Monday, September 27, 2010

My Own Spinal Tap Moment: Another Learning Experience

I had what many in the music industry call a Spinal Tap moment this past weekend.

For those of you who have never seen This is Spinal Tap, it is a fake documentary about an aging, has-been heavy metal band. Essentially a satire of musicians and the music business in general, it’s an extremely funny look at a fictional band, Spinal Tap, but with scenes depicted with such dead-on accuracy that many real-life bands have amusingly reflected on their own real-life “Spinal Tap” moments over the years. One such scene takes place in a record store, where the band is there to sign their latest album. Only nobody shows up.

That happened to me this past weekend.

I had arranged a book signing event for Killer Cows at a small-town independent bookstore, which has the distinction of being the oldest bookstore in Oregon. It’s a neat little place, located in one of the town’s older buildings, and stuffed with books by both local and bestselling authors. It’s the kind of place many people romantically think would be a great business to own…a bookstore run by people who love books.

The staff was wonderful, and the manager was a pretty young lady who had read the book and was very enthusiastic; she’d made flyers, put ads on the store web page, and even contacted local schools to let them know a local author of young adult fiction was coming. She also ordered a dozen copies of Killer Cows, which were on display at the front of the store when I walked in after my 80 mile drive from Portland. Nearby was coffee and cookies, and the staff seemed truly happy to meet me. With a few minutes left before the two-hour signing was to begin, I helped myself to some coffes (which was great, BTW), and sat down to do some signing. This was gonna be fun.

The problem was, during that entire two hours, almost nobody showed up. Maybe five or so customers, a few of whom did buy the book. But for the most part, I wandered the store, chatted books and music with the staff, got wired on caffeine and fat on cookies. The manager, bless her heart, was very gracious and offered that the weather probably played a factor (in Oregon, you take advantage of those rare sunny days when they arrive). And on a nice day, during a weekend, most of downtown was as devoid of people walking the sidewalks as an apocalyptic sci-fi movie.

All told, I spent more money on gas to get to the signing than I did selling books.

Still, I met some nice people, and signed a couple more books for the manager and some of her employees. And I have to admit, I do love signing. I wasn’t expecting a mob of people clamoring for my autograph, but during those lengthy times in which no one came into the store, I thought about that scene in This is Spinal Tap and had a good chuckle at my own expense.

Another lesson was learned this past weekend: Just because you write a book doesn’t automatically mean people are clamoring for your autograph, and will set time aside on a rare sunny day just to get one. Hell, I even remember attending a book signing at Barnes & Noble for Charlaine Harris (one of the biggest authors in the world), and being amazed that only about 200 people showed up. A nobody like me? Forget about it. 200 people would be like finding the Holy Grail.

Still, I’ll plug along, doing what I can to get word out about my own book, even if it takes a lot of gas for me to get there.

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