In New York’s Union Square, on the top floor of a Barnes & Noble, a band of photographers jockeyed for better spots behind the rope line. Farther back, two dozen cameramen set up their tripods. Somewhere in between, a handful of print reporters asked bookstore staffers for a closer view of the main attraction: the stage where Hillary Clinton would be signing copies of her new book.
The answer from one Barnes & Noble staffer: “There’s nothing to see or hear.”
“She’s not taking questions. Please don’t ask any questions,” said another. “She’ll come in, hold the book and pose, and then immediately start signing.”
One thousand fans waited in line for hours on Tuesday morning — some since Monday night — to get a brief moment with Clinton and an autographed copy of her memoir, titled Hard Choices. But the carefully managed event, the first stop on a national publicity tour to promote the new book, allowed little interaction between Clinton and her readers, or reporters there to cover the signing.
As attendees waited in a line that stretched around the block, staffers handed out a list of guidelines for the event. A piece of paper with eight bullet points warned fans that Clinton would not be “personalizing the book or signing memorabilia.”
“NO posed photography with the author,” the rule sheet advised.
On the third floor, attendees went through a security check and metal detector before they were allowed upstairs. A bookstore staffer coordinating the event said the only political signing they’ve hosted that has been comparable in size and scope to Monday’s book tour stop was an event for Bill Clinton. (Sen. Elizabeth Warren was at the same Barnes & Noble this spring to promote her memoir, A Fighting Chance, but only about 200 people attended; readers and reporters were free to approach Warren after a brief speech and question-and-answer session.)
By 11:15 a.m., just after the event was scheduled to begin, Clinton aides came up the escalator to the fourth floor, but without the author.
Near the front of the room, a sleepy college student leaned against a pillar and closed his eyes. Fans peered over the rope line to see if they could spot Clinton. Finally, Janie Groff, a 57-year-old Brooklyn resident who’d been in line since 7:30 p.m. on Monday, shouted to no one in particular, “Go get her! Just go get her!”
When Clinton did come, the sound of cheers filled the floor.
She walked on stage and took her place before a long wooden desk and leather chair, flanked on either side by two posters of the book jacket — a sepia-toned picture of Clinton gazing directly into the camera. “I am thrilled to be here at Barnes & Noble and to be given the chance to meet so many of you,” she said.
“We have a lot of hard choices to continue to lead the world and solve problems that affect us and the rest of humanity,” Clinton added, in a set of brief remarks about the memoir, which focuses on her four years as secretary of state.
“So, I’m looking forward to not only meeting you but also having a chance to hear from you as we go through the day,” she said. “Let’s get started!”
Clinton took her seat at the desk and the signing began. She occasionally paused to take a picture — deviating from her own guidelines for the event — or to have a brief conversation with a fan. But for most of the signing, the line moved quickly, aided by four staffers on stage who moved books to and from Clinton like a conveyor belt.
The first woman, farthest to Clinton’s left, would take a book from the pile, open the flap to the signing page, and place it on the table. (One publishing source dubbed the role “the flapper.”) The second person would slide the book over to Clinton, as she engaged with the attendee. The third, directly to Clinton’s right, would take the book from Clinton and fold the jacket flap over the page, marking the place with the autograph. And the fourth would take the book and hand it to the grateful fan.
After about 30 minutes, the press was escorted from the building. But before the photographers in the front row left, Clinton paused to take a few more pictures.
“Thank you, oh my god,” one photographer shouted as the cameras flashed.
Clinton laughed, turning her head from side to side in a fake pose.