Friday, September 27, 2013

Someone stole my book! A "Use All The Crayons!" update

I’d like to use today’s blog to alert authorities of the commission of a heinous crime:

Someone stole a copy of “Use All The Crayons!

Quick! Anyone know how we can resurrect J. Edgar Hoover?

Oh, how I dreamed this day would dawn.

See for about a year I’ve toyed with the idea of filing a false police report claiming someone broke into my car to steal a box of my books.

I thought that would be dynamite publicity.

To make the story more attractive to essential tabloid reporters I was going to say the books were on the seat right next to a loaded pistol, a stack of cash, a bag of medicinal marijuana and one of those baby pandas from the Washington Zoo.

And that all the thief deemed worthy of stealing was “Use All The Crayons!”

That would make a great story, wouldn’t it?

What really happened is less compelling, but it’s still retail theft and I’m very proud.

The crime happened last Friday at the Barnes & Noble on Medina Road in Akron, Ohio, where I’d been invited to attend the Fall Local Author Exposition.

For those of you who’ve never read my blog or are casual about geographic details,     I’m not from Akron, a place I’ve been to twice, once to buy gas.

My home is in Latrobe, Pa., about 125 miles southeast of Akron.

So how did B&N management come to consider me a local Akron kid?

It’s all thanks to chutzpa. I may be too lazy to do any real work -- and hallelujah for that -- but I do have chutzpa and sometimes chutzpa helps.

A few months ago I sent about three dozen letters to store managers in locations all over Pennsylvania and Ohio asking them to stock my book.

About half of them instantly refused saying that granting my request would be in violation of company policy about stocking self-published print-on-demand books like mine. 

But I was emboldened by the reaction of the many people who were loving the book, and the fact that more than a dozen area stores were already defying company policy to find shelf space for “Crayons!”

So while sticklers and corporate suck-ups said no, soulful free-thinkers saw merit in my crafty letter and today my book is in more than 40 stores in four states.

A few were so enamored with the book they reached out to have me visit their stores to sign copies. That’s how I wound up in Akron last Friday (also, I’ll be at the Altoona B&N Oct. 12 from noon to 4 p.m.).

Crayon sales aside: the entity that prints “Crayons!” informed me last month my book surpassed key sales thresholds that meant it had automatically earned what they call STAR Program designation. That means they are right now spending nearly $3,000 on it to polish it and prepare it for national distribution.

And that’s all their money. So, finally, some savvy business types are recognizing they can make money off me by spending their money on me.

It gives me the opportunity to refine parts of the book based on reader reaction. I’ve junked about 30 lamer items and punched it up with what I hope is funnier stuff.

What does this mean for me? It could be huge. 

What’s it mean for you? It means if you’ve already bought the book, you’ll have to buy the shiny new version or risk feeling your colorfulness begin to diminish.

To paraphrase what George Patton shouted to Erwin Rommel while defeating his tank commanders across the North African deserts, “I read your book, Steve Jobs, you beautiful bastard! I read your book!”

There’s a risk for me spending an entire day driving to sign books in a city where I’m an unknown quantity.

But the store said they’d order 40 books. That’s huge. That’s 40 books I’d sign that would circulate through their system until each sold. And, guaranteed, sell they will.

Plus, one of my best buddies lives on a family apple orchard in nearby Kent. I knew I could attend the book signing, scoot over to Kent and spend a lively night drinking beer with my buddy who’d send me home with a big bag of free apples.

Understand, I’ve blogged for free for nearly five years. So that one night in Akron was looking like a gaudy windfall.

And Beckwith Orchard apples are delicious!

Ever wonder what goes on at an unknown author book signing?

It’s not like what happens with John Grisham and Stephen King.

In our case, the four congregated authors stand around and trade grim, quiet stories about what humiliated failures we’ve each become. We do this until a potential customer comes by at which point we smile brightly and try to convince the passerby that he or she ought to buy our books.

That way they could be just like us!

I sold five books. 

And I was the evening’s best seller!

I was not at all displeased. Two of the books were bought by store personnel who will now, I’m sure, become pivot point sales advocates for me.

And don’t forget the free apples!

Two writers were skunked, including a friendly woman who also wrote, like me, a self-improvement book.

She suggested we trade books.

I politely declined. As anyone can see by my “What I’m Reading . . .” sidebar, I gravitate toward history books.

I may have written a self-help book, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to read one.

Funny, it seems many potential Akron B&N customers must feel the exact same way.

But she persisted. With nothing else to do, she sat and listened to me tell stories of my colorful past for nearly an hour. She was impressed.

The experience convinced me if I could only spend an uninterrupted hour with one million potential customers I could sell one million books.

Maybe my next book signing should be at the local penitentiary.

She was insistent. She really wanted a copy of my book.

Well, all she had to do was buy one.

Understand, too, these books didn’t belong to me. These were all B&N books. She knew that, of course.

That’s why I was shocked when at the end of the night she came over, said she enjoyed meeting me, picked up a copy from the top of my stack, said goodbye . . . and just marched right out the door!

What an ethical dilemma for me.

Should I rat her out? Pay for her copy out of my own pocket? Chase her down and make a citizen’s arrest?

I did none of the above.

I just watched her blaze across the parking lot and felt a sense of deep chagrin.

I was realizing I should have accepted her offer to swap.

Not because it might have staved off this awkward lawlessness.

No, I sense I could learn a thing or two about colorful living from any woman brazen enough to steal books from her very own book signing.

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