Sunday, October 12, 2008


This is a strange business. A year ago an old college friend met me at a book festival where I was speaking. Later I went out to the tent for the signing. The signing was one of those unusual times when I had quite a few people in line. I was still signing when my time was up, and the bookstore asked if I would continue signing. Heck yeah! I knew what a rare treat this was and I never ever refuse to sign a book(unless it isn't mine).

My chum didn't realize this was rare and later said, "I felt sorry for those other authors. Some of them didn't have but one or two people in their lines."

I told her, "Kim, that was me last week."

She laughed. "No, it wasn't."

"Yes, believe me, it was. I wouldn't joke about something like that."

It seems no matter how long many of us have been published and on the road, we can never feel completely confident about the turnouts for events and signings.

I was reminded of this point Saturday when I spoke The Big Read in Saint Louis. The festival was beautifully organized, every step thought out. The day started with an author breakfast at the hotel, giving us a chance to mingle with each other. Later a driver met us in the lobby, someone else escorted us from the drop off point and walked us to our event. The moderators gave lovely intros. All the volunteers were cheerful and thanked us for participating. This was a festival that ran as smooth as soft icing on a warm cake.

But...I had the misfortune of being scheduled the same time as Linda Sue Park's presentation. Linda Sue and I write for the same age group. My turnout was puny and when I stopped early to take questions, I found myself with half of the original audience. I'd made the assumption there would be lots of questions about getting published. That had been my experience with other festivals. The young man who had asked me questions about When Zachary Beaver Came to Town before the presentation, had left when he realized my talk would center around the Piper Reed books.

This morning at the airport, I was still licking my wounds, while I perused the magazines at the newsstand. I grabbed a copy of the special fiction issue of The Atlantic before rushing to my flight. It was just what I needed.

After buckling in, I read Ann Patchett's essay about book touring titled
My Life in Sales. If you are a writer, new or seasoned, dash to your nearest bookstore and pick up a copy. Patchett's essay alone is worth the six bucks. Patchett explores her life on the road and the ups and downs of turnouts. She reflects on Allan Gurganus' wise remark--"The only thing worse than going on book tour, is not going on book tour." The ending made me cry because it was a reminder of why I do say yes to these events when there will always be the possibility of low turnouts. There is always the possibility of the sweet moments, too.

And there were some sweet moments this weekend. Laurie Keller and I had a progressive dinner on Friday night. We ate appetizers at two restaurants before heading to Ben and Jerry's. Laurie is one of my favorite picture book writer/illustrators and it was fun to spend some time catching up with her.

Saturday night Linda Sue Park and I ate dinner about a half mile from the hotel.

We talked about our current projects, and how we'd never had a favorite book of our own until now. Linda Sue's is her new book, Keeping Score. Mine is the historical manuscript I turned in to my editor last summer for the second round.

That night I returned to my room and checked my e-mail. There was an invitation to be a keynote at an event. Had they not heard what had happened in Saint Louis? With all the ups and downs, it is easy to think you have a successful career one minute and the next think you are a complete failure. Indeed, it's a strange business. And I love it.

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