Hey there! Good to see you back at Blogville. Today I’m having a steeped tea with a splash of milk.
Remember when you were a kid, selling tickets at Stedmans, or chocolate bars, or seeking sponsorships? Remember trying to raise money so you could go on a school trip, or to camp, or to a Boy Scout Jamboree? Remember standing in the rain or snow or high humidity trying to get sponsorships for a walk-a-thon, skip-a-thon, or some kind of thon, raising money to support your hockey team, or ringette, or baseball, and other teams or organized activities that existed to keep us all busy and out of trouble?
Well, if you remember that, you will also remember the people crossing the road, or suddenly becoming very interested in their jacket’s zipper, or deciding they did not need that item after all, the one found only in the store where they would have to cross your path to get to. You would remember the lack of eye contact from the same people who, on a normal day, would stop you and bore you with a hundred questions about your parents, your siblings, your progress in school, and your latest bowel movements. People and their money were not easily parted, even with the plea “hey Mrs. Etmanski, wanna sponsor me for . . .”
If you have ever tried to fund raise or sell something in a mall then you have been where I was very recently, during my first public book signing. The book signing took place at our local shopping mall. It was well organized by a very enthusiastic bookstore employee who had many wonderful plans but, to her dismay, more and more technical challenges as the event loomed closer. Murphy’s Law applied to many of the event details (some of you will need to look up the concept of Murphy’s Law) but despite everything that had been, or was currently going wrong, this young woman pasted a smile on her face and the event moved forward driven by her heart and determination.
I was in the company of some wonderful author colleagues and we introduced ourselves and got to know each other a little. Our books were an eclectic collection of words on pages with our hearts inserted as bookmarks. We were all local authors in the North from Sudbury to Moosonee, ergo the creative and appropriate name of the event, billed as ‘Northern Pages’. Among us were an author with a TV series deal in the works, and an Indigenous Order of Canada recipient, a poet, a lover of fantasy writing, a thrilling mystery storyteller, a fun loving children’s author, and me, with my book for families travelling an adoption, kinship or other alternative care journey.
There was the usual ‘newness factor’ discomfort that comes with mixing people who have never met, people with experience and those without, as well as differing personalities. We all turned a comparative eye to each other’s works and were both intimidated and encouraged. Many of us were new to book signing events such as we found ourselves in, while others had been there, done that. Some of us were equipped only with our books (proudly labeled with stickers that said, “Local Author” and “Signed by Author”) to stack on on tables covered with green tablecloths. We lovingly placed our books next to the supplied bottle of water, pens, and a plastic book stand. Other, more experienced authors got busy setting up retractable banners and promotional display monitors. I noted that the mall IT guy seemed less than enthusiastic when trying to find a working outlet in the temporarily repurposed, otherwise empty, storefront. IT folks really are unsung heroes aren’t they? He made it work.
The bookstore and the mall had promoted the event, paper flyers evident at each entrance as well as invitations on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. Each author attending had promoted the event on our social media, some of us even doing Facebook live feeds at the book signing itself. We had told our friends and family where and what time the event would be taking place and exactly at noon, we overcame the tummy butterflies some of us had, put on our best and most confident smiles, and sat or stood filled with pride in showing our books!
We were authors, ready to meet the public!
So, getting back to the fundraising/sponsorship experiences from our youth, I was transported back in time while at this event. People would glance in at us wondering who we were and what was going on in the normally empty storefront. We, holding our breath in anticipation that they might cross the threshold and look at our books, patiently waited. Some folks would look around outside the storefront for signage and discover that we were “local authors”, most then turned and took a sudden interest in what a phantom friend, just out of our site, wanted. Duck and run! Evidently disappointed that it wasn’t a comic-con preview, or some kind of give-away free sample event, off they went. People we knew and called greetings to by name turned red and walked faster in the other direction. Those same people were the ones that would, in this very same mall, normally bend your ear for 30 minutes about nothing in particular and everything in general.
I know, I have felt it too, the pinching obligation to buy tickets or sponsor someone you know for whatever they are raising money to do. I get it, I have felt the same obligation to go look at the quilt or earrings or baby outfit someone I know has crafted (but if I’m honest, only if they made eye contact with me). I know that I too have been guilty of faking that I see an invisible friend just out of sight that I must talk with right away, or of quickly turning away so I don’t make eye contact. I have done it too. But suddenly the shoe was on the other foot (another expression to look up) and I felt invisible.
The bookstore manager popped by to introduce herself and helped me feel visible again. Then one of us would welcome a friend or acquaintance who had come out to support them, some even had one or two fans arrive, so again we felt seen. We welcomed chatting with the bored partners of shoppers, even though we knew they were just killing time. Many of us, almost in tandem, would half rise from our seats in anticipation, eternally hopeful that someone coming through the door may be coming to see us. Maybe they had even heard of our book(s).
Unexpectedly, I had two friends come in with their previously purchased books for my signature. They could have easily come to my house or gone out for coffee/tea with me to the same end, but they didn’t, they came to my first ever book signing! I know I’m an author but there are no words to describe what that meant. I won’t name names to avoid embarrassing them, they know who they are. Thank you for coming.
Let me tell you what else happened at this book signing. I got to know six other authors. I met these other kindred souls who want to make a difference in society, whether by entertaining or by teaching. I learned about, and could relate to, their writing challenges and successes. In differing ways each author I met that day helped me through my very first book signing so that I can approach the next one with infinitely more confidence.
Oh and this happened at my very first book signing . . . my husband, who originally planned to poke around the mall’s stores and maybe go home for a bit and come back later for me, pulled up an empty chair and sat with me instead. He’s obviously already read the book and doesn’t need my signature on anything but the occasional form or cheque, but he takes our partnership seriously. When someone would approach my table he would stand and wander casually off, maybe get a tea refill for me, and let me do what I do best . . .talk. Thank you for staying with me at my very first book signing, one in a number of firsts we have been through together.
Through this event I have been reminded of the talent that residents living in Northern Ontario possess; an often overlooked natural resource. In this life there are many opportunities open to us and what we do with them is a choice. This experience has taught me to never again purposefully avoid artisan vendors when I am somewhere that they are. To give your attention to the work someone else has poured their heart and soul into costs you nothing, they really want to hear your thoughts about their work more than anything. No artist wants their work purchased out of obligation and stored away never to be seen again; though they will of course gratefully take your money if you find something you honestly like.
Finally, I have also learned that a rare and beautiful sunny July afternoon on a weekend in Northern Ontario is probably not the best time to draw people to the mall for a book signing.
But, thanks for trying Gina. Well done!
As usual I would love to read your comments and if you prefer a less public forum than commenting here, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!