A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to finally sit down and read this beautiful book and I was suddenly transformed into "The Girl Who Needed to Silence Her Children So She Could Finish the Book". Besides being a page turner and sooooo beautifully written, this young adult novel touches your heart. That is why with butterflies in my stomach, I introduce this week's featured author, the talented, Meg Medina. (Warning: What you are about to read will change and inspire you.)
For me book signings are potentially the most damaging banana peels of all. Slip on one of these unpredictable babies, and you’re liable to end up nursing your tattered ego at the Infirmary for Soul-Sucked Authors.
A couple of years ago, I was invited to an event in Pennsylvania that was designed to raise money for public libraries. The idea was simple and elegant: YA authors would gather to do signings and sell books. A portion of the proceeds would go to the library fund. I agreed to come without a second thought. One of my daughters was looking at colleges at the time, and we could stop by as part of our six-hour road trip north. How flattering to be invited, and how exciting to be giving time to help libraries.
|Caption: Most asked questions. Where’s the bathroom? How much is The Hunger Games in paperback? ($8.99, by the way)|
To this day, I want to kick myself. It didn’t occur to me to ask a single question, not of the teen organizer and not of myself.
I arrived to find the event well attended by teens that flocked to the YA author sitting next to me. “Oh my God,” they squealed. “Your book changed my life!” Her line was very, very long; she was getting hand cramps. I, on the other hand, sat listening to the sound of crickets. My stack of well-reviewed – and untouched -- middle grade novels sat untouched. What self-respecting 17-year-old reads a novel about someone who is 12?
My daughter, a sweet kid by nature, watched from nearby with pity in her eyes. “It’s okay Mom,” she said when we got back in the car for the long ride home. I started laughing, but soon enough the chortles turned to tears. I hadn’t sold or signed a single book in three hours, and I was ashamed. It’s awful to feel like a failure; even worse, when you get to feel that way in front of your kid.
Since then, I’ve learned that book signings can be deadly to even well known authors with a national fan base. So, in the interest of keeping my dignity, I’ve changed gears. Instead of planning a signing, I ask myself hard questions. Why does this book in particular matter to me? How can it impact kids? What can I offer my own community through this work -- beyond a chance to spend money for my signature on the title page?
For me, the answer has become a path into community work. When The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind published in March, I did a small launch with friends at my favorite indie bookstore. But I was also working on The Hope Tree Project, where 600 high school kids from our city’s high schools created aluminum representations of a hope or dream they had for themselves. Youth and hope are major themes in that novel, and I decided that the best way to honor my work as an author was to send it into the world in a way that reflects those themes. It took a lot of planning and collaboration, but in the end, the gorgeous “milagros” or hope charms are displayed at The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia until July 4. After that, pieces of the exhibit will travel to Richmond City Hall for Hispanic Heritage Month in September.
I have absolutely no evidence that this project sold me more books than a traditional signing. So what did I gain? I got good media coverage, new relationships, strong interest, and above all, some dignity. I sent the book out into the world in a way that reflected what mattered most to me: Latino kids, good books, and hope.
It could be that one day I’ll have a long line snaking out the door at one of my events. But that’s not what I think about any more. Now, it’s about writing and life meaning – and that beautiful point where the two come together.
P.S.Check out Meg’s newest summer reading project for girls – with fellow Candlewick author, Gigi Amateau. www.girlsofsummerlist.wordpress.com