Return from the North.

A J HartleyA J Hartley
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Apologies for the late posting. I just got home after a mini book tour in Northern Michigan and have been playing various kinds of catch up. I’m also mired in grading and in working through line edits on Darwen III, but I wanted to tell you a little about the last few days because it was, well… just cool.

The multi-city book tour in which authors fly from place to place and are chauffeured from fancy hotel to book store and back just doesn’t make financial sense to most publishers. Sure, it’s a way to raise visibility, but unless you have the kind of profile which will guarantee hundreds (or thousands) of sales at each signing, it isn’t going to work, and I’ve heard countless tales of Huge Name Authors showing up at stores to find—for whatever reason—that no one has shown up.

So I was delighted and a little apprehensive when I was told that Penguin was going to fly me up to Michigan to do school visits and store events. I was also a little baffled by the choice of location: not Detroit or Lansing or a larger neighboring city like Chicago, but Traverse City, Charlevoix and Petoskey, places which (I’m ashamed to say) I had never heard of.

But the logic of the choice became clear as soon as I arrived. These are gorgeous little communities at the northeastern tip of Lake Michigan, a stone’s throw from the Canadian border, and they are prime tourist destinations in both summer and winter. They are also served by some of the best independent book stores I have ever seen: extensive, carefully managed, and beautifully appointed. Best of all, of course, they are run by book lovers who read. It was these good folks who had pushed to make my visit happen.

In lots of ways, this hasn’t been an easy year, and I flew up there feeling more than a little bruised, anxious about Darwen II (which came out just over a week ago), stressed about grading and all the things which had to get done before the holidays. Did I really have time to be jetting off to sit in empty stores, nursing the nagging awareness that I was costing my publisher money?

Store display at Mclean and Eachin, Petoskey, MI

I should have known, of course, that when independent bookstores get behind you, they are a force of nature, and what happened over those few days went a long way to restoring my faith in myself, my books and the future of the industry. Everywhere I went I was met with enthusiasm which sometimes got positively frenzied, particularly, of course, from the kids. I signed hundreds of copies of both Darwen novels, as many scraps of paper hastily torn from exercise books, and several dozen arms! I got hugs from students, teachers and librarians. I had my picture taken in front of a lovingly crafted store display which (as one friend remarked when they saw it on facebook) was less a display than a shrine!

Everywhere I went I met people who couldn’t wait to get the new book because they had devoured the first, and I fielded countless of well-thought out questions about the publishing business, the future of the series, and the joys and terrors of the writing process. I was treated like a rock star, and I don’t mind admitting that it felt pretty good.

I came home with my batteries recharged, convinced I’d actually touched a community in ways that would benefit us both, and eager to write more.

And I will. I just have to get through these final exams and such first…

Happy Friday everyone.

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