As I sit here, suffering from what is doubtless a cold of the too-many-plane-rides-and-handshakes-and-kid-coughs variety, I thought it fitting to finally write a bit about my time down in Dallas last week.
My regular readers already know what brought me down there, but “in case you’re just tuning in,” as they say in the Old Media, I’ll give you the scoop. Last weekend was one of the American Library Association’s two yearly conferences. Of the two, the ALA Midwinter Meeting is considered “the small one” — meaning that it has only 10,000 guests. So, still a pretty big deal.
Most authors, when they attend a conference to do a signing, fly in, sign, schmooze, say “thanks so much for reading!” a hundred or two times, and they they’re free for a day of leisure, strolling the aisles, trolling for free ARCs, until they retire to a hotel or fly home to their bed. However, I’m not most authors, and Midlandia Press is not most publishers.
Because Midlandia Press is so small and new (still less than a year old) — and, of course, because I’m currently its only author — I get more input than I would at a Big-Six publisher. My ideas get heard (or at least politely listened to, haha). I have a degree of latitude when it comes to pushing ARCs to bloggers. And, best of all, Midlandia Press allows me and the other artists who produce their titles to get out in front and promote our work directly.
Of course, the trade-off is, sometimes I have to get down and do a bit of grunt work. Like this:
This was our booth at ALA. I helped build it. Not as complicated as you might think, but you’d be amazed at how many potential layouts you can consider and discard in a few hours.
All that took place the day before and the morning of the first day of the conference. Once evening hit, I got to affix a special ribbon to my exhibitors badge, like so:
And like Clark Kent emerging from the phonebooth, I was transformed. From then on, it was my duty to represent the Press and my work — and to give away lots and lots of cool stuff.
Here’s something neat we gave away:
This piece of art came from a two-page spread in Be a Buddy, Not a Bully; it’s signed by myself and the illustrators, and we gave it away as part of the opening night raffles. We had a frame for it, too, but that got busted in shipping, so we’re in the midst of re-framing it. Two of the illustrators who signed this piece were actually with me at the show, shaking hands, and signing books massive quantities of books — Dion Williams and Midlandia Press’s lead illustrator, Evette Gabriel Villella. Dion illustrated my new book, Postcards from Pismo, and Evette illustrated Latasha and the Little Red Tornado. They also work as part of a team doing Tales of Midlandia.
Speaking of the Tales…we gave away a lot of totally awesome stuff. Here was our Tales table:
Okay, now that I look at the picture, it’s actually our Tales of Midlandia table, plus free copies of Latasha and also an iPad 2 that we raffled off. (Winner announcement in about a week!)
For librarians, we gave away these bundles of bookmarks — which actually make a small appearance 2 minutes into this video (which for space is not embedded, but click over to check it out anyway!): You Can Never Have Too Many Books.
We gave away 100 copies of each of the five Tales of Midlandia, signed by myself and the illustrators, 100 copies of Latasha and the Little Red Tornado…and also, a whopping 396 advance reading copies of my next book, Postcards from Pismo! (I know the exact number because, as you’ll remember, I helped unload the pallet, and had to help find a place to store all of them!)
That nifty stack — the design of which I “borrowed” from some geniuses at another booth — represents about 1/4 of the copies of Postcards that we gave away.
Which brings me back to the beginning of this post, when I referenced the “typical experience” of an author doing a signing. We tried valiantly to schedule signings within a specific timeframe. They were even printed in “Cognotes,” the ALA show daily, which is just a little newspaper with interviews and the day’s docket of committee meetings and events. The original plan was for one or two of us to stay at the booth at all times, and we’d rotate out so that we could check out the free ARCs and F&Gs, rest briefly, and do other exciting things like, oh…eat meals at normal times.
However, the response to our booth was strong — I’m talking constant traffic, even with our booth being located way at the back of the exhibit hall — and so I and both illustrators ended up having, in addition to our formal signings, informal signings, pretty much for the duration of the conference.
All told, I signed 996 books. We actually had to try to slow down because there was a real possibility that we’d run out of books before the conference was over. We had fun giving away the last few books, because we did a nifty little Twitter thing where we tweeted a password that had to be used to get our final display copies. This young lady gave us the password for the final set of Tales of Midlandia:
The password, for curious parties, was “cantaloupe” — a word which we chose because you just don’t hear it aloud very often.
Now, I spent a massive amount of time at the booth — however, it wasn’t all business. I got to meet some really awesome people, like the wonderful Mr. Schu:
He is a major contributor to the #nerdybookclub, has a great, informative blog, Watch. Connect. Read., and is just a generous, inspiring dude. It was awesome to meet him in person. (By the way, it’s his video that the bookmarks appear in.)
I also got to meet the wonderful Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer — and if you’re a teacher, get it — who is one of the founders of #nerdybookclub. I didn’t get a picture with her, because in one of the three-or-four times I actually got to leave the booth, I met her at a signing for her book. (With a quite-right line around the corner.)
I did get a really nice inscription in my copy of The Book Whisperer, though, and I’m not going to share it. I’d like to have one thing from this trip that belongs just to me, and I’ve chosen Donalyn’s brief note to be that.
Now…no offense intended to everyone I met — to use the local parlance, Y’all were wonderful — but the absolute coolest thing I got to experience during ALA was not the massive throng of visitors I met, nor was it my epic signing tear, nor even the fantastic Mac n Cheese I ate at the Anvil Pub in Deep Ellum. My #1 most memorable moment involved a darkened theater and a list of great books. That’s right, I’m talking about the Youth Media Awards!
For those of you who aren’t obsessive children’s book readers — though, if you aren’t, I do wonder how you found my blog (*eyes suspiciously*) — the Youth Media Awards are a yearly event where little tokens of awesome are disbursed. Nothing major…just the Caldecott Medal. Just the Printz Award. Just the Newbery! (!!)
(And many more, of course, like the Geisel and the Coretta Scott King and the Belpré!)
So yeah, it’s actually a massive deal, and I got to see the awards announced in person! Does it matter that some of the books I loved the most this year did not win any recognition? Well, yes, of course it does. I really had been pulling for both Bigger than a Bread Box and Breadcrumbs. I felt that the Newbery committee could have afforded to name another Honor book. But still! I had a few titles I’d missed pointed out to me, I got to experience the electricity of the announcements, and I got to see a fervor normally reserved for red-carpet movie stars all aimed at books! I love, love, loved it.
To sum up, I had a wonderful time meeting everyone (and it really did feel like everyone), I hope to do as many Skype visits as I offered to elementary librarians (which is a whole heck of a lot), and I hope that everyone who got a book loves it and gives it a permanent home (preferably in the hands of a young reader).
Farewell, ALA Midwinter! Farewell, Booth #1557. I’ll always remember you at your cleanest.
Quite soon, I’ll tell you about the crazy school event I did the day after I flew home from Midwinter. (And where, I suspect, I contracted this lovely cold.)