Saturday was my big day at the Big Orange Book Festival. My publisher and I both worked tirelessly to promote this event, and especially my talk. VHP designed several flyers/posters and a video trailer, all of which I diligently sent off to the people at the Festival. I tweeted endlessly about the event, posted the flyers here on my blog, on Facebook, and on G+, as well as the link to the video trailer. I bought a new, artsy-authorly looking outfit to wear, and even cut my hair. I spent hours polishing up my talk and pouring over my books for just the right excerpts to share.
Saturday came. I was ready for the masses. After all, this was being billed as a big event. There were big name authors, even, at the event. It was called “Big Orange; everything about it was “Big.” I wondered how big the crowd would be for my talk, “How Dying for Six Minutes Changed Me From a Professional Student Into a Professional Writer.” I figured with a catchy title like that, I could easily fill a room.
We got to the college where the event was held. We walked up the stairs and into the building where my talk was scheduled. My palms began to sweat, and my heart raced with excitement. We opened the door and stepped inside to find …
Nothing. The student union, basically. There were no posters for the Book Festival, no banners. Nothing at all.
Confused, we searched for the elevator. We eventually found it, and went up to the second floor where my talk was to begin in less than 45 minutes. The hall was dark; only a dim light shone from the room to the left of the elevators—my scheduled room. A little classroom. There was, again, nothing saying a Big Orange event was to take place there.
Back in the elevator, we headed for the third floor, where eventually we found the author Green Room and a Big Orange volunteer, who told me the person who would introduce me would be up momentarily.
Twenty minutes or so before my scheduled presentation, she showed up. She immediately sat down and started talking a mile a minute about her job at the university and how she’d been a student there thirty years earlier and on and on. Not a question about me. I wondered how she was going to introduce me. I figured she must have studied my bio, sent in weeks earlier to the Festival people.
Finally it was time to go down to the room.
There were exactly nine people waiting: three good friends of mine, three Big Orange volunteers in their Big Orange volunteer shirts, and three strangers. Wait, make that five strangers. So a total of eleven people. Twelve, counting my husband, who is always at my side at events to take pictures and offer moral support.
My host got up, and immediately introduced me as “Zoey ZiDEL.” Short “i,” strong emphasis on the “DEL.”
I corrected her. “Sorry,” she said.
She then went on to say I was the author of Observations of an Earth Mage. Which, of course is true. Only she pronounced in “maa-JAY.”
Maa-JAY? Did she pronounce cage, caa-JAY? Rage, raa-JAY? Page, paa-JAY? I corrected her again. Which rather annoyed me; she’d asked me on the way down how to pronounce “Mage,” and I’d told her “Just like it looks. Mage. Long ‘a.’”
The final insult to injury: “Zoey was recently nominated for a Push-heart Prize.”
I silently screamed, THAT’S PUSHCART!!! NOT PUSH-HEART! WHOEVER HEARD OF A PUSH-HEART PRIZE? But aloud, I politely corrected her. Again. “Smoky, not Zoey. And it’s Pushcart, not Push-heart.”
Did I mention that two of the five strangers in the audience got up and walked out of the room during the introduction?
I got up and gave my talk. I did a great job; I’m really good at public speaking, because I don’t get nervous in front of an audience and I love talking about what I know best: my books, and writing. I spoke from the heart, I spoke with passion. To a “crowd” of ten, three of whom were good friends of mine, and one of whom was my husband.
I was supposed to sign books afterward. But how was the “crowd” to buy books for me to sign when the book festival people didn’t have books there for me to sign? The books were nowhere near the building where, hidden in darkened recesses, we authors pitched our wares. The book sales were on the other side of the campus football field, for pete’s sake. If any of the three strangers wanted to buy a book, they would have had to trek over to the book sale tent, buy the book, and trek back for me to sign. Sorry, no one was going to do that. I signed exactly two books—and those were bought by my friends, and I signed them after the festival when we went to a Thai restaurant to eat dinner.
Big Orange turned out to be a Big Lemon.
BUT … if they invite me back next year, I will go again. Why? Because any promotional opportunity is just that: an opportunity. People may not have flocked to my event, perhaps because they couldn’t find me, or perhaps they truly weren’t interested. But I have to believe it was the former reason, not the latter. And even if people didn’t see me in person, they saw the promotional blitz I did on the Internet, and perhaps some of the people who saw that blitz took the time to check out my Website, my books, and perhaps I garnered a few new fans that way.
Yes, if I’m invited back, I will go. But I will do things a bit differently.
I will suggest to them ahead of time that the person who introduces me actually talks to me ahead of time, gets to know me a little bit, so they can at least pronounce my name and my book titles and my prize nominations correctly. I will suggest they put posters, banners, any promo materials at all in the building where authors are speaking so people can find us. I will suggest they not spread the festival so thinly across campus that book sales are across the football field from the speakers. I will suggest that when authors and their publishers go to the trouble and expense of creating promotional materials the festival can use, they use them!
I hope they are open to such suggestions. Big Orange could have been a terrific event for us authors who weren’t the big star attractions to the festival (and there were many of us, at least according to their Website).
Just because we weren’t the big stars doesn’t mean we couldn’t—and didn’t—shine just as brightly.