tell them what I was selling, and then I’d do the most important thing of all—I’d try to make a personal connection. I’d make a comment about the town they lived in (we called people all over the country), a recent sporting event, or the weather, and I’d see if they became engaged in the conversation. If they liked me, the reasoning went, they’d buy something. Right?

            This led to me looking for signs. Signs that the call was going well. If the person on the other end of the phone laughed at a joke I made, I figured I might make a sale. If they agreed with me about the Super Bowl, I might make a sale. Or if I slipped into conversation—as I often did—that I was a poor college student trying to pay my tuition, and they responded sympathetically, then I thought I had a good chance of making a sale. I read the tea leaves. I listened carefully. I got my hopes up.

            What does all of this have to do with writing? I’m glad you asked.

            I’ve attended a lot of book festivals over the last few years. These consist of hundreds of authors sitting in a room with stacks of their books in front of them. Readers come wandering through, looking at books and talking to the authors. People ask logical questions. “What is your book about?” “Is it suspenseful?” “Is it scary?” “Is it like James Patterson?” And I answer as truthfully as I can. Let’s face it, there’s no point in being dishonest. If a reader is looking for fiction about the Civil War or a novel full of sex and romance, I can’t help them.

But as I talk to the readers, as I watch them hold my book, turning it this way and that, leafing through the first few pages, I find myself falling back on those old telemarketing tricks. Is it significant if the person smiles while they read the back of the book? Is it a good sign if she takes the book to her friend and asks her to read the back cover as well? If the reader flips to the back and looks at my bio, does it mean they want to buy the book? Or are they just checking to make sure I’m really the guy who wrote it and not an imposter?

But readers aren’t the same as guys buying cleaning supplies. It’s a much more inexact science. I know this because I’m a reader too. What makes me buy a book? A lot of things. I like a matte finish on the cover instead of glossy. I like thickness and solid spines. I like the way books smell. I’ve been known to open a book in the bookstore and take a good whiff. (And don’t tell me you haven’t done it too.) Have I ever judged a book by its cover? Damn right. But sometimes it’s more than that. Sometimes a book just speaks to me. It says, very quietly, “Read me. Read me!”

And when that happens I always listen. It’s a sign I can’t ignore.

About the book:
Elizabeth Hampton is consumed by grief when her mother dies unexpectedly. Leslie Hampton cared for Elizabeth’s troubled brother Ronnie’s special needs, assuming Elizabeth would take him in when the time came. But Leslie’s sudden death propels Elizabeth into a world of danger and double lives that undoes everything she thought she knew.... When police discover that Leslie was strangled, they immediately suspect that one of Ronnie’s outbursts took a tragic turn. Elizabeth can’t believe that her brother is capable of murder, but who else could have had a motive to kill their quiet, retired mother? More questions arise when a stranger is named in Leslie’s will: a woman also named Elizabeth. As the family’s secrets unravel, a man from Leslie’s past who claims to have all the answers shows up, but those answers might put Elizabeth and those she loves the most in mortal danger. Never Come Back is available in stores now.

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