An Epic Report of an Epic Book Tour of Epic Proportions
Part 1 - The Chicago Appearance
My first book tour, I couldn't be more excited!
First, let me take you back a year. July, 2001. I had just finished helping Tina Jens select stories for the Twilight Tales anthology, "Blood and Donuts." Tina and I worked well together and she asked me if I'd like to be the official co-editor for the next Twilight Tales book, "Freaks, Geeks and Sideshow Floozies." I excitedly said yes.
We worked on "Freaks" for months and months and months, picking stories, copyediting sending contracts, etc. Finally, in April of 2002, the anthology was done (or so we thought). We printed fifty preview copies for the World Horror Convention, with the rest of the print run soon to follow.
I was excited. I was also quite proud of the book. I wanted it to do well. Knowing that the Horrorfind convention was coming up at the end of the summer, I arranged with Brian Keene (one of the coordinators of Horrorfind) to do a reading. The con takes place in Baltimore and I'm originally from Baltimore, so that was another incentive for setting up the appearance. I set up a couple more readings around the same time and, WHAMO! my first book tour was born.
Meanwhile, in another part of the city, the initial fifty copy print run of "Freaks, Geeks and Sideshow Floozies" sold out. That was okay; selling out the preview editions was a good thing. The rest of the copies would soon be ready.
Weeks passed. My first scheduled appearance, a reading at Twilight Tales here in Chicago, was getting closer. Tina was traveling all over the country on her own book tour for her first novel, "The Blues Ain't Nothin'." The second print run of "Freaks" was growing more and more complicated. It needed a new layout, mistakes in the preview edition needed to be fixed; one of the stories was labeled "offensive" by Britain's Royal Order of Two-Headed Cows (Okay, not really.) Every step that should take a couple of hours took a couple of weeks.
Monday, August 12. My Twilight Tales appearance was that evening. It looked like the book wouldn't be ready. But then...suddenly...out of the blue...nothing happened! The number one stop on the first ever John Weagly Book Tour came and went and the books he planned on signing weren't there.
It was still a good reading. I shared the stage with Steve Laurent and we complimented each other well. I had several friends from work in the audience and even though I blathered on for about forty minutes, people still wanted me to keep going (a good sign, always leave them wanting more!). To top it all off, Tina made a brilliant suggestion that would either make or break the rest of the book tour.
Part 2 - How to Get A Book Published
"John," Tina Jens said, "'Freaks, Geeks and Sideshow Floozies' probably won't be ready by your book signing in Quincy. (That was my next stop). Twilight Tales has always planned on doing more single author collections. Why don't you put together a chapbook? You've had enough stories published to put together ten or twelve re-prints. We'll make it the next book in the Twilight Tales line."
A Twilight Tales chapbook of just John Weagly stories? I jumped at the chance!
Tina told me what I needed to do, helped me pick some stories and "Wrestling Rings and Other Things" was born. My appearance at the Quincy Public Library was four days away, all we had to do was get the book formatted and printed.
Tuesday August 13. My girlfriend, Mary, works in computers. She handles my website and knows all sorts of other computer stuff, but did she know enough about desktop publishing to have a book put together and published in four days? No, of course not. An entire day came and went with Mary spending hours on the phone asking people "How do you do this?' and "How can I do that?" The answer was always "That's a good question. I've always wondered that myself."
"Wrestling Rings and Other Things" was doomed to failure.
Wednesday, August 14. Something happened. Maybe Mary sold her soul to the Devil, I'm not sure, but, somehow, she got the book done. Layout, cover, everything. It looked terrific! It was ten o'clock at night. Now all we had to do was get fifty copies printed by Friday morning.
Speaking of Satan, our book was in a bind and we were way behind and we were willing to make a deal. We needed to find an all night printer, drop off the book and hope they could have the job done in thirty-six hours. The only place we could think of that was open all night was everyone's favorite spawn of the Devil, Kinko's.
We gave Kinko's the proof, they said they could have the books ready by Thursday night and we left it in their hands.
Suffice to say, Kinko's screwed it up.
We left for Quincy with zero copies of "Freaks, Geeks and Sideshow Floozies" and zero copies of "Wrestling Rings and Other Things."
Part 3 - The Quincy Appearance
I grew up in Quincy. As I've said elsewhere, Quincy is the inspiration for Currie Valley, where most of my stories take place. In high school, I was somewhat popular thanks to the "Geekshow" comedy sketches my friends and I performed in "New Faces" every spring. A lot of people from High School still lived in Quincy, and, if nothing else, I could count on them being at my signing.
Friday, August 16. When I arrived at the library, Martha Stewart, (not the evil one but the one that coordinated my event) told me they'd been getting calls all day asking if I was Dr. Weagly's son. This sounded promising. In addition to all of my high school friends, I'd have some of Dad's patients there. They had a table set up for me with a big sign next to it that told people who I was and what I was doing. They had a conference room set up with a podium for what was sure to be a jam-packed reading. They even gave me a glass of water when all the signs clearly said "No Food or Drink."
4:00, time to start; I warmed up my voice, took my position behind the podium and...no one showed up. 4:05, nobody. Okay, still a little early. 4:10, still no one. People were probably on their way. 4:15, Suzi, one of my best friends from High School, arrived. An audience! 4:20, tired of waiting, I read "Combustible Soup" to Suzi, Martha and Mary. Their thunderous applause made them sound like an enormous crowd. They didn't sound like just three people, they sounded like four people!
After the reading, we moved out to the library proper to meet the masses that couldn't find the conference room. I had a total of two people stop to talk to me; one bought a book the other didn't. I guess the absence of "Freaks, Geeks and Sideshow Floozies" and "Wrestling Rings and Other Things" didn't really matter. Luckily, Suzi bought two copies of "The First Line" (a recent magazine containing a short story of mine). In my mind, this made me a hit! Three potential customers, three books sold: my sell through rate was 100%!
We decided to hang it up around 5:15. Before I left, Martha was nice enough to say that she was happy to meet me. She always enjoyed meeting writers, since, at one time, she wanted to try her hand at the craft. Of course, she pointed out, she didn't want to write the stuff that I wrote. She was more interested in real literature.
After we left the library, it was time for the true main event of the day. Hell, the true main event of the entire year! It was opening night for Quincy's Big Summer Event - The Knights of Columbus Barbecue. Funnel cakes, nachos and onion rings! Try-your-luck-and-win-a-prize games! Spinning, jerking, falling, set 'em up in the morning and take 'em down at night vomit inducing carnival rides! And the K of C Talent Show, where half of the contestants were 10-year-old girls singing heartfelt renditions of "The Rose."
We walked around for a couple hours, ran into a few of my old friends. They either couldn't get out of work to come see me at the library or they had no idea I was in town.
As we left for the evening, Mary summed up the K of C Barbecue perfectly when she said, "This is Ray Bradbury Country."
Part 4 - On Vacation in Ocean City
When we arrived in Quincy, there were geese in the field behind my parents' house. The following morning the geese were gone. Or were they? Mary and I were looking out the window, looking for the geese. "There they are," I said, pointing at the bushes in the back corner.
"No," Mary told me. "Those aren't geese. Those are turkeys."
Hasn't this happened to all of us at one time or another? You're leaving for a trip, you want to get on the road, but you can't get away because of all the damn turkeys?
We figured out where the turkeys came from, walked over to their owner's home and they came and got their birds before the animals wandered into the street. Then we hit the road.
We drove and we drove and we drove.
That night, we stopped in some mountain town on the Ohio/West Virginia Border. (I just watched The Mothman Prophecies and I think we were pretty close to the town where that Mothman fellow ran around a few years ago, creating havoc.) No bridges collapsed on us, so the next day we finished the drive to Ocean City, Maryland.
In addition to Quincy, I also grew up in Ocean City. My family had gone there for two weeks every summer since before I could remember. Now it was my turn to go there as an adult and create new memories.
We swam in the Atlantic, we sat in the sun and we even played miniature golf on a dinosaur-infested course (Mary beat me by one point). We drove to a nearby nature preserve and saw wild ponies and deer, we went on a touristy boat ride and we walked up and down the boardwalk every night. Most of all, we didn't do much of anything.
The high point of the trip was probably the dolphins. Mary likes animals and was looking forward to the prospect of seeing sea creatures in their natural environment. I didn't want her to get too excited, when I'd been to Ocean City as a child, we only saw dolphins once or twice during our two-week stay, and that was if we were lucky. Since we only had four days at the beach, I didn't think Mary would get to see much of anything.
Wouldn't you know it, our first night there, we were standing on the pier and six of the sea mammals swam right past us. The following morning, while we were swimming, another half dozen swam by. Mary even saw some the day we left, arching out of the water on the horizon.
Don't worry, in all our relaxation we didn't forget about the book tour. Our second day in Ocean City, we found a printer. We gave them the proofs of "Wrestling Rings and Other Things" and asked if they could have fifty copies done by the time we left the island. They said they could.
Great. That's what Kinko's said, too.
They called us a day early and said the books were ready. They weren't going to outsmart us, Mary and I both knew better than to get our hopes up. When we got to the shop, they had a box of these...things. They had a front and back cover; they had all of the pages in the right order, these things looked like books. About half of them were stapled in the wrong place, but other than that, they looked like the chapbooks we had set out to create. They did it! To top it all off, the printer charged us half of what Kinko's wanted us to pay.
My first short story collection was set to make its debut at Horrorfind.
Part 5 - The Horrorfind Appearance
I'm not a convention kind of guy. I'm quiet, I'm shy, I don't feel comfortable talking to people I don't know. I went to the Twilight Terrors Convention a couple of years ago and didn't have a very good time.
The Horrorfind Convention in Baltimore was going to be different.
For one thing, with Twilight Terrors I went mainly as a volunteer. Sure, I did a reading and was on a panel or two, but the main reason I was there was to work. For Horrorfind, I was going as a writer. No running around looking for ice, no making sure so-and-so knew when they were supposed to be in the Grand Ballroom. I started writing so I could be a writer, dammit, and for Horrorfind, that's what I was.
Another difference was that when Twilight Terrors happened, I'd only had a couple of stories published. With Horrorfind, my published stories tally was up to over a dozen. I'd also co-edited an anthology and I had that there short story collection to my credit. I had much more to be proud of.
And, maybe most importantly, at Twilight Terrors, I spent a lot of time by myself. For Horrorfind, I had Mary to keep me company.
Friday, August 23. We checked in and the first thing we did was ask about "Freaks, Geeks and Sideshow Floozies." Tina had said that if the book was ready in time, she'd have copies shipped to the hotel. There were no books. We went up to the room and called Tina. She said the books were Fed Exed overnight and should be there. We go back to the Front Desk and ask again and, oops, here they are.
One more obstacle overcome.
We walked around some, went to a reading by F. Paul Wilson and then called it a day.
Saturday, August 24. We started the day at 10:00 in the morning when I did a reading with Stoker award winning author Mike Oliveri to a mesmerized crowd of fifteen. There was a problem with the door to the reading room, (if we shut it, it locked, thus locking out our other potential audience members) so we read with the door open, competing with the din from the dealer's room and all points west. After the reading, Mike and I sat at the signing table. We sat and we sat and we sat some more. No one was interested in "Wrestling Rings and Other Things." No one was interested in "Freaks, Geeks and Sideshow Floozies." No one was interested in anything I had to offer. Towards the end, I managed to sell a copy of "Freaks," but my customer was buying it because another author was in it. I neglected to mention that I had a story in there as well, so, for me, no actual signing took place.
My friend Sarah had come to hear me read, so after I was done not-signing books, she took Mary and me into downtown Baltimore so we could go to the Aquarium. We got there around one o'clock, just in time to hear them announce that nobody else would be able to get in until five or after. So much for that plan! We saw a couple more sights, and then it was back to the convention.
There was only one problem, on our way back to the hotel, we turned right where we should have turned left, went straight where we should have gone back and made several other mistakes that landed us somewhere near Rhode Island. When we finally did get back to the con, it was almost over for the day.
We caught the end of an author Q & A and we were there in time for the costume contest, but I didn't get a chance to try my new found skill of talking to people I didn't know.
Sunday, August 25. The final day of the convention was more productive. I introduced myself to a few people, I told some writers about Twilight Tales and I even handed out a couple of my books to people I thought might like them.
Mary and I hit the road that afternoon and were back in Chicago by Monday.
Part 6 - Epilogue
So, was my first book tour a success? I think so. It was a catalyst for me having my first short story collection published (We're already making plans for the second edition of "Wrestling Rings and Other Things" which will be ready in the new year. It'll have better back cover copy, a more professional design and quotes). Mary and I came home with fewer John Weagly books than we left with. And most importantly, I did it. I didn't just think about it. I didn't just talk about it. I did it.