Friday, December 4, 2009

Book fair checklist: author – CHECK; Sharpie – CHECK; books – uh...

On 12/4/08, I had the honor of appearing at the annual holiday book fair of the Union League Club of New York. It was first described to me as the “mother of cool book fairs.” It's open only to club members and their guests. We’re told the money goes to its scholarship foundation.

It’s the first and still-only book fair for which I’ve had to wear a tie.

NOTE: Photos are from 2009 fair. However, sometimes accuracy is irrelevant.

Past members of the Union League Club include Ulysses S. Grant (post-presidency) and Theodore Roosevelt (pre-presidency), plus two lower wattage presidents. Non-president alum include cartoonist Thomas Nast and philanthropist J.D. Rockefeller. Neil Armstrong and Margaret Thatcher are honorary members.

None of them came to the book fair, but in fairness, everyone’s crazed during the holiday season, and some of them are dead.

Last year it was so easy to participate. The Union League asked me, I graciously accepted. Smooth signing.

This year proved to be a bit trickier.

They invited me on 11/16/09 for the 12/3/09 event. The relatively short notice wasn’t a problem in terms of my schedule. It was a problem because it became even shorter notice…without notice.

That was because my affirmative reply went unanswered, as did my two follow-up e-mails. Finally, on 11/30/09, the member who’d invited me checked in with me, and it turns out he had not received any of my replies.

The Union League was still willing to have me and I was still eager to be had. But I was the easier part of the formula. (I don’t charge for expedited shipping. I just take Metro-North.)

The harder part was the books.

Rule #3 for authors: when you promote, you must be flexible. (Rule #1: you must write good books. Rule #2: you must promote.)

Therefore, given the tight window, I volunteered to find a way to get my books there myself.

The sponsoring bookstore, my old reliable Just Books in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, could not get them in time. So I called my other best (bookstore) friend, Books of Wonder in New York, but they also could not. (Part of this depends simply on how many books are available from the distributor.)

Then I called a Barnes & Noble, somewhat arbitrarily the one at 555 Fifth in New York. I was relieved when the Events and Special Projects Coordinator said I called the right place—for some reason, that city location apparently can get books faster than any other. They were able to get both titles I wanted, Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman and What’s the Difference?, which happens to be published by Barnes & Noble. To comparison shop, I also called Random House and was indeed able to get the Union League a better deal on Boys of Steel.

The Union League even trusted me with the digits to order the books myself. Another first.

Then all I needed to do, according to the member who invited me, was “show up and have a drink.”

And hopefully sign enough books to justify their kindness.

Without speculating on that, I can objectively report that What’s the Difference? sold out and Boys of Steel sold at least as many, even though it was offered last year. I also displayed a “sneak preview” copy of Vanished: True Stories of the Missing (due 1/10), which multiple people asked to purchase.

When I was a kid, my League was Justice, not Little. It’s still Justice, but now also Union.

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