Though not my first published book, this is the first book that I wrote that talks about parts of my life that have impacted me the most. More specifically, my mom.
It is also the first one for which I have had the honor of having a book signing event.
Over the summer, I knew that I would be publishing the book in early September. I also knew that I had NO idea how to properly market the book to get the word out that it even existed and that people should read it. Of course, I am working on my marketing degree from Google University, and my diligent research led me to a very important step in the publishing timeline: the book signing event.
Reading about it, I learned that book events come in all shapes and sizes. Some people rent out catering halls where they provide snacks and drinks for their readers. Others are hosted at book stores like Barnes and Noble – a logical place since anyone who goes there is searching for a book to hold in their hand. So, to avoid the exorbitant cost of hosting a big shindig, I reached out to B&N. There are two in my county, so I figured I might have a shot of booking one of them. Sent an email, made a phone call, only to learn that the stores are not hosting in-person events right now because…COVID. (sigh)
So, it was time to think of a plan B, one that wouldn’t add to my author costs, as it was unlikely that I would break even on my expenses any time soon (a competent editor is expensive). Suddenly, I remembered some advice a friend gave me – contact the local library. So I did.
The library, though tad reticent to host book signings since they hadn’t been well-attended in the past, was happy to help since I would be doing most of the publicity on my social media. If the attendance was low, it would be on me. Challenge accepted. As it was, they would only allow 35 attendees (including my family), so it wasn’t going to be a huge event anyway.
I got to work, making a Facebook event to start getting the word out. I designed a poster that I had made into a large placard that I could mount on an easel for people to see where to go. I asked people in my author Facebook groups for any easy ideas that I might be able to implement.
One brilliant idea was a bookmark, which I designed on Canva using my book cover, my headshot and the tag line “The gift of a mother’s love that no inheritance could match.” My husband used his techie-savviness to lay them out on good photo paper, we printed them out, cut them out, and put a label with a QR code that linked to my blog.
I also wanted to bring something that was something special to my mom.
This platter was given to her to commemorate her years of service when she “retired” from her service to Rockland Youth Dance Ensemble. She was Chairman (woman) of the Board at the time. When she moved to Houston, it lived on her dressing table, holding all of her tiny perfume bottles. You can see the scuff marks – it was well-used because it was well-loved.
Saturday morning, I got ready, gathered all my stuff, hoping to make a lovely environment for my supporters. My daughter and I packed the car and headed over to the library. We brought everything inside and set up the room. The meeting room was warm and comfortable, full of artwork hung on all the walls. I sat at the table, looking at the empty seats, wondering if I’d get any audience at all. At 11:15, my college friend Kathy walked in the door, and in true theatre tradition, handed me a rose and a chocolate bar. Gradually, friendly faces would walk in, each one giving me a little more boost of happiness that they wanted to share in Mom’s story. Eventually, there were people scattered in chairs and on the window ledge in the back of the room. I’d say about 25 attended. Small, but cozy.
Since this was my first book event, I wasn’t totally sure how it was supposed to work. The library event manager told me that usually, you sell and sign some books, read a little excerpt, then do a Q&A. Following her instructions, I started the morning by reading the list of things I’ve learned from Mom (the list that was the springboard for the book), and described her reaction to hearing the list – quiet, but glowing. I gave some of the history about her cancer diagnosis, her roller coaster medical treatment, and how I’d bunk in with her during my visits to Houston. I showed off some of my artifacts: her RSR black cowboy hat, the silver platter she received when she retired from her Chairman of the Board post for Rockland Youth Dance Ensemble, and the artwork that inspired the cover design. Finally, I answered some questions from the audience.
The questions were fantastic, and really, my favorite part of the hour. It reminded me of being in front of my classroom, sharing the things I know with my students. One question in particular stuck out to me: “If you could, describe in a word the feeling you had from the experience of writing this book.” Of course, there are a lot of feelings I’ve experienced during the past year of writing, but one word popped into my head immediately: cathartic. It’s a term I learned in my college theatre classes – an emotional cleansing or release. That’s exactly what this writing experience was to me. It was a way to process my relationship with my mom, my grief over losing her, and what the most important takeaways were from being raised by her. In the dozens of times I had read my own words, I had over and over reflected on my life and our connection, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was a way to put our history into perspective, acknowledge the things that were less than comfortable, and bring to the forefront how I emerged a stronger, better person for her influence. I could honor her humanity, her grace, her kindness, and her gifts and share that with others in a living document that I created.
Overall, I’d call my first book signing a success. The house was filled with “ringers” (as my husband called it), so I got a good dress rehearsal in. I hope to find other opportunities to share the book with new people, and maybe spread Ronnie’s lessons far and wide. A few copies were sold and even more were signed. After the hour passed, there was some lingering – hugs, conversations with old friends and former students. I felt supported – held up by people who knew me, some who knew her – while celebrating the life of an incredible human being.