Category Archives: Blog
I will be signing copies of the Yellowstone edition of Who Pooped in the Park at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone Park on Friday, August 5 and Saturday, August 6. If you’re going to be in or near the Park, stop by and see me! I will be in the lobby, right outside the gift shop, 11:00 to 6:00 Friday and 11:00 to 4:00 Saturday.
The Old Faithful Inn is one of my favorite places to sign books. Since there’s no wi-fi there—and no cell service to speak of—everybody is focused on the world around them instead of their phones. That, of course, includes me. Sometimes, when there’s nobody looking at my books, I’ll just jot down random thoughts. A lot of the ideas for my new book (Gary’s Guide to Successful Book Signings) came from the Old Faithful Inn. I’ve made plenty of book signing observations from Yellowstone Park, so I’ll skip those this time, and just ruminate on the differences in recent book signings.
The Who Pooped signings in the big national parks generally draw nature lovers, and most of the people that stop by the table are in no hurry to be anywhere. The idea of a book about poop throws a few people, but most are intrigued by it. The crowds at the NYC bookstores that hosted my Who Pooped signings (Book Culture and Bank Street Bookstore) were definitely different. By the time I was done reading, they were ready to buy a book (hopefully) and hit the road. Very few people wanted to just hang around and chat. Quite a few people—including bookstore owners—found the subject matter offputting. My publicist was told by two different stores that animal poop isn’t an appropriate subject for their stores. Luckily, the stores that hosted me were open-minded and fun, and the people at the Central Park Conservancy thought the book was a cool idea.
The Myths & Legends signing in NYC was a whole different world. It was about storytelling and drinking tea. The people who came hung out to chat and ask questions. The store owners prepared different tea samples for different stories from the book. It wasn’t like a national park book signing where I wait for people to stop at the table. I just stood and told stories. If you’ve never visited the Monkey Cup in New York City, stop and see them. It’s worth the visit!
Next week, I head to New York City on a book tour. The schedule still isn’t completely nailed down—why have a final schedule a week before the trip?—but I’d love to have you join me at one of these public events that we do have finalized. All of the events are completely free and no reservations are required. I’ll be signing books at all of them.
Lots of people want to have written; they don’t want to write. In other words, they want to see their name on the front cover of a book and their grinning picture on the back. But this is what comes at the end of a job, not at the beginning.
I’m one of those authors that enjoys the writing and that euphoric moment when you pull the author copy out of the package and hold the fruits of your labors in your hands. I don’t agree with the last part of Elizabeth George’s quote, though. For most writers, that isn’t the end of the job. There is still a great deal of work to be done promoting your book. It is, however, the transition from a solitary work shared only with your editor (when said editor can take a few minutes away from laughing maniacally and sharpening red pencils with a switchblade*) to something your cadres of adoring fans can enjoy.
Some of the real fun of being an author happens during the writing. That moment when you sit back and realize you’ve crafted the perfect sentence. When you figure out how to resolve that nagging inconsistency in the backstory. When you catch your botched pluperfect before the aforementioned editor sees it.
For us extroverts, though, most of the fun happens after the book hits the streets. We love standing in front a roomful of people to read our work, sitting at a book signing table with a line of fans in front of us, seeing our tweets shared far and wide.
Yesterday, I got to experience a joyful moment in the gloaming, that brief period between the arrival of the first books and the start of the hectic marketing campaign.
Almost a year ago, while working on Who Pooped in Central Park, I realized that I needed the kids to encounter a bird expert in the park. I toyed with different ideas for the character until I was struck with an epiphany: I know the perfect person!
Dominique Paulus is an artist who paints, among other things, birds. We have one of her original paintings hanging on our living room wall (“Woman Power,” seen at right). She’s been my friend for years, and we’ve chatted quite a bit about birds when she’s in my bookstore shopping for bird books.
So I wrote Dominique into the book and had her spend several pages telling the children about the birds in Central Park. I sent my illustrator (the incomparable Robert Rath) a photo of Dominique and she became a part of the plot. I couldn’t resist hinting to her that I had a surprise coming, but I did somehow restrain myself and not tell her what I’d done. Yesterday, on the official release date of the book, I gave her a copy of the book and showed her the pages that featured her.
Things that may seem minor to us, like a dedication or acknowledgement in the front of a book, mean a lot to people. Watching Dominique’s face when she saw herself in this book was a wonderful thing. As writers, we have many ways to change people’s lives. It’s up to us how we use them.
* To Will Harmon, my editor at Farcountry Press: I’m sure you don’t actually sharpen your red pencils with a switchblade. I’m guessing you use an axe.
UPDATE, OCTOBER 2017
As much as it saddens me to say this, I would discourage anyone from investing in This House of Books until they have either replaced the Board leadership or taken positive steps to correct the horrible situation they’ve created for the co-op—and me. I will be posting more details soon.
As I discussed in my last post, there’s a new bookstore coming to Billings, and I will be at the helm. The store now has a name: This House of Books, an homage to Ivan Doig’s masterpiece This House of Sky. There’s a lot to be excited about, but there’s one thing in particular that makes this store new and different: it’s a cooperative.
A cooperative is an organization that is owned and democratically controlled by the people who use its products, supplies or services.
—Montana Cooperative Development Center
There are farm co-ops, food co-ops, and insurance co-ops, but book co-ops are not so common. A few of them thrive around the country, like People’s Books Cooperative in Milwaukee and Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca. They are, as the MCDC quote above says, owned by their community. That’s what we are doing with This House of Books, but we’re taking it a step farther: we’re not just working within our physical community (Billings, Montana), but reaching out into our virtual community, the people who write the books we love to read.
Two-thirds of our board of directors are published authors, including Carrie La Seur, who is shown helping me to announce the store’s name in the picture above. Over a dozen have invested, and more have made their commitment to be member/owners. The outpouring of support from the community has been amazing. One of our novel (pun intended) fundraisers is an anthology that we hope to release this August. All of the authors have agreed to donate their royalties back to the co-op, and my publishing company (Proseyr Publishing) is doing the same with a portion of the profits.
What does it mean to be a member/owner of This House of Books? We’ve prepared some fact sheets that explain everything in detail (download the PDFs here), but this is it in a nutshell:
- If you buy a $100 voting share, you may participate in all open meetings, help to select the board of directors, and vote on changes to the bylaws.
- If you buy any number of $500 preferred shares, you become eligible to receive dividends if the store is profitable.
- All member/owners, regardless of the number or type of shares, are eligible to receive patronage refunds if there are more profits after dividends are paid.
- We are offering additional benefits spelled out on the investor page of the store website, which include store discounts, early registration for classes and tea tastings, access to advance copies of books, VIP events, and more.
Let me be clear about something: we’re not just building a store here. We’re building a cultural hub in downtown Billings. We’re working with the public library, Montana State University, Rocky Mountain College, Writer’s Voice, Montana/Wyoming authors, and other literary groups. We’re building a place for book clubs and writers’ groups to meet, a place for authors to give talks and sign books, a place for poets to read their work, a place for creative people to share their art, a place for the community to gather to play games or listen to music.
The bookstore co-op has come this far thanks to endless hours of volunteer work by the board and the early advisors (including owners of three other Montana bookstores). Bringing it the rest of the way and getting the doors open depends on the community buy in, and I mean that literally. Close to a hundred people have put their money where their mouths are, pledging over $35,000 in total, but this doesn’t put us anywhere near the $250,000 it will take to open the store. It doesn’t matter whether you buy a single $100 voting share or a big stack of $500 preferred shares—every single share sold moves This House of Books closer to reality.