Friday, May 04, 2007

I Swear, I Don't Make This Stuff Up

Why would I make up something like this?

So last night I had an appearance at a middle school in a town near here. The event was a "Literacy Luau," one of those events schools sometimes run to celebrate reading and books. Someone did a lot of work on this thing. They had games planned in various locations, a book fair, a book drawing, a book swap, a bake sale, and readings by two poets and an author. (The author being me, of course.) And they were offering my most recent book for sale.

I have a friend who subs at this school, and she had called me earlier in the week to tell me that every time she subbed in an English class, she had to read Happy Kid! during the read-aloud time. Yesterday afternoon she told me the school had been promoting the event all week and kids were going to get extra-credit for showing up.

Yesterday I was thinking, Gee, maybe I should prepare a mailing for middle schools with ideas for using Happy Kid! and send it to the reading teachers instead of the librarians, since my contact at this school was the reading teacher and she was really working for me. This could be the beginning of something big!

Well, I get to the school last night. Adults greet me, they're happy to see me. Yada, yada. If you can think ahead at all, you've probably figured out what happened next.

Not a soul showed up for my reading. And I was supposed to do two.

However, there were people across the hall where the poets were reading, in large part because in addition to the adult poets, student poets were going to read their work. And where you have students, you have their parents. So my contact decided to move me across the hall with them, and we'd all do one big reading.

That was fine. The poets were good and created a very coffeehouse-like atmosphere. But I'm sitting there a little worried that when I get up to read at the end, everyone will leave because they've only come to hear their kids after all.

Fortunately, a couple of kids read stories, which provided a nice little segue to my fiction reading. I was introduced as their featured writer (which was putting a nice face on a bad situation). And I did nail the reading. Fortunately, I have a great deal of experience with poorly attended appearances, and I wasn't as rattled as I would have been if I wasn't used to this sort of thing.

The reading seemed to be a hit, people laughed, seemed engaged. Then I was moved back across the hall with anyone who would like to talk with me while something continued in the poetry room. (I don't know what.)

Two parent-child units came by as well as a substitute teacher. The school sold two books, which was two more than I expected. I was very happy that I don't sell my own books at these things because the school ordered twenty or thirty, and I already have cases of books in my cellar.

A number of people who saw me afterwards said how great I was, though.

The reading teacher felt very badly and was worried that she hadn't promoted me well enough. (I truly don't think that's the case.) So I ended up in the hallway consoling her by telling her stories of all the author appearances I've made that were busts.

As you can imagine, we were there a while.

Thank goodness for my virtual life. While I was sitting in that room trying to listen to those poets, I was working out how I'd describe the experience on my blog.

I'm now thinking about trying to become the Harper Lee of kids' lit. She never makes appearances, and she seems to do quite well with sales. And she's only got the one title. So I'm thinking about refusing to make appearances and spreading stories about being a recluse, which wouldn't be that hard since I only go to taekwondo class and the grocery store.

It's what you might call a reverse marketing plan.


MotherReader said...

Ever since I started my blog whenever bad things happen, I think "Well, it be great to write on the blog." As you know comedy is just tragedy with time, and I would add, with perspective.

Sorry that it was a bust, but good story.

Jennifer Schultz said...

Oh, Gail. We hosted Chris Crutcher at our library. He spoke to one or two grades (sophomores, juniors...I don't remember) at our two high schools, then we hosted a dicussion with him at our library. It was for those students who weren't able to see him, for the teachers, students at the private schools, and the general public, our patrons.

I think we had 10 people there. Three of those were library staff (myself, the children's librarian at one of our other branches, and my supervisor), one was the president of our Friends of the Library group, and another was someone from the local paper (when I see someone from the paper show up at an event, I know it's going to be a low turnout. Happens every time.)

The others were teachers from the high schools, who had already heard him speak that afternoon, and who walked over from the dinner we had just had with Chris Crutcher.

We promoted this in our monthly program calendar, on our website, in the newspaper, on my blog, etc. I told other librarians in other systems about it (however, we are in the sticks as far as they are concerned!).

I was so scared that he would be offended. The teacher who was the main coordinator was mortified. He didn't think it was a big deal at all.

It was great for us, because we got to talk with him and ask him as many questions as we liked, took pictures with him, but we were saddened that the people who showed up were basically those who had been involved in planning the event, or were associated with the library and school.

Gail Gauthier said...

This is why I'm able to take this as well as I do. It's very common to read about big name authors doing tours where they're speaking to standing room only at one spot and sitting alone among the folding chairs at the next one.

And mid-list writers have it happen a lot. I've been to book festivals and seen authors speaking to gatherings of three. I've been to book fairs and seen more than one author sitting alone behind stacks of books for an hour.

In fact, a few years ago I read a series of perhaps urban legends about author appearances. An author had only one person show up for a book talk and decided he would give the best talk ever. So, though his audience member sat with her head down while he was talking, he went for it. Finally, the woman looked up and said, "Do you mind? I'm trying to read."

Another story involved an author who had only one person show up for an appearance. During the presentation, the police come in and arrest the lone audience member leaving him with nobody.

Miriam said...

Ouch, ouch, ouch. Frankly, this is my nightmare when I arrange a program at my library. I've taken to telling people "I work with teens. It's very hard to predict what they'll do. I could get ten to sign up, I could get forty, I could get nobody." I feel I have to prepare them for anything. I do think that it has absolutely nothing to do with how much they like your work, though, if that helps at all. We had Caroline Cooney speak when our addition (and new Teen Room) first opened. At the time, her books were flying off the shelves (they still circulate pretty well, actually), so I expected dozens of kids. I think we did have a couple dozen people in the room, but more adults than kids. It wasn't exactly embarrassing, but it wasn't the turnout I'd expected, either. I don't know what the trick is to bringing people out for an author program, but I am convinced that a poor turnout doesn't mean that the author isn't liked and appreciated.

Kelly said...

Ouch is right, Gail. But, you're right. It made for a good story! And you handled it well and with grace :)