But my reality was more like that of a 9-year-old Cub Scout selling large tins of popcorn in front of a suburban strip mall. “Hello, sir. If you buy some of this delicious popcorn, I’ll be able to go to Camp Wannahooka and earn a merit badge in advanced whittling. Otherwise, I’ll be stuck at home with nothing to do but watch Internet porn and start up a meth lab.”
When it came to promoting “The Vegan Monologues,” I did it all. I sent out press releases, mailed review copies to critics and bloggers, and sat for radio and newspaper interviews. And of course, I hit the electronic social media circuit, posting news and updates on Facebook and Twitter. There have been high points, like reading to an ebullient crowd of 150 in Washington, D.C., and low points, like reading to 4 people in a basement in Cleveland. (Trust me, there’s nothing lower than reading vegan humor to 4 people in a basement in Cleveland.)
As an author of a vegan book, I made a concerted effort to go where the vegans and vegetarians were. I attended vegetarian festivals all over North America — from Toronto to Portland, Oregon, to Boston. And it is exhibiting at these festivals where I have gotten in touch with my inner Cub Scout. At these events, I set up my little table with my little sign and my little stack of books, and I smiled, waved, and cheerfully greeted passersby as they perused my monologues.
Working these exhibits was not an easy gig, because ideally, I needed to be in a constant state of readiness. I needed to appear engaged, available, and fun. It wasn’t appropriate to sit, read, or eat. I also had to guard against staring off into space and looking utterly bored. Zoning out would have been fine, if I had been selling do-it-yourself lobotomy kits, but I was hawking literary humor. I needed to be animated, but subtly so. I developed this little improvisational dance where I kept my hands and feet moving and nodded my head up and down, so it looked like I was busy, though I wasn’t really doing anything. I looked like Barney moments after being shot by a tranquilizer gun.
While my primary goal was to sell books, many people who visited my table had absolutely no interest in buying one. Some folks wanted nutritional advice. Others were religious zealots (read wackos) who couldn’t understand why I don’t munch on the delicious critters that the Lord hath given us. To which I’d reply, “The Lord also hath given us the commandment, Thou Shalt Not Kill, which, last time I checked, wasn’t “Thou shalt not kill unless it is an animal that tastes really good then go for it.”
Perhaps most annoying to me was the amazing number of people who became overly exuberant about making the connection between my book’s title and “The Vagina Monologues.” You’d of thought they just discovered a new element in the periodic table.
Then there were visitors who stopped by just to complain about spouses and family who are not supportive of their vegetarian lifestyle. While I was tempted to reply with a pithy comment like, “Please move on, you are using up valuable oxygen around my table,” I just nodded and smiled.
Then there were just the plain old tire kickers. Tire kickers read a few pages, chuckled, and walked away without making a purchase. Sometimes they apologized for not having any cash. Sometimes they just wished me luck. When they walked away empty-handed, I smiled and waved for a few moments, before placing an unbreakable curse on them in the voice of a possessed Linda Blair: “May a thousand rabid leeches invade your large intestine.”
But for the most part, if I got a good location for my table and there was a large crowd, I sold books. The formula was simple––not rocket science.
However, every once in a while, a large crowd worked against me. That’s what happened at the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival. I was stationed between the Hare Krishnas (nice people, no tambourines), who were handing out free samples of a flavorful rice and lentil dish, and a peanut butter vendor who was dispensing free samples of their tasty products. Free eats had drawn throngs of people in my direction the first day, and I sold 30 books. For not being Stephen King, that’s pretty good. So, I began day two of the festival feeling confident. I was ready to sell, sell, sell.
But on that second day, the crowds descending on these food vendors were ravenous and out of control. It was “Attack of the Vegetarian Food Zombies.” People were flooding in from all directions, and everything came to a complete standstill in front of my table. Everyone was packed in like sardines, immobile, just staring at each other. These were ideal conditions for spreading the swine flu, not for selling books. After the assault subsided later in the afternoon, I sold just 9 books, a far cry from my success of the previous day.
That brings me to my appreciation for the Internet. I do absolutely nothing to sell my book online, and I have had pretty good success doing so. At three in the morning, someone in a drunken stupor can come across “The Vegan Monologues,” thinking they have discovered the long-lost memoir of Suzanne Vega. And with a couple of clicks on their part, I’ve sold a book.
While I learned well that book peddling isn’t for the faint of heart, I do feel a great sense of satisfaction when someone comes up to my table at a festival and buys a book. It’s especially rewarding when they ask me to sign it, thinking that an author-autographed copy might be worth big bucks some day. Heck, if they can hope that I’ll make it big, I can dream big, as well. I may not be the next Stephen King just yet, but in the meantime, I can give any popcorn-wielding Cub Scout a good run for his money.
What lengths have you gone to to market your book?