Readers are a miracle. I know that now after powering through the marketing an author needs to do to make signings work. Thank goodness I had help from Moon City Press and especially James Baumlin who masterminded two of the signing events in Springfield. Without that assistance and without these signings, how would I have ever reached that miraculous group, readers?
Suprised an author who is also a marketing director at a university press would characterize readers as a miraculous achievement? Well, here’s a statistic for you. Of the 200,000 new books published in English in 2009, according to Bowkers, did you know that only 1,000 of those attained sales of more than 50,000 copies. Only 1,000. The number drops even more, to less than 300 that achieved sales over 100,000 copies.
This 200,000 includes everything from teen love stories about vampires that don’t kill people to diet books about losing your bottom and nabbing Mr. Right all in the same weekend. To launch a literary novel in that welter and gain any readership is an accomplishment.
But readers were there in Springfield and Fayetteville for Morkan’s Quarry. Several old friends read the novel and let me know on facebook or via email that they were delighted. And many more showed up to buy copies and start reading. Teachers, family friends, or parents of old friends who read the book were also a buzz for me. Several who read the novel and thanked me count as miracles, especially when I reflect on the trials I put them through as a youth!
Of special note, and very moving to me, were the people I never knew before, strangers who came to say hello and get books signed. On the outset at Borders, a woman in a black fleece jacket that said “Alaska” picked up a book and turned it around her hands, watched the musicians setting up, and said, “You’re the author, right? What is this about?”
It’s the story of a father’s love and a son’s loyalty in return, all tested by the Civil War in Springfield, Missouri, I told her.
She nodded, “That sounds really good. Will you sign it now? I can’t stay.”
The first reader I had never met before, and I’m signing my book for her.
More miracles in Fayetteville, and again at the Library Station in north Springfield. In Fayetteville more than one person commented that they were purchasing the book for a father or a father-in-law, a gesture that was very moving to me and made inscribing a special joy.
At the Library Station on Kansas Expressway in Springfield a woman with amazing eyes asked me, after listening to the reading, did I believe in past lives, did I feel like I was writing from some other experience? A compliment indeed, and while I remembered the intensity of dreams I had when I started writing the novel—dreams I would wake from knowing that I had just sat for hours with Leighton in Shulty’s Quarry Rand Saloon or with Michael Morkan in the mine office—there were people milling and waiting around us. I longed for a chance to talk at length, but alas. There is a bittersweet quality to the meeting of someone new who cares about your work and wants to connect. There hardly seems time enough!
I told her that I believed strongly in the broadest notion of the Catholic concept of the Communion of the Saints and how I often felt that current tapped when writing about the past, all the collective experience of ancestors and Saints passed before me. She was all for that, as it turns out she was Catholic as well. She and her friend bought copies. Yet in the flow of people she had to move on. I just hope the rest of the book holds up to what I read that evening, and that she feels in spirit throughout the book that same energy that excited her.
Beyond the miracle of readers met at signings, there is that other miracle, now rarer than ever before with newspaper layoffs, the reviewer. One I can link to is in, and no, I have never met Joe Lee. He was a stranger to me until yesterday afternoon but here is what he said in Mississippi Digital Daily.
And now I can add another reader and reviewer I had not met before touring, Sandy Clark at the News-Leader in Springfield. See his spectacular article.
Readers desiring signed copies note: supplies are limited but Borders in Springfield should have some still signed (417.881.4111), Half Price Books has copies with signed book plates (417.889.9042) as does the MSU Bookstore (417.836.5403) and if all that fails my local bookstore, Lemuria in Jackson, will call me to sign and then will ship anywhere on the planet (601.366.7619).
To the miracle of readers, then. Onward!