I launched my first book—a middle-grade novel titled The Haunted Igloo—at Butterfly Books, a local children’s bookstore in De Pere, Wisconsin. The event took place on a cold, blustery Sunday afternoon in November, and considering the title of my book, it was an appropriate birthday gift for this Halloween-born witch.
My youngest son and I had helped decorate the store windows with a hand-crafted igloo covered with cotton “snow” and sparkles, and a homemade dogsled driven by a life-sized Eskimo (Inuit) boy I had created from a moth-eaten fur coat from Goodwill, scraps of fake leather for mukluks, and a pantyhose head stuffed with old rags. With his torso, legs, and arms full of crumpled newspapers and his face drawn with a black marker, everyone said he looked like a real Eskimo boy.
The night before the Butterfly Books affair, I had participated in the St. Norbert College homecoming parade over the Fox River, through west and east De Pere, then back again. Fortunately, I got to ride inside the van with my hosts from the bookstore, but the poor little Eskimo boy—whom I had named “Chinook,” for the Eskimo boy in my novel—rode propped up beside my little cotton-covered igloo on the end of a trailer towed by the van. The wind tried to blow him over, and I thought he might tumble off the trailer a few times, but the next day, he was back in the store window standing behind his sled.
Newspapers had been notified that a local children’s author would be signing her first novel at Butterfly Books. The store had sent invitations and ordered a couple of cases of The Haunted Igloo. I don’t remember how many books I signed that day, but recall the long lines of autograph-seekers. Even the lady mayor of De Pere stopped by with her young son to get his book signed. Unfortunately, my wonderful editor from Houghton Mifflin, Mary Lee Donovan, declined the invitation due to a previous engagement. (I later met her in person at a children’s writers’ conference.)
In all, that was a fun afternoon, with treats at the front of the store—and a television set tuned to a Green Bay Packers football game! People milled around, eating cookies, drinking punch, watching the game, and wandering back to my table for questions and signatures. I recall a continuous line at the cash register.
Butterfly Books went out of business a few years ago. It was a sad day for many De Pere residents, but I’ll never forget that I was their very first author to sign books when they opened their new store.
My next book-signing for The Haunted Igloo also went well. The Waldenbooks’ manager at Bay Park Square parked me with a stack of my books at a table in the front of the busy store on a Sunday afternoon in December. I was lucky the book had hit the shelves in late fall, because the Christmas holiday drove sales that landed it on Waldenbooks’ list of Top Twenty Books in the Region. My first two book-signings, plus publisher sales to libraries, helped the book earn back my advance against royalties in less than three months.
During that signing, an employee from the microfilm company where I worked came up to me and said, “This is big time for us!” I couldn’t have been happier, for I had seriously doubted if any of my colleagues had believed me when I’d told them I wrote books when not running a microfilm camera.
After that, I sent out fifty letters of introduction to area schools and began traveling around to lecture students about reading and writing, and signing their copies of The Haunted Igloo. Teachers had read the book to their classes before my visits and the kids were prepared with questions and cute drawings of their version of haunted igloos, Eskimos, and sled dogs.
The book turned out to be a lesson about the Arctic and, apparently, some children had not yet studied that cold northern area of our planet where parka-clad people lived in snow houses, traveled by dogsleds, and trapped animals for food. Indeed, one talented child drew a picture of an igloo surrounded by telephone poles and electric lines. At one school, I was greeted with a display of miniature igloos built from sugar cubes, so I knew some classes were introducing that area to their students.
My setting for The Haunted Igloo was the Northwest Territories of Canada, but although I mentioned the location in the story, some people missed that and thought the book was set in Alaska. So my young readers not only enjoyed the book, but they also learned some geography and were introduced to the Inuit culture.
I carried my homemade Eskimo—Chinook—wherever I went, along with an armload of stuffed polar bears. On one occasion, my Siberian husky, Tokka, went to school with me and was a big hit with students and teachers. After I signed their books, the kids lined up for polar-bear hugs from a “real, live author.”
Although I lacked professional speaking skills, those were fun days, and those kids were a captive audience who couldn’t simply walk away and ignore my book. I truly enjoyed my school visits.
But alas, there were a few signings where nobody came at all, even after notices in the newspaper. How embarrassing it was to sit for an hour or more waiting for people to stop and visit (and buy a book, of course).
One of my favorite local bookstores was the Little Professor Book Center, whose manager generously provided books to take with me on consignment, and who was always willing to let me sign books in his store. Unfortunately, a couple of those visits were failures.
On one occasion at a Barnes & Noble store, my table had been set up a few feet away from a large television screen showing the movie Jurassic Park. When potential customers came toward me, their eyes were already focused on the show. The only visitor I had that day was a toddler who sat on the floor next to my Eskimo boy and tried to undress him while her mom watched the movie. What does one say or do in a case like that? I could only smile on the outside while feeling bad inside and thinking: sixty miles round trip, wasted gas, and not one book signed. But I kept a smile on my face and shrugged off my disappointment. I was a new author who lacked experience dealing with crowds, but I realized how lucky I was to be there at all.
But that’s often the way book-signings go. We win some and we lose some. Most of the time, I did sign books. But there’s one other time I’ll never forget.
I was at a small bookstore where a table had been set up in a small alcove near the front door. On the table was a stack of new books, my personally designed and printed business cards, brochures, and bookmarks, plus extra pens. But few people came through the door that day, and the ones who did weren’t interested in author-signings. Feeling a little stupid, I asked the store manager what I should do. I could not simply sit and twiddle my thumbs, smile, and nod while people walked right past me. The manager suggested I stand up and begin talking about my book and writing, about things authors do. So I tried that, and felt even more stupid standing there talking to myself. After a few minutes of that, I sat down again. And after another few minutes of inaction, I gathered my supplies, thanked the manager (who was really wonderful) and left the store.
That one was a real bummer, but all-in-all, most of my autograph sessions had turned out to be fun and profitable. The downers never kept me down for long, because I knew that, in the long run, this was what I had to do, win or lose.
(The Haunted Igloo and its sequel, Spirit Lights, are available as ebooks at most online retailers.)
Peace and Love.