Today I went to see Neil Gaiman speak at the Cleveland Public Library’s Writers and Readers series. We arrived a half hour early, to find the police directing traffic and every seat taken. Latecomers were shuffled to an “overflow room” where we could view the proceedings on a large TV. Mr. Gaiman did stop in to the overflow room before his presentation to visit with us in the cheap seats. He was totally witty and charming. I was sitting on the floor, so I took a photo of the underneath of his chin.
Back in the auditorium, he read from his two most recent books, and then took questions and answers. He told one story of signing a woman’s arm, and she went next door to the tattoo parlor and had it tattooed on permanently.
After the presentation, the book signing line stretched out of the auditorium and out the door. Fans were limited to one item signed apiece: book, poster, or body part.
As my husband and I were leaving, I said, “Well, that was kind of like one of my signings.”
Or maybe a hundred of them put together.
When your first book is released, you have an event in your hometown, and you notify everyone on your contact list—even the spammers and the hair stylist you used to go to before you quit your day job.
Your relatives and friends all turn out, just to see if it’s really true or if it’s just one of those stories you’re always making up. Some of them even buy your book, so they can leaf through and see if they’re in it.
But the prurient curiosity of friends and relatives will only get you through that first release party. Believe it or not, they have a limited appetite for literary events. At best, they’ll attend one per book. At worst, they’ll change their email addresses and disconnect their landlines. If you manage to reach them, they say, “Another book? Didn’t you just write one?” “Well, yes, a year ago.”
So you need fresh meat, er, a fresh audience. That’s the time to go on tour.
Every newbie author wants/expects/dreams that her publisher will send her on a national book tour. We imagine ourselves being squired about by limousine and private plane, being met by legions of adoring fans, chatting with Oprah about our difficult childhoods and how we ran over policemen, and otherwise basking in the glare of media attention.
In reality, attendance at author events can be unpredictable at best. Unless, of course, you are Neil Gaiman. If you are Neil Gaiman, you could plan an event at a crossroads in the dead of night and make every effort to keep it a secret and still hundreds would show up, each carrying a copy of Sandman.
I’ve spoken to audiences ranging from the librarian and her sister up to hundreds. The hundreds are usually in schools, which the law says you have to go to. And as long as you’re sitting there, here’s an author.
I did an event in Oberlin when The Warrior Heir was released. The Heirstone series is set in a small town, Trinity, Ohio, which is modeled after Oberlin. As it happened, my weaving guild was meeting in Oberlin that Saturday, so they all came over for the signing. A few other people trickled in, too.
Afterwards, the bookseller said, “Well, that was a good turnout.”
“Why?” I said. “How many usually come for an author event?”
“None,” she said.
I must admit, I have had some wonderful events, at schools, libraries, book festivals, and bookstores, where some combination of literary karma and the power of determined librarians and booksellers resulted in a wonderful audience of readers. I love meeting readers—even one. I feel so in context.
So. For the first time, my publisher is sending me on an official book tour beginning next week. You can also find out where I’ll be at my website. I am really excited and nervous and eager to meet you all. Even the librarian’s sister.