Monday, September 6, 2010
Impressions from a Book Fest
Recently I was asked by Emory University to be one of their featured authors signing/selling books for their "Authors Spotlight" at the Decatur Book Festival. I'm not really sure why. When I saw the caliber of writers also appearing on that featured author's list (Pulitzer Prize winning author Natasha Tretheway, National Book Award finalist Kevin Young, Emory University Vice President Gary Hauk) I felt sort of like the scraggly chicken patay passed around before the main entree.
These people are accomplished, well-known, hold copious degrees and important university titles, and I'm...well, I'm just Christeene. Christeene of 'Hey, go file this for me' notoriety.
The night before the festival, my husband and I stayed up until nearly 4am stapling and folding these beautiful little chapbooks stuffed with 32 pages of poems that I've lovingly tended to over the last month. As the books grew in number on our dining room table, and we laughed over the intimidating length of our Freudian inspired booklet stapler, I felt proud. I felt like a Writer (capital 'W').
The next day, alone, with my homemade volumes packed neatly in my book-bag I felt something very akin to the sinking dread I had on the first day of middle school. The prom scene from the cult movie Carrie replayed in my head ('They're all gonna laugh at you!') until I imagined that my hair was clumped in thick pig blood.
Luckily it turned out to be far less traumatic than all that.
1. When selling a chapbook, be sure that your 'FOR SALE' sign is large enough for little old ladies to see from at least 100 feet away. This will save you both from the ensuing embarrassment when a little old lady assumes that you're handing out pamphlets and takes one while you wave your hands and screech sheepishly, "Ma'am, those cost five dollars!"
2. Have no shame whatsoever when two friends show up unexpectedly and start snapping photos like you're Billy Collins or Stephen King descending from The New York Times bestseller's list to greet the plebeians. Embrace the free PR. Just pretend like you don't know who they are, and ask for their names as you sign their books with panache.
3. Don't be insulted when someone comes up to you and assumes you're the information person even though you are clearly sitting under a HUGE sign that says 'Author Spotlight.' Just smile and say, "Yes sir, Joseph Skibbell IS scheduled to sign at this booth later this afternoon!"
4. Have some enthusiasm when you're pimping your own wares. Apart from a tap-dance, people need to be convinced to pay ANY thing for poetry these days unless you've been thoroughly swabbed and vetted by The New Yorker or The Atlantic Monthly.
5. Never underestimate the little details. One woman bought my chapbook because she liked the Anais Nin quote on the back of my business cards; it spurred a whole conversation about writing, which ended in her perusing my first chapter and parting with two copies at $5 a piece (Hey, ten bucks is a big deal when a gallon of gas is nearly $3).
6. That lurky couple that talks to you for fifteen minutes and then stands awkwardly in the distance whispering and staring at you for another 20 mins after the husband has already asked 'So, what are you doing after this is over?' may be A) swingers looking for a friend, or B) just weird. Either way, exit from the back of the tent unseen.
7. Remember that every step, no matter how small or awkward, is still a step forward in your writing career. No one that ever wrote anything worth reading did so for money or recognition (even if they fantasized about both); it may be to your advantage as a living writer if you have neither. To be a real Writer, you need only a great big soul made of "empathy and intuition" (to quote a friend of mine).
I sold more books than I anticipated during my hour-that-felt-like-two-days. Surprisingly more books. I remembered that I was invited to sit at the same table as lauded authors even though no one knows my name. No one knows my name...yet.