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.)
“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.
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.
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…)
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.)
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.