Shannon Hale (@haleshannon) asked authors for embarrassing event stories after blogging about her own tales of mortification. Since it's a cold and miserable day, it seems like a fitting topic.
The first event I did to promote my first novel Lily's Ghosts was a visit at my then 13-year-old's school as part of a celebration of the arts. I was introduced as "Jessie's stepmom" which meant that every teen in the room promptly ignored me while the teachers chatted loudly in the back of the room. (Never a prophet in your own country?)
Another event I did was at a local book festival. I'd heard it could be a challenge to get families to attend book festivals in the summer, and even harder to get kids to sit and listen to an author when these festivals usually had clowns and guys like this performing as well. So I was happily surprised to see a sizable crowd gathered at the tent where I was supposed to present. I sat in the audience to listen to the man who was speaking before me. The man started to talk about his love of children, his fondness for gardening, his hopes, his dreams, his wish for peace and goodwill toward men. The sun got high in the sky. People began fanning themselves. He talked some more. Hopes! Dreams! Fresh vegetables! People fidgeted, checked their cell phones for messages. I'm not sure if the man was a writer because he hadn't yet mentioned a book, and the crowd was getting restless. Children were starting to whimper. Adults hushed them and consulted programs, most likely looking for the nearest snack bar or the time of the next Bubble Man performance. People started to leave in dribs and drabs, then in droves. When it was my turn to speak, the only people left in the audience were three people I'd invited, plus one child and his long-suffering mom. (Possibly the child was scared of clowns and/or bubbles?).
My book for adults, I'm Not Julia Roberts, was released in January in 2007. The first event for this book was a reading at a bookstore on a dark, wind-whipped Monday night, the temperature hovering around two degrees, the air filled with stinging needles of snow. The bookstore manager was the optimistic sort, and had set out, oh, about nine thousand chairs. Which were empty. Finally, one guy who ducked into the store to get out of the cold sat with the manager and listened to me read. A few years later, the bookstore closed. (I like to think that I had nothing to do with it.)
Around the same time as that ill-fated bookstore event, I was doing a tour of area libraries to talk about my middle-grade books. At these events, I was usually getting about twenty-five to thirty-five kids, which I thought was a great turn out. At one of the libraries, however, I was surprised to find a crowd of three hundred students and their teachers waiting in an auditorium for me. Awesome, right? Except I didn't have a microphone, or a PowerPoint presentation, or back-up dancers, or anything. So, I stood on stage and PROJECTED as loudly as could while waving my books over my head. Still, the kids were great and everything was going remarkably well, until I noticed that one of the teachers sitting dead center in front of me had fallen asleep. Not quietly. Think Homer Simpson: head thrown back, uvula vibrating, audibly snoring. I tried to ignore her, as well as the students around her, who were pointing at her and snickering (though these students were not as loud as the teacher). Finally, during the Q&A, the teacher woke up, stretched, noticed me yammering away on the stage, and raised her hand. When I called on her she asked me if I knew any agents I could recommend to her. I said, "Literary agents?" Clearly irritated by my stupidity, she said, "No, movie agents."
Most recently, I attended an author breakfast at which a local author was seated at every table to chat with attendees between main speakers (some of whom were quite famous). When I arrived, I went to my assigned table only to find every seat taken. A woman with pink hair noticed that I was looking for a seat. She said, "I'm sorry, this table is full." I said, "Yes, but I'm the author." She stared at me blankly. I said, "An author is assigned to sit at every table." She frowned and said, "But this table is full." I said, "I'm here for the Author Chats. It's in the program." She frowned even more deeply and said, "There's no room." I said, "Well, I can find somewhere else to sit, but you're going to have the same problem when they rotate the authors between tables." As I glanced around the ballroom, wondering if it would be strange to sit on the floor, someone else at the table realized what was going on and made room for me.
But I did end up chatting with the woman with pink hair between speakers. Because it was an author breakfast, and people usually came to these things to talk about books, I asked her what kinds of books she liked to read. "I don't really read," she said. "I'm just here to see Weird Al Yankovic."
"Yes," I said. "Me, too."