Yesterday, I learned that the paperback of Thirteen Reasons Why made the New York Times bestsellers list for its 39th week. Add that to the 65 weeks the hardcover spent on the list, and it’s been a bestseller for TWO YEARS!!!
To celebrate, I decided to tell you about my most embarrassing speaking gig. (If I had dropped off the list one week shy of two years, you do not want to know what I had planned for this blog!)
The event I’m going to describe wasn’t my very first school presentation. That one was the most uncomfortable! Right before I began speaking, a faculty member marched up to say “I have real reservations about you being here.” (She was not a fan.)
The event I’m describing wasn’t in front of my largest audience, which was my keynote at the SCBWI conference in NYC. That was the most nauseating! Actually, the speech itself was fun, but I’d dreamed about giving an SCBWI keynote for so many years that once it was over, I went up to my room and puked my guts out. (Sorry you had to hear that.)
This event took place during my first official book tour. 13RW had already been a bestseller for a while, so my publisher decided to send me to some bookstores around the country. Now, I do realize there’s no reason to be embarrassed by a small turnout, and that's not the embarrassing part of the story. But I will admit that on my first book tour, with my publisher flying me around and putting me up in hotels, my fingers were crossed. Overall, I did have great turnouts. And I did whatever I could to help! At the time, I think I’d just signed on to Facebook, but MySpace was where I communicated with most of my readers and told them about my tour. Of course, the best way to get people to show up was for the bookstores to promote the visits ahead of time.
I knew things were a bit off the moment I entered the store. The employees looked slightly frantic, as if they had just gotten around to spreading the word moments before I arrived. Whether customers were browsing Self-Help, Sports, or Erotica, they were told “An author’s going to be speaking soon!”
They warned me (several times) that it may be a small turnout. “Today’s the first day without rain in thirty days. People will probably want to be outside. I wouldn't want to be in a bookstore today.”
Honestly, I have just as much fun speaking in front of five people as 1,000 people. And just in case we got lucky, the store had set up about eighty chairs in the middle of the store. There was also a microphone next to a large speaker so anyone sitting in the very farthest seat (we'll call it seat #80) could hear me.
So how many people showed up? Four. Two teenage girls and their dads. Thankfully, they all sat up front. They’d arrived a few minutes early, and we all had a great time chatting before I officially began. But when it became obvious everyone was already seated, an employee introduced me.
She’d recently been online and found some facts about me and my debut novel. My book, she told the audience, had most recently won a work-in-progress grant from the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. And yes, while my book had indeed won that award, that was back when it was still a work…in progress. Since then, 13RW has won several awards, though I actually do get embarrassed when people mention them in my introductions. But this intro felt like she was saying “The last time his book won anything, it was well before anyone had a chance to read to the end.” Next, the mini-audience was told that the blog of a New York City children’s librarian had me listed as one of the Hot Men of Children’s Literature. Yes, that was also true, though the librarian’s definition of hot had little to do with looks. But I was getting ready to speak to two teenage girls. And their dads were right there! It would’ve been best to leave the Hot Men talk alone.
With that intro out of the way, I began to speak. I obviously had no use for the microphone since my audience was about as far away as a cashier taking my order for a McRib sandwhich.
Then an elderly lady shuffled into the seating area. (By elderly, I mean she had two iconic tennis balls stuck to the bottom of her walker.) And she decided the perfect place to sit was in seat #80. Way in the back! Way to the left!
I smiled, and she shouted back, “I can’t hear you! Speak into the microphone!”
Not wanting to ask her to drag her fuzzy tennis balls closer, I turned on the microphone, then took a moment to figure out where to stand so the feedback would stop screaming at me from the large speaker to my right. When things got moving again, not two minutes passed before the lady got up and shuffled away.
The two girls and their dads didn’t seem to notice that we were back down to four. And maybe, I convinced myself, they think the seats are slowly filling up behind them! So, to avoid breaking their concentration, I continued using the microphone for the rest of my presentation.
And I’m positive all four of them could hear every word I said.