23 May 2020

The Oh-So-Glam and Very Public Life of an Author
(aka Park your Ego at the Door)

John Floyd inspired this column with his recent post Strange but True, describing the things that have happened to him as an author.   I probably have another column of zany experiences to tell, but we'll start with this post.  Raising a glass to you, John!  (Amarone, in my case.  And a case of that would be welcome.) 

The Good:

“Sixty-two people signed up!” said the perky librarian. “We’ll have to move rooms. It’s a record.”

That was last February, at a branch of the Toronto Public Library. I was on stage talking about crime writing and my seventeen books, with Joan, another writer gal-pal. We’re both college teachers, so we know how to hold an audience. And we write humorous books, so we had the audience rockin’.

Photos went up on Facebook; 59 people chimed in with comments. And the most common comment was – Wow! That’s a terrific turnout. How did you do it?

Frankly, I have no idea. Yes, there were several Goddaughter series followers there. But it’s a mystery (sic) to me why some events fill up and others flop like a long-dead lake trout. And believe me, I’ve been in that pond too.

I’ve had events where only three readers show up. Where the number in the audience matches the number on stage. And where you don’t sell a single book.

The Eh…

Yes, well, about book sales on Wednesday night. Here’s the irony. The library brought in over 30 of my books for attendees to check out. I laughed when I saw the table. Everyone picked up the library books. I think I sold two.

Was it worth it? We do get paid in Canada for our books in libraries. So yes, it’s important to keep my books there, and keep people checking them out. But also, meeting my audience is hugely important for inspiring me to keep going.

But glamorous? Just remind me to park my ego at the door. Here’s why:

If you are an author, your life becomes somewhat public. People feel they have the right to comment on your looks, your age, your weight, your clothing, as well as your books. I began to realize last year that people believe celebrities – even terribly minor ones like mid-list authors – belong to them in some strange way.

The Bad:

I’ve had events where audience members come up after the event and thrust their virgin manuscripts into my hands and tell me to read it “for free.” I’m supposed to be grateful. And if I like it, which I definitely will, could I show it to my agent. Plus, I inevitably notice that they don’t buy even one of my books, or even admit to having read one.

That part is funny and frustrating, but it’s not all fun and games. Sometimes it’s even scary.

I’ve had a stalker, who couldn’t tell me apart from Rowena and Gina Gallo (the protagonists in my two series. You would think he would be disappointed upon meeting me. I’m almost 30 years older than my sexy protagonists!) Age didn’t turn him off. I felt hunted and haunted. It got to the point where whenever I was teaching at night or speaking in public, I would make sure to be accompanied by a male escort (not the hired kind. Although that would make for a better story…)

The Ugly:

I’ve had an ex-con confront me at a public event to write his ‘story’. I tried to explain that I was a fiction writer, not a true crime writer. Didn’t convince him. He followed up with angry emails. Things got tense. What DID convince him was explaining who I was related to, and why they wouldn’t be at all pleased to see me writing true crime. (He knew of The Family. That convinced him. He vamoosed.)

The Funny:

We started off this post with a good news event. But those are balanced by the ones that simply devastate the already fragile ego.

I was invited by a downtown Hamilton library branch to come on out for a Monday afternoon to speak about my bestselling fantasy series, Rowena Through the Wall. The event was open to the public, but the main audience would be a very keen grade twelve creative writing class from the local high school. Fantasy rocked with them, apparently.

Now, it just so happened that this Monday, the teachers were in contract talks, and they went work-to-rule. That meant no field trips. Librarian calls me with this news, but says “Don’t worry. Come anyway. I’m sure people will attend.”

When I arrived, instead of 34 eager students, there were exactly six elderly women, all with walkers.
But we’re troopers, right? We perform even if there is an audience of one. So I started reading. And half way through my five minute reading, at the most exciting part, one old dear yelled out, “When does the movie start?”’

And such is the glamorous life of this author.

That sketchy gal, and her friend Joan O'Callaghan, in Feb.
Hey - a candid photo that doesn't make me want to kill myself!

THE GODDAUGHTER DOES VEGAS is a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award, sponsored by CRIME WRITERS OF CANADA!  You can pick it up at all the usual places.  Of course, Gina - the protagonist - would probably steal it...


Paul D. Marks said...

Definitely a life of glam and glitz, Melodie ;-) . And don't forget the riches we make. Did we know how fab it would be when we signed up for this gig?

O'Neil De Noux said...

Nice. Yes, the glamorous life of a writer. Thanks for sharting this.

janice law said...

All of which confirms to me that, along with school teachers, writers need a big sense of humor.

Melodie Campbell said...

Oh, the riches, Paul! I'm pretty open with my Crafting a Novel college class about that, and you could hear the jaws drop!

Melodie Campbell said...

Thanks for commenting, O'Neil! And Janice -you better believe it. It' not a coincidence that I write madcap comedies.

Eve Fisher said...

Champagne and caviar all the way!
"I have a great plot for a mystery novel - all you have to do is write it, and we split the profits!"
Yeah, I've got a great one too: mystery writer kills their most annoying fan and gets away with it.

John Floyd said...

Great post! I love the part where they put your books on display so the audience could check them out of the library. Wait, wait--don't you want to buy one??

And when does the movie start?

Melodie Campbell said...

Eve, write that bloody book, and I will buy it for sure! grin. Thanks for commenting.

Melodie Campbell said...

John, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry! The librarian even looked sheepish. Ah well...thanks for the inspiration, once again! I have another post brewing...

Catherine Astolfo said...

We always did say we write and publish and sell for the fun. Maybe we should have said we do it for the weird and wacky. Never did think it was for the money. We knew better. I still don't miss the public presentations though.

Melodie Campbell said...

Catherine, I think we have to face the fact that the writing is fun. And the sharing of writing with readers who like what we write is magic. That's why I do it still.

Joan O'Callaghan said...

That was quite a night as I recall - before we even got started the librarians were having to put out more chairs!!
The thing is - whether you attract one person or 100 people to the event, ya gotta leave 'em laughing every time - you never know how things will go, who people know and who they talk to!
Personally, I love shmoozing about books and writing to anyone who will listen!!
(As an aside, I now have pandemic hair - no more masses of curls, hair pulled straight back and in a ponytail!).

Melodie Campbell said...

Pandemic Hair - whereas I have Pandemic Body - all stretched out and fluffy! Always fun doing an event with you, Joan :)

Anne R. Allen said...

This is all so funny now, but I know it doesn't feel that way when it's happening. I've had many of these things happen to me. Halfway through a presentation at a Writers Conference, the entire first two rows got up and walked out. Turns out they were signed up for a different presentation in another room, but it was awfully tough to soldier on after that.

And the manuscripts thrust into our hands! It happens more often than not. And you're right--these are not in our genre and the people haven't even read our books, much less bought any.

Melodie Campbell said...

Oh wow! Anne, that must have been harrowing (the two rows.) You're a pro, for sure. One has to be, to survive the writing trenches, because no one escapes these crappy experiences. Thanks for commenting, Anne!

Thom Bennett said...

You're kidding? You mean the local library BUYS your books? I've been giving mine to them for free! Jeesh. A very enjoyable article, Melodie. Can't wait for the western movie version!

Melodie Campbell said...

Laff! I think I get about 49 cents a book, Thom. (Publisher sells to library at a 50% discount, and I get 10% of what they get.) So 30 books times 45 cents puts me squarely in the almost 15 dollar range. Pass the scotch (oh wait - I can't afford scotch - grin.) Thanks for commenting!

Steve Liskow said...

This brought back so many nightmares...I loved it.

My favorite weirdo was years ago when I was promoting my roller derby murder mystery at--you guessed it--a roller derby bout. I'd followed the team for over a year and the skaters all knew me by name. One other regular spectator came to my table, looked at the book, and told me I should write a book about soccer instead of roller derby.

"Would you buy a book about soccer?" I asked.

"Nah," he said. "I don't read."

Jan Christensen said...

Great author stories, Melodie! You always make me smile. Keep on truckin'!

Melodie Campbell said...

Steve, you did it. I'm laughing out loud! Talk about a hit your head on the table moment. Thanks for giving me a smile tonight.

Melodie Campbell said...

Jan, thanks. I have another post on John's theme coming up next month. He put me on a roll...grin.

Leigh Lundin said...

I like your response of mentioning THE FAMILY wouldn't like it. Well said!

Melodie Campbell said...

Not the first time I used that for a reason, Leigh! Persistent suitors from the past...grin.