I’ve returned from my adventure very tired, but also ready to get to work. I’ve written about how I had wanted to go out east and have spent the last two months preparing for it. I’ve learned a lot about organizing book tours (and why people have assistants… to all assistants, I salute you!), and what I might do differently next time. I also learned about the unmeasurables, the things you cannot even begin to imagine, that (most) people are grateful that you came and shared your story.
This blog post got very long, so I decided to divide it up into two parts. The first part is about some of the things I observed in my travels and the second will be about my observations around self care.
Booksellers Are Made of Awesome: This is actually something I knew before I went. Having been a bookseller, I humbly include my former self in this observation … but it was interesting seeing it from the other side.
1. They love meeting authors: I mean I did…I still do. (Fangirl all the way! See me with Sheree Fitch…who I adore.) Anytime I’ve gone into a store (not during peak hours) they’ve been gracious and amazing. In fact, usually they want me to sign the book! This is also very exciting. (Side advice would be to let your publisher know you’re going places so they can arrange to have stock in said places for you). The signings I had were all arranged beforehand with the bookstore. Every bookseller I met at both the indies and at the big chain were gracious and respectful, a few were even excited (see #2). Plus, they said nice things on social media about the event and took pictures, which helps promote the store and you, so it is a win/win.
2. They might even be a fan of your book: It is hard to truly know how people are receiving the book. One day when I’m ready I’ll write about my surprising reaction to reviews, but let’s just say I’m of the camp that tends to focus on the one negative line. So, seeing bookseller response to MAUD helped. Box of Delights had MAUD well featured in Staff Picks and New Releases, and put together a lovely event. Sheree Fitch at Mabel Murple’s made the most beautiful introduction (see me Fangirling above).
The booksellers at Coles Summerside and Indigo in Charlottetown showed me these pictures they had done showcasing MAUD and there was a video…a video! It was also a staff pick. Knowing how much all of these booksellers read, this means everything. I had no idea about any of this! In Dartmouth, there was a bookseller who couldn’t be there and left their book for me to sign. Really, who knew?! I didn’t.
3. They have a lot to do, so be gracious: This is just being a good human, but definitely when you’re an author and you come to the store, you are an additional thing that booksellers have to take care of that day. I remember what it means to prepare for an event, to do the social media, to take care of the author when there is also serving actual customers, shelving and merchandising windows (I used to love doing that at Lichtman’s) and, if you’re the manager, ordering the books. So, to stay late to run an event (thank you Box of Delights!), or prepare an outdoor reading space (looking at you Sheree Fitch!), or create a table that promotes the reading (Indigo, Coles, and Chapters, you know I mean you!) this is a lot. And, when given treats…that’s even better. So you see…awesome.
Librarians are Awesome: Again, I knew this already. It was a librarian after all who introduced me to my favourite books when I was a kid. Librarians also care about who comes in and they plan activities to encourage literacy. Before the event, I saw the librarians at the Charlottetown Confederation Centre Library in action. One was running a summer reading/activity initiative with some little kids downstairs and the other was doing something cool involving Jeopardy in the “Teen Zone” upstairs. They were gracious and welcoming when I arrived and (like the booksellers) have a lot to do, but everything was set up for me. They event printed up extra posters for my events!
Sitting at a Table is Weird, but Amazing Things Can Happen: When I was given the opportunity to sign books at the big chain in Canada, Indigo Books and Music, Inc., I kinda sorta remembered what it was like to be a bookseller and seeing authors sign books at a table. But I was also in the haze of, “I’m going East, need to do all of the things and say, yes!” I’m glad I did (see Booksellers are Awesome). But there is a lot of sitting and avoiding eye contact. People are like, “Oh, you want to sell me something…no thanks.” But other people are interested. Over the four events where I was sitting at a table, I spoke to a number of people about this Maud (not Maude with an “e” who is the painter) who didn’t know about the book, or knew someone who might like the book, or were generally interested. They didn’t all buy the book then, but a number of them did. Other people do come and see you, and that is just lovely. Then, there are the friends who come. Friends, never discount this. We appreciate you taking time out of your busy lives and come by because it could be that you are the only one who comes.
It was pretty quiet at the Coles store in Summerside, but one of the few people that came (including my friend and her mom–thanks, friend! and someone who worked at the L.M. Montgomery Birthplace…thank you!), was a young woman from Hungary. She was visiting PEI and NS with her family and had heard or bought my book at the birthplace (the details are a bit fuzzy now) and then learned that I was coming to the Coles. She asked her parents to drive her so she could meet me. Her father was busy taking photos of us talking and me signing her book and her mom informed me that this young woman was an avid reader and wrote book reviews. She reads mostly in Hungarian, but wants to read my book because she loves Montgomery. That kind of made my day.
A few readers I met came back to the store after they had bought the book so they could meet me. One of them had an ARC, but then came back so I could sign the book. This means she had the book twice! I thought I was the only person who had more than one copy of my book! These amazing things were a balm for my soul…to see this involvement, this excitement…it meant everything.
People Love L.M. Montgomery…and they are interested in what you have to say: Liking L.M. Montgomery can sometimes be like the only one in the room who likes black liquorice. It’s quite delicious, but an acquired taste, and when you find someone that likes it, you’re like, “OMG, Me too!” Maybe it is like genre fiction (I find a lot of Montgomery fans prefer genre fiction to regular fiction), but so many people I met on the road had a story about reading a Montgomery book. There were family connections and school stories, and generally the idea that reading her books probably saved them. I had heard these types of stories before (from my own circle of friends and myself included), but the difference here was in some cases I think my reading or signing might have been the first time they had been able to actually talk to someone about her.
At Box of Delights, one woman stayed behind to show me her copy of The Blue Castle and then ask me if I knew about the controversy with Colleen McCullough’s plagiarizing the book. (I had). A number of occasions, I met students who were studying Montgomery and were elated to find out about the LMMI conference (CFP deadline approaching, do submit your proposal.) Mostly, I met readers who just loved Montgomery’s books and were interested about her. On some strange level, it was like I was bringing people together.
This isn’t just about what I have to say, we all do. Who am I? We say, at least that is what I say. There are others who have published more than I, who have done more than I, who know more than I…but, I’m working through this and deciding that it is the negative loop I’ve carried with me much of my life. We all have our special perspective based on what we know of our world and, maybe, our stories will help someone else. So share it. Talk about your process and what you know. Because people actually are pretty good about it. In fact, no one came up to me and said, “How DARE you!”–and smashed a slate over my head.
Read the Room: This is a cliche probably for a reason. I have picked out a few different readings from MAUD, practiced it so it hopefully sounds a little dramatic and that I don’t read too fast (I have a tendency to do this when I’m nervous). There are readings I have for an older crowd and some for a younger one. I also have learned that, depending on the group, you don’t want to read too long. People have questions, let them ask them. When I did the reading at the Halifax Public Gardens, I had an hour. That seemed like a very long time, so I picked out a few key moments that would be interesting from all three parts of the book (I rarely get to read from Book Three so that’s always a treat) and then gaged to see what people wanted. I did read all three parts, but we took breaks in between to answer questions. I think it worked out quite nicely…people were engaged and it was a discussion, rather than just me talking.
But if they’re a really quiet bunch, like the teens at the library event, I had to change tactics. I had put together a presentation that I hope will become part of what I do for school visits. A combination of “my road to publication and writing” and a workshop of “how to write an historical novel,” I hoped that maybe we could do something active. But, my audience were teens who didn’t really know one another, they were pretty shy to speak, although I did get a couple to answer my questions, and they were engaged, it wasn’t a chatty group. I was warned ahead of time that this might be an issue, but I hoped my shiny personality would win them over. It didn’t in the way that I hoped. So, I adjusted. I didn’t force them to do a workshop because it would have been terrible and maybe turn them off writing or historical fiction. This way they may leave with something positive.
Be in Gratitude: One of my practices right now is that of gratitude. It helps to be mindful of what I do have, when I’m feeling discouraged about where I’m going and what comes next. I’m thankful to the people who offered their homes for me to sleep in (friends, you know who you are!), who took time out of their busy schedules to make posters and organize a reading (Public Gardens I’m looking at you!), and who fed me and made me apart of their family for a night or two (Shenanigans were had!). It is weird traveling and touring on your own. You do have to make sure that there will be someone at the reading to greet you, to make sure you have your own water to drink, that the books will be there when you arrive and all of those little details you never think of when there is a publicist or an assistant helping you. (Publicists and assistants, I salute you!)
Give Yourself Permission to Soar: I’m probably what one would call an introverted extrovert or an extroverted introvert — or whatever the psychology is right now. Essentially, I sometimes like being around people, but I don’t want to be the centre of attention (I know, not very LEO like), and I don’t always feel like I have the right to be at the centre (see People Love Montgomery). Also, I do get very tired extroverting a lot and need a few days to regroup (in my case, it was about a week).
A few weeks ago, a wise woman gave me an affirmation that says, “You have permission to soar,” and I burst into tears. I didn’t believe that I did have permission, that there are others more deserving writers out there, that it was “showing off” if I did go on TV or promoted myself, or had a successful tour. I’m not sure how I decided that it was okay for me to go out there, maybe it was when I saw the generosity of people (see Be in Gratitude) who went over and above to get the word out there, one even offering to connect with traditional media outlets which is how I ended up on the CTV Atlantic Morning Show. I’m not a natural performer, it takes a lot for me to get up and out there (particularly at 7:45 in the morning), and be coherent. But I’m learning to be in this space, to allow myself to be out there…to soar…
Coming up…how I took care of myself on the road and afterwards.