Okay, it was a restaurant, but still.
Last weekend I attended the Heartland Fall Forum in Chicago, an annual trade show where Midwestern booksellers get to check out the latest books from big, small, specialty and regional publishers and meet with authors. That also means that authors get to spend time meeting those booksellers and talking about books. And as you can see, authors also get to hang out with each other.
The lessons I learned at Heartland are lessons for any writer who wants to be out and about talking about his or her book, either now or some day.
Four Lessons I Learned At Heartland (Before I Got To The Bar)
1) Wear comfortable shoes. My shoes were very comfortable when I walked around the house, got in and out of the car and went out for dinner, but hoofing it all over a conference hotel was a different story. I also learned that Band-Aids in hotel gift shops cost about 50 cents a piece. And are worth every penny.
2) Smile at everyone. People know who you are or they know someone who knows you or they have seen your photo somewhere. And if they don’t know you now, they’ll meet you later. So, if you don’t feel like smiling for a while, or you’re cranky, let’s say, because you have multiple blisters on both feet, or can’t find the bathroom, go to your room and regroup. Mine was quite lovely.
3) Know what your book is about. Don’t give me that look. Really. Know exactly what you’re going to say, and then what else you might say if prompted for more. Many of us write our loglines, elevator pitches, back cover copy, etc., but at a trade show with booksellers you really just need to BOIL IT DOWN. These folks have LOTS of authors to meet and books to collect. I signed almost 100 books and individually spoke to all those booksellers. Yes, within the context of many conversations, I said the same thing almost every time. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I will add, the cover of The Glass Wives is universally loved, so I have no problem having the book judged by that in addition to its premise. The booksellers were also thrilled to learn there are reader questions and a personal essay in the back of the book. Added value all around!
4) Connect in a personal way. Being a “local,” I was able to connect on that solid Midwestern level. I live in Illinois (I’ve actually lived here twice, once from ’94-’96, and then again since ’99), I’ve lived in Ohio, and my kids go to college in Indiana and Wisconsin. There was lots of geography banter at my table. So if someone wants to lend me kids in Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan, I’d be 100% covered for next time. I even met a bookseller—get this—who lives around the corner from me. (I really must get out more.) I also am now besties with my volunteer/helper/bookseller from the event. We were having a blast (it was so fun for her to open my books for me, she told me so) even before we realized we both know author Mindy McGinnis. Are you near Delaware, Ohio? Check out Fundamentals Children’s Bookstore.
After the revelry of the signing event it was amazing to hang out with Renee, Amy and Nicole in a dark, quiet corner of the restaurant (not our choice, but it worked). I still tend to go all fan-girl with authors and I’m afraid I might have scared Amy with an extra-long hug, but oh well. Nicole is amazing with a house full of young children and her fourth book due out next year. Four kids, four books. I’m sensing a trend here. Renee and I have been friends for years now, both of us in Chicago. We meet for writerly girlfriend lunches where our usual meeting spot goes from lunch-hour packed to mid-afternoon empty. She has given me excellent publishing advice (she knows a lot!) and when she texts or calls me, she knows she can start mid-sentence and I’ll catch on. Eventually.
It’s an immediate kinship, this author thing. It’s the secret bonus of the publishing world—the royalties that have nothing to do with book sales.
I hope you all get to experience it.
P.S. Another highlight? Name tag! (Does this ever get old? I hope not!)