book school: book event observation

All right!  Fun things to share with you–I went to an author event for class to observe how these sorts of things go.  Mine was a book signing by Brett Ortler at the HarMar Barnes and Noble in Roseville, MN.  It occurred on July 6, 2014, at two in the afternoon.

It's...a Barnes and Noble.  You know what those look like.

It’s…a Barnes and Noble. You know what those look like.

Ortler is the author of two books of insect trivia, The Fireflies Book and The Mosquito Book.  According to the description on the Barnes and Noble website, I could expect to meet Brett Ortler and get his signature on a pair of fascinating books.  How did it go?  Well, let me tell you through interpretative dance some fun pictures!

I ended up getting there about an hour early, but that was okay, because it meant I’d be present to hear any announcements made to alert customers to the imminent book signing.  I could also look at all the cool stuff there.  Books, you guys!  Aren’t books great?  I love books.  I also love seeing Duck Dynasty merchandise in clearance bins.

Seriously, this makes me really happy.

Seriously, this makes me really happy.  Or HAP-PAY HAP-PAY HAP-PAY, I guess.

Of course, I have to be careful in Barnes and Noble stores in July.  They’re full of dangerous things designed to destroy my pocketbook.

Seriously, the summer Criterion Collection sale is one of the most painfully delicious tortures man has come up with for me.

Seriously, the summer Criterion Collection sale is one of the most painfully delicious tortures man has come up with for me.

And at this particular location, there are extra dangers.

Kryptonite on a shelf, I swear to God.

Kryptonite on a shelf, I swear to God.

(I will say this for them: Because they’re choosier about the books they accept than thrift stores–who I think just make sure there are no visible lice on the books, lol–I actually end up having slightly less fun looking through their collections than I would at any given St. Vinny’s.  You’re far less likely to find interesting old cookbooks and forgotten bits of children’s literature at a Barnes and Noble; they’re best for slightly older BUT NOT TOO OLD WE SWEAR books at decent prices.)

Eventually, I retreated to the cafe to wait for the event to start, keeping an ear out for announcements about the event.  And…well, I didn’t hear any.  Which was pretty disheartening.  At my bookshop, when we have an event, we try to make an announcement 15 minutes in advance and then another when the event starts, so that customers know to stay if they’re interested.  And really, who wouldn’t be interested in fun facts about bugs?  (Aside from my roommate, anyway.) 

But at least I got a bit of reading done.

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters, a sort of reward for getting all my school reading done that week!

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters, a sort of reward for getting all my school reading done that week!

Around two, I decided to get up and take a look around to see if anyone was setting up for Ortler’s book-signing.  Lo and behold, all the setting-up had happened while I was distracted by adventures in 1880s Egypt!  Brett Ortler was already enthusiastically telling a few interested customers about the bugs of summer when I came over.

caption here

Brett Ortler shows off his two awesome books for the camera!

This was a little black mission-style table set close to the information desk and the Nook e-reader displays.  It was also within sight of the cash registers and part of the cafe.  I thought the location was pretty good for several reasons.  It’s very close to the front doors of the store, which open onto the parking lot of the HarMar Mall.  Customers entering the store from this entrance were likely to see his table.  While he wasn’t also in sight of the entrance in from the mall, mall-side customers who made any purchases or needed help finding information were still very likely to pass by him.  This made him visible to foot traffic through the center of the store.

You’ll notice that, in addition to books, Ortler has various bug sprays and creams, a big magnifying glass, a bottle of tonic water, a flashlight, and three different firefly specimens in a case.  This, I think, was the greatest strength of his presentation: He was prepared with interesting things to look at and talk about in addition to the books themselves.  The facts and demonstrations he had were likely to be interesting to both children and adults and could be used to start a conversation about his books and thereby interest customers unfamiliar with him.  It helped a lot that he was a funny guy, too–you could definitely imagine talking to him for a while about mosquitoes.

The most interesting thing in his arsenal?  Totally the tonic water.  Look what happens if you put it under UV light!

The quinine in it is what makes it glow. Unfortunately, there isn't really enough quinine in it to protect you from malaria, so protect yourself with more than just a gin and tonic!

The quinine in it is what makes it glow. Unfortunately, there isn’t really enough quinine in it to protect you from malaria, so protect yourself with more than just a gin and tonic!

When I was there, it was me, an older woman, and a teenage boy.  I introduced myself, explained my project, and asked him about author events.  In general, he said, he likes doing them–unsurprising, considering just how kitted out for them he was!

He also signed a copy of The Fireflies Book for me.  I kind of wanted to get The Mosquito Book, too, but that one has a huge bug on the cover, and you have to understand just how much the roommate hatefears bugs, lol.  I wouldn’t want Roommate to run across that huge mosquito by accident and be unable to eat for the rest of the day!

It's blurry, but you get the idea!

It’s blurry, but you get the idea!

While this was a bookstore event, I think this would also be a fantastic event for a library, especially because it would support a local author and bring him additional recognition to library patrons.  If I were planning an event like this, I would probably ask him to do a short talk beforehand, so he could deliver all his fun tonic-water surprises at once–but otherwise, I’d leave him a lot of latitude to be himself and be in control of the room.  He seemed very comfortable in that role.

One thing I would do differently is the advertising.  I did not hear any announcements about his presence in the store, though I did catch one about the Nook.  There were no signs that I saw outside the one on his table.  If I hadn’t specifically looked for an event to visit, I would never have known he would be appearing at this store.

That said, I understand why Barnes and Noble had fairly minimal advertising.  Events like these can be difficult for corporate-owned stores to do.  On the one hand, just because the store is a nationwide chain doesn’t mean its employees are nationwide-minded zombies; they love books and want to support local authors, too.  On the other hand, there are specific rules in chain stores about signs and displays.  The goal is to ensure the stores look mostly the same, which can be extremely helpful for customers trying to locate books in an unfamiliar store.  It can also limit the ways a store can advertise for smaller, non-corporate events.  I feel for employees who might be in a bind there.

Overall, however, I thought it was a very nice presentation, given the limits of the setting, and Brett Ortler found a new fan in me! 

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