What’s the crowning achievement in an author’s career, if not being invited to a reading and signing of your book at a well-known bookstore?
Selling a million copies, you might say. Or really, just several thousand.
But as no sudden appearance on the bestseller list was forthcoming, I was wildly thrilled, if also a bit nervous, about the bookstore invitation a few weeks ago. Though you might say that “invitation” is a big word. I feel like I more or less muscled my way into the door at Parnassus Books* in Nashville, a bookstore well-known for being one of the last bastions of independence vis-a-vis the market might of Amazon.com.
I have some well-connected friends, it turns out, who know people who in turn know people who make decisions at Parnassus, and so I nicely asked (read: begged, pleaded, and cajoled) them to put in a good word for me. It eventually succeeded, and I was offered a mid-September date for my book signing event, if I agreed to promote it widely.
So I set out to keep up my end of the bargain. I invited (and begged, pleaded, and cajoled) friends, acquaintances, and book clubs. I advertised the date on Facebook and Twitter and my blog. I put the word out on our neighborhood website. I put up some flyers in coffee shops and an outdoor store. (Note: getting permission to put up flyers anywhere in this country is akin to being vetted for political office, with the notable exception of Starbucks – thank you Starbucks!) I even sent out a press release, a personal first.
As the date inched closer, I prepped for the night. Made a chart, wrote notes for my speech. Put together a slide show of pictures, in case I ran out of things to say. Trial-read passages in the quiet of my study, feeling utterly silly. Made a list of things to bring, including wine, a bottle opener, and my reading glasses. I was above all grateful to have remembered the reading glasses. Oh, and books. What a disaster if I had forgotten the actual books!
Thanks to a strong showing of a group of loyal friends* and avid readers (the ones without kids on the soccer field or volleyball court that night), the evening was a success. And not only that, it was an evening of culinary delights, thanks, again, to my friends who not only showed up but showed up with food in their arms.
We opened wine (not enough, as I regretfully noticed afterwards when packing up the unopened bottles I’d had no time to open in the midst of it all).
We talked about how I wrote the book, and how the writing experience mirrored the climbing experience, which of course is the subject of my book.
I read some excerpts from it.
And, most glorious moment of all, I sat down to sign copies. It was just like I’d experienced from the other end: People would step up to me, a store assistant would hand me a book, already opened to the right page, I would chat briefly and sign, and the book would be expertly whisked away and replaced by a new one while the line moved on.
Except mine was only about 20 people long, not snaking around the building like at a Bill Bryson event.
Some people brought me pictures of their loved ones on the summit of Kilimanjaro, who of course are the ones who can most relate to my story. I found this endearing. Although it makes me equally happy when people who’ve never done any mountain climbing in their lives tell me that they felt they were with me every step of the way, saying it is written so vividly.
I had a great evening. I’ve heard of authors of national renown who’ve had an audience of three people at the same venue, so I’m very grateful that mine made a respectable showing.
It doesn’t look like I’ll go on a grand book tour barnstorming across the country anytime soon. But it was fun playing in the Big Leagues for just one night.
* Thank you to Parnassus Books to give an unknown local author like me this opportunity. Thanks to Sonja Walsh for documenting the evening in such wonderful fashion with her camera; all pictures in this post are hers. And thank you for my wonderful friends for supporting me.
** Copies of Kilimanjaro Diaries (including a few remaining signed ones) are available from Parnassus Books here.