We arrived early, unsure what to expect from this first book store event of the two week promotional tour. The Bookstore at Fitger’s had a table setup for us in the hallway outside the store entrance. More than a dozen copies of Mesabi Pioneers were neatly spread across the table and a small sign declared that we would be signing copies of the book from noon until two PM. Amanda and Linda helped us set up a few chairs, asked us if we needed anything, and then left us to it.
Now what, we thought.
Fitger’s was not very crowded this early and only a few people passed by our table. Soon, a woman briskly walked past. She worked in a kitchen supply store elsewhere in the mall and I had asked her when I arrived to point me in the direction of the bookstore. Now she saw I was sitting out front and turned back after having passed the table. “Is this your book?” she asked.
Yes, I said.
We chatted briefly about the book, and then she put it down and said she might be back. I realized as we talked that this event was not about selling books per se, but about getting the word out about the book. All of these events, in fact, will be about telling people about the book. Our presence at a book store gives a face to the book. Like me, most people love meeting the authors of the books they read. Even if it’s a book they’ve never heard of. When she left the table without a book, I took it as a success. She had at least picked it up, read the back, and now hopefully she would remember. Even if she didn’t buy one today.
Then something extraordinary happened. Moments later she returned, wallet in hand, grabbed a copy of the book—the very one she had been holding previously—paid for it in the store and brought it out for me to sign. “Do you want me to inscribe anyone’s name?” I asked. She shook her head. “I might give it as a gift after I read it,” she said. Can an author ask for anything more thrilling than to have his book given as a gift? At that moment, it seemed nothing could be more exciting.
Cheryl was not feeling well and she decided to go back to the hotel for some rest. We will need her refreshed tomorrow for the book launch party in Virginia. So then it was just me. I smiled politely whenever someone passed the table. I took out my notebook and wrote. I signed a second copy of the book, this time for an English professor at UMD. As he was walking away I looked up to see a woman approach with a tripod on her shoulder. She came up to the table and began setting up a video camera. “I’m with WDIO,” she told me. “I’m here to do a quick interview for tonight’s broadcast.”
“I’m glad I cleaned myself up for this event,” I told her, laughing.
We talked while she took footage, and then she clipped a microphone on me and interviewed me for a few minutes. I think it went well. I was surprised how calm I was on the outside while on the inside I was doing flips. Trying to stay composed. I spoke of the book, of the story behind the book and of the book itself. “This is a book not just for Minnesota,” I said, “though it is a book about Minnesota. But it is also a book about America, for without the iron ore that these men dug out of the ground, without the iron ore that they found, America would not have become the industrial leader it became in the 20th century.”
We chatted for a few more minutes about running. She had not heard of the Wild Duluth Races and I told her I hoped to see her there. Then we shook hands and as she turned to leave a man approached, camera bag over his shoulder, tripod under his arm. The two competitors chatted briefly and then he introduced himself to me. He was from KBJR, the NBC affiliate in Duluth where I’ll be interviewed tomorrow morning for the morning show. And he, too, took footage and interviewed me about the book and about the story behind the book. In the middle of this interview, someone else came to get a copy of the book signed, and the reporter was thrilled to get an action shot. Soon enough the interview was over and he, too, was gone.
It was after two then, and I stood up to stretch my legs. Linda asked me to sign some extra copies of the book for the store’s shelves, and when I told her about the two interviews, and the morning show tomorrow, she got excited. “We’ll have to make sure to prominently display these tomorrow then,” she said.
All in all, the first event was a success. Tomorrow we have the official book launch, and then five book store events in four days. Then we have the Book Fest in the Minnesota Fair Grounds on Saturday.