Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Drinks are on Ed

I've always understood the value of libraries.

Not only do they buy a good number of books (there are over 10,000 of them in the USA,) but a lot of readers become fans in libraries, and librarians love to talk about titles that they enjoy. They're great for word-of-mouth.

An added benefit to libraries is that they often have authors come in to speak. Some will even pay you for the honor, and you can sell books afterward.

So when a library wants me there, I try to make every effort to go. Which is what I did last weekend.

Spencer Indiana is about 250 miles away from my house. I drive a Land Rover, which can climb up the sides of boulder-strewn mountains and plow through raging rivers (very important in the suburbs of Chicago) but gets only about three miles to the gallon. With gas prices these days, a 500 mile round trip costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $77,325.

Not the most effective use of an author's money and time, you say? Especially since you geographically-savvy folks know that Spencer has a population of under 3000 people?

Well, a promo opportunity is a promo opportunity, and I loaded up the truck with beef jerky and energy drinks and went to see the Hoosiers.

Laura Stantz, Owen County Library's Events Coordinator, lured me there with promises of a free hotel room, free food, and free beer, so I figured I'd wind up ahead on the deal. I was to do a signing at the library from noon until three, then from six until ten I was to do another signing at the neighrbood bar and grill, Ed O'Brien's.

My expectations weren't very high--the most books I'd ever sold at a library event was 14. I had about 35 books with me, which should be more than enough.

My arrival at the library was met with much enthusiasm by the librarians, Laura, Beth Williams, and Brenda Curry. They'd hung posters around town advertising the event.

Unfortunately, their best efforts only drew a precocious 15 year old kid named Ben.

But I'm used to playing without an audience, so I circulated through the library (ha!) and met some patrons. In three hours, I'd sold 20 books. Not too shabby.

Afterwards, I did drive-by signings at the Bloomington Barnes & Noble and Borders, both of which had ample supplies, and then headed for the bar.

Ed O'Brien's was a small, intimate place, and I liked it immediately. Besides having me there, they also had live music in the form of the Jeff Waggoner band. I hung out with many literary-minded folks, including Jennifer Vibbert, Genny Coppedge, Brad and Jen Frye, Gwen Dieter, and Ed himself. Good people.

They fed me, gave me large amounts of beer, and bought the rest of my books. I also had a lot of fun.

I often talk about cost vs. value and effectiveness vs. effort. I preach that publishing is a business, and should be treated as such.

But this business isn't always just about numbers, or the bottom line, or the red and the black, or time and money.

It's also about people.

I've done over 300 signings in the past two years. I've forgotten most of them.

This one I won't forget.

How often can you say that?

To those authors who refuse to do drive-by signings because they don't feel it's worth the gas, and the authors that refuse to do events because they feel their time is better spent writing, and the authors who count every promotional penny and constantly fret about time and money, I say: Look at the bigger picture.

And to the wonderful people of Spencer Indiana, population 3000: Thanks for the great time. I'll be back.