Wednesday, December 17, 2014

INSPIRATION AND DESPERATION

by Clare O'Donohue


Q: We all have tales to tell from book events. What is your best experience and what is your worst?

The hardest part of being an author, for me, isn't writing the book - it's standing in front of a crowd of people (or a crowd of empty chairs) and trying to sell it. I'm not shy, as anyone who knows me can attest, but I'm not a huge fan of being the center of attention.

And sometimes this isn't a problem, because very few people show up. I had one event where there was no one, and another where two people wandered into the store looking to enjoy a few minutes of air conditioning.

But, I have had some nice ones. One book launch near my home was posted in my high school alumni newsletter and the bookstore was crowded with Mother McAuley grads, turning it into a mini-reunion. That was fun. For my Someday Quilts series, I go to a quilt convention in Houston and sit at a booth - 50,000 people go to that convention so I sell a lot of books, hang out with some very fun authors, and when I'm taking a break from selling, I get to shop for fabric. Win, win.

But probably the best experience was at a small book signing I did at I Love A Mystery bookstore in Mission, Kansas. I was there to talk about my third Someday Quilts book when someone asked me about my day job as a TV producer. I explained what I did, and that led to more questions, and soon it was all we were talking about. I had no idea people thought what I did was so interesting. As I left the store, I realized I had the makings of another series. Kate Conway was born in that shop at that event - proving you never know where inspiration will strike.

The worse events aren't just the "no one showed up" ones, though they do, in fact, suck. It's when it's really awful. The worst one for me was probably my first book event, a wholesale book conference  across all genres. My first book wasn't even on the shelves yet and I was already at a nice hotel, hobnobbing with authors and book buyers, paid for by my publisher. What could be better?

Shortly after I arrived, I went to an afternoon reception and sat at a table, looking to make new friends. The people sitting there were all authors (of a different genre), and they seemed friendly enough. But once the authors at the table saw my book, they pretty much mocked it, and me, for having such a dull cover, a dull title, and pretty much being a dull person. Then they rolled their eyes when I answered a question about how long it took to write my book (6 months). Apparently they wrote first drafts during elevator rides. No matter what I said, I was made to feel stupid and na├»ve. It was torture, and as soon as I could, I went back to my room and called home, hoping there was some horrible crisis that might allow me to make a quick exit. But no. I was stuck for the whole weekend.

That evening there was a cocktail party for mystery writers. I steeled myself for another awful experience and went downstairs to the reception. I saw a display table of books and went over to see the titles (and basically to look busy in a room full of strangers). An author spotted me, introduced herself, and when she found out I was new, took me around the room introducing me to others. Soon, I had new friends, who were offering encouragement, helpful advice, and a steady stream of drinks. When I relayed my earlier experience, and said I couldn't believe how different this group was from the earlier one, one man chimed in, "We're mystery writers. You're home now."

And I was.




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