Monday, August 23, 2010

2010 Northwest Author Fair - A Learning Experience

I just attended my first book signing event, the 2010 Author Fair, held annually at Bob’s Beachbooks in Lincoln City, Oregon. If you’ve never been to Lincoln City, it is a beautiful little costal town whose tourists constantly out populate its inhabitants. Located on Highway 101, if it weren’t for the unreliable Oregon weather, the constantly-clogged outlet mall and the casino on the north end of town, Lincoln City would be the embodiment of what most people think of when they picture a cozy Pacific Coast town.

Bob’s Beachbooks is a wonderful little store, crammed floor-to-ceiling with shelves and shelves of all those obscure little titles of various genres, mingling with the usual bestselling paperbacks and hardcovers. An indiscreet place, you’d probably pass it right by if you weren’t paying attention to where you were going.

Anyway, as a new author, I was very excited to be invited to this event. I even made reservations at a hotel in town and trucked my whole family (and dog) to make a weekend out of it. The bookstore ordered ten copies of Killer Cows for people to purchase and have me sign.

The event was outdoors, which was nice since it was sunny for once, and after setting up my table with posters and display copies, I wandered around to check out the other authors’ tables. That’s when I noticed a few things...

First, I was one of the few authors pitching a first novel, and one of the few who was pitching a young adult novel. There were dozens of authors of mysteries, non-fiction, poetry and fantasy. Many authors were self-published (not meant as criticism), and a few had books published by major book houses. The author next to me, Sheila Simonson, was one of the latter. She hauled out a half-dozen novels (some in hardcover by St. Martin’s Press). I was impressed, not to mention a bit humbled.

Second, my inexperience was obvious. Most all other authors came armed with postcards, bookmarks, business cards and flyers. I meant to at least have some bookmarks made, but did not find the time (or the money). I rued that choice once the book fair started, since those bookmarks and postcards are what most visitors grabbed at the tables. And after talking about Killer Cows with folks who stopped at my table, when they asked for my card, I was forced to sheepishly admit I didn’t have one.

Lesson learned: Bring some damn bookmarks next time!

Not that it would have mattered at this particular event, for most of the visitors were older, and based on my observations, more into serious stuff like literary fiction, mysteries, non-fiction and romantic fantasy. Lots of books about lighthouses and historical Oregon landmarks. I fitted into none of those categories; I write pulp fiction for kids.

I saw very few parents toting around kids of the age Killer Cows is aimed at. In fact, most people who stopped at my table chuckled at the cover before moving on. I was surrounded by poets and authors of books with titles like “Murder in…” or “The Realm of…” or “Midnight Musings,” and here I am with…Killer Cows. Perhaps I should have retitled it something more serious for this event, something like “Legend of the Bovine Kingdom” or “Murder in Satus Creek.”
On a lighter note, I did find a few fans. One was a six year old boy enamored by the toy stock cars and motorcycles on my table (both are major parts of the story). He stood and played with them for about twenty minutes. Another was a teenage girl who was more impressed with the Killer Cows poster I brought along, and wanted to know where she could get one.

Lesson learned: Don’t bring toys.

Still, the book and its B-movie title did appeal to some, who bought copies for me to sign, which was a lot of fun. I also enjoyed talking about the novel to people. Some picked up the book and did what my wife always does…read the last page first. I never understood why people do that. To me, it makes more sense to open to a random page in the middle to get a feel for a book, but never mind…

Though I didn’t exactly sign as many books as I anticipated, I did sign more than many of those around me (except for Ms. Simonson, of course). I’m pretty certain some authors didn’t sign any, mainly those whose books were obviously labors of love and self-published, or priced so high that customers didn’t think the books were worth it.

On a related note, one fifty-something author who did gangbusters was a fantasy writer and was pitching herself like a street evangelist, passing out pre-signed bookmarks to anyone passing by, whether they asked for one or not. She also touted her book was soon going to be a major motion picture. Her book also looked impressive, enough that my wife, an avid fantasy reader, bought a copy. When we got back to the hotel later on, I looked up the author and publisher, and they ended up being one in the same. My wife got about 40 pages into the novel before declaring that it really sucked. Still, I gotta hand it to this lady…she did what she had to do to sell copies, and was savvy enough make herself sound like the second coming of Anne McCaffrey.

And by the way, based on my extensive research, her novel is nowhere near to becoming a major motion picture. But, hey, who cares? Maybe next time I’ll do that. I can just hear myself now: “Killer Cows…soon to be a major motion picture starring Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Tom Hanks and a special appearance by Marlon Brando, coming back from the dead just for this film! Metallica is gonna do the film score! Oh, and did I mention it’ll be co-directed by Steven Spielberg and James Cameron? It’s also gonna be in 3-D!”

But who am I to judge? This lady sold more copies than I did.

Lesson learned: If you’re gonna BS your potential book buyers, do it big.

After three hours, the Author Fair ended. It was a fun weekend. I visited a great book store, met some nice people, some good writers. I also got a nice red sunburn, signed a few copies of Cows and spent the rest of the day on the beach with the family. Most importantly, it was a learning experience.

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