WRITERS AT WORK: Dealing with Speaking Engagements (Part 4)

Hi everyone,

It’s Sandy Asher’s turn to share her thoughts and experiences regarding speaking engagements, the bane and reward for being a writer. This is one of the most humorous topics we’ve had and I love hearing from others with comments on the subject. Keep them coming! Now here is Sandy!

Topic 7: Dealing with Speaking Engagements
Response 4 — Sandy
May 24, 2011

Complaints! I had to dig pretty deeply into my supply of suppressed memories to come up with anything in the same league as your flight to nowhere, David. I can’t imagine the horror of showing up in a distant city only to find out you’re not on the program.

Rummaging around in that dark corner of the attic of my mind, I did come up with a doozy, though. Wayne, Nebraska. Did you know Wayne, Nebraska, is the home of the annual Chicken Cluck-off? Yup. Happens every July. But I was not there in July. I was there in the dead of winter, and I do mean “dead.” All was bright and clear as my plane landed in Omaha. I was met, right on time, by a friendly gentleman in a pick-up truck. I was eager to get to our destination, looking forward to two days of school visits, plus a couple of presentations at a regional teachers’ conference. Amazingly, over the past few months, the teacher who invited me had ordered first 100, then another 100, then a third 100 copies of my latest paperback, TEDDDY TEABURY’S FABULOUS FACT, perfect for the elementary school kids I was going to meet. Apparently, they thought so, too!

About half-way down the two-lane highway toward Wayne, we hit a wall of snow and sleet. Suddenly, we were fish-tailing back and forth across black ice, narrowly avoiding ditches on either side of the road. Finally, my companion got his four-wheel drive switched on and we settled into our own lane – just as a huge semi roared past in the lane we’d just slid out of seconds earlier.

That was for openers. It snowed, and it snowed, and it snowed. By the time we got to my motel – a Super 8 – you couldn’t tell where the sky ended and the earth began, in any direction. It never stopped snowing, the whole time I was in town. School went on, though, and the principal maneuvered his car over snow-packed roads each day to pick me up and deliver me door to door. But with delayed starting times and early dismissals, my classroom visits were reduced to a quick “Here’s the author. We have time for a couple of questions. Bye.”

The teachers’ conference was cancelled. And all those books? Never saw a one of them. Apparently, they never made it out of my hostess’s garage. She hadn’t sold a single one, let alone 300. She’d simply forgotten – twice – that she’d already ordered books, so she kept on ordering them.

During my stay, I was taken to the same little restaurant for an early dinner and then left at the Super 8 until the next morning. When I finally couldn’t stand my room anymore – or gazing out at the unrelenting whiteness all around me – I wandered down to the tiny lobby. There, I found a single tourist brochure, announcing the annual Chicken Cluck-off. In July. Missed it!

About half-way back to the airport in Omaha, the snow suddenly stopped, and all turned bright and clear again for my flight home, leaving me to believe that the blizzard never touched any other part of the state – only Wayne.

But let me end on a more cheerful note – concerning Warrensburg, again. That’s where a little boy taught me an important lesson about how much children appreciate honesty. As you know, David, Children’s Literature Festival participants visit one author after another throughout the day. In one of my groups at my very first Festival was a skinny boy in a faded t-shirt who waved his hand madly as soon as I asked for questions.

“How old are you?” he wanted to know.

There was some tittering around the room and a few dirty looks from teachers, but we both did our best to ignore that. “Thirty-eight,” I replied, which was true at the time. “How old are you?”

“Ten,” he said.

“A good age,” I told him. “Mine is, too.”

He seemed satisfied, and I went on to answer a wide variety of questions from the rest of the group. Toward the end of the session, the same boy’s hand shot into the air again. “Do I dare call on him a second time?” I wondered. “Oh, what the heck.” I did.

“You’re very good at this,” he announced. “The other lady only got one question.”

We can only guess what that question might have been — and who asked it.

As for those book signings, David, a bookstore owner once told me the national average for books sold during a signing is 2. That’s right, 2. So any time I sell 3, I announce that I’m above average and rejoice! And those events where no one shows up? Have you ever thought about attending something, decided against it, and then imagined everyone who DID go really enjoyed themselves? That’s the way I’ve come to look at it. The PR goes out announcing the event, always a good thing. Everyone who doesn’t show up thinks everybody else DID show up and had a terrific time. It’s a “virtual success.” Not so bad.

Life on the road is very educational, don’t you think? And not just for the kids we go out to visit with — in rain, snow, sleet, but, so far, not dark of night.