Life on The Book-Signing Tour, Minor League

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For the sixth straight weekend, I’ll be on the road peddling books. On Friday night starting at 7 p.m., I’ll join two other authors at Austin’s Book People, my all-time favorite bookstore. If you’re in the neighborhood, come on by and keep me company. In case you have missed previous shameless attempts at self-promotion, the latest offering is titled, Yours Faithfully, J.A.: The Life and Writings of H.B. Fox, the Circleville Philosopher. It is a biography of one of the funniest writers I have come across. Researching and writing it has been a labor of love. If you can’t make it to Book People, it is available here: https://tinyurl.com/ybnpm9ho, or from Amazon. Either way, you get a signed copy, though admittedly my signature is worth considerably more on a check.

Book signings are chancy affairs, especially when one is toiling in the minor leagues, as I do when it comes to book publishing. On this latest foray, I have had signings where I was pleasantly busy signing books and pocketing $20 a copy. At others, I sit and watch the clock, smiling pleasantly at the folks perusing the shelves and ignoring me perched on a stool in front of a card table. I know a few authors who actually make a living selling books, and they describe similar humbling experiences. That makes me feel a bit less inadequate when four hours have passed and I have sold one book — to a college buddy.

The subject of my biography, H.B. Fox, wrote three novels and went on book tours for at least the first two. Henry, as his friends called him — and I consider myself his posthumous friend — despised these events. When his first novel, The 2000-Mile Turtle, was published, the Circleville Store, which served as his column-idea laboratory, stocked copies. Fox made the one-mile trek to the store at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. every day to drink a Coke and listen to folks talk, to gather material. Not long after his book came out, a fellow came up and bragged that he had bought the first copy from the Circleville Store.

“So, what did you think?” Henry asked.

“Oh, I haven’t read it,” the fellow replied.

Such is the humbling life of an author off the best-seller circuit. For the record, one can buy copies of my book about Fox in the Circleville Store, along with a fine hamburger and cold beer. I have learned that sales rise at my book signings when there is beer involved. Down in Houston, at City Acre Brewing Company — owned by my daughter and son-in-law — a book bought you a beer as part of the purchase price, a gambit that worked pretty well. In fact, it worked so well I emulated it at Texas Beer Company in Taylor, which is the closest real town to Circleville. Thanks to great publicity provided by my buddy Richard Stone at the Taylor Press, a nice crowd showed up to buy books and have a beer on my tab.

Occasional beerless book signings have not fared as well. One of my first was outdoors at a festival. About a dozen area authors joined other vendors selling windchimes and canned jellies while cloggers performed on the plaza. It was unseasonably cold for April, with winds gusting to 30 mph. Most vendors had pop-up tents that kept imitating Mary Poppins’s umbrella when a strong gust came through, folks desperately hanging on to each corner.

I had no tent but had to grab some wrenches out of my car to anchor down the books on the coffee table. Daughter Abbie brought me a thick hoodie to keep me from freezing. Nary a book was sold from my table, and few from anybody else’s as well. The face painter did a brisk business decorating the countenances of ankle biters, but that was about it. It happens.

Still, I plug away. I meet a lot of interesting people, particularly the proprietors of these independent bookstores and businesses that are willing to provide shelf space and host book signings: Book People, The Bookstore in Kilgore, Barron’s in Longview, The Bosslight in Nacogdoches. And yes, the Circleville Store. I plan to stop by Saturday, check on the books and maybe grab a burger and a beer. There are worse ways to spend a weekend.

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