One of the first things I remember crime uber agent Stacia Decker telling me was to make friends with indie book stores – how they were the ones who were going to hand-sell your books and could really make a difference in attracting new readers. Last night was a perfect example of that.
Just before my book launched, I got an email from The Book Mouse, an indie in Ottawa, IL. Ottawa’s a town of 18,000 or so about a hundred miles southwest of Chicago, located on the banks of the Illinois River (the site of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate for you history fans out there). They asked if I’d be willing to come down for one of their author dinners. For these, they sell tickets. The ticket gets you a copy of the book and dinner with the author at a local restaurant. You eat, socialize, and after dinner do a reading and answer questions. I said I’d love to, but I was wondering how much luck they’d have selling tickets for a debut author nobody’s heard of.
The dinner was last night. Turns out they do pretty well.
The dinner was at a place called Hank’s Farm, a charming, rustic joint in a converted barn on Illinois 71. I was a little unsure on travel times and erred on the side of caution, so I got there a little early, just as Greg, the host from the bookshop, was setting up in a private dining room. The u-shaped table looked like it was set for about 30. I had visions of sitting in this expanse of plates and glasses with maybe four or five people.
But, by 5:00, the place had filled up. I had a delightful dinner talking with the people seated near me. I wish I’d been able to visit more with some of the other guests. Some of them had already read PENANCE, some of them were just picking up their copy that night. I learned a lot about Ottawa and environs – and now I really need to read up on these murdered nurses at the local state park. After the meal and a gracious introduction from Greg, I got up to do my reading.
I was a little worried. The chapter I usually use at my readings is pretty raw. The first sentence reads “Jesus Stosh, I knew you’d stick your dick in a light socket if you thought you’d get away with it, but this is fucking nuts.” The thing is, the crowd tended a little older and a little female. I warned them that I was going to use some bad language and that there would be blood. I had visions of a mass exodus of disgusted solid citizens filing out after stopping to see Greg to demand refunds.
But they were great. They seemed to enjoy the reading and they asked some pretty insightful questions for probably half an hour. I had a wonderful time and, unless they were just exceedingly polite, it seems the folks who turned out did, too.
Talked with Greg a little before I left. The Book Mouse had sold 30 copies of PENANCE as part of the dinner and, he thought at least 15 or 20 copies independent of that. Sold them largely, I think, because Greg liked the book and had been pushing it. He had a pile of stock for me to sign before I left, so it looks like he’s planning on selling more. But, so far, maybe 50 copies out of a small indie in a town of 18,000 in rural Illinois.
Forget pimps, it’s tough out there for a writer these days. We need all the friends we can get. I have to count The Book Mouse as a very good friend indeed.