Notes from the Road — Guestpost by Miranda Weiss

Miranda Weiss will be appearing at Title Wave Books in Anchorage tomorrow, Thursday May 28, at 7 pm.

I’m writing from San Francisco, the third stop on my Tide, Feather, Snow tour. After sunny, balmy days in Seattle and Portland, it is, of course, cool and foggy in the city by the bay. (Did Mark Twain really say: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”?) Tide, Feather, Snow is my first book and these past months have been my first experiences with book promotion. The learning curve is steep and long. There is always something else to do—another email to send, a call to make, a pitch to hurl into the world…It’s been a whirlwind—my voice has gone hoarse, a blister has formed on my left little toe from pounding the pavement between book sellers, and I got a new zit in time for a 4-minute television spot on “AM Northwest”—the “Regis and Kathy Lee” of Portland, I am told. (See for yourself.)

I’ve learned a few important things on this trip—be nice to everyone, meet as many people related to books as you can, friends can save you, and bringing smoked salmon to share at readings doesn’t hurt at all. I’ve recorded two radio interviews, one in Seattle, and one for KBOO, Portland’s ultra-lefty community station. While Portland’s Regis and Kathy Lee asked me about Sarah Palin during a commercial break, the interviewer, Crystal, at KBOO in Portland wanted to know about our governor on the record. Crystal, who had lived for a time in Alaska during the 1960s, was curious about climate change and politics in Alaska, about the future of our largely undeveloped but finite state, and how these questions play out in the book.

Attendance at my book events has waxed and waned. At my first Seattle event with my friend, the writer Margot Kahn (Horses that Buck, 2008), her friends packed the place. The next night, I walked into a Seattle Barnes and Noble and found 150 chairs set up for my reading. Only one person (besides two friends and bookstore staff) showed up, but Margot (diligently in attendance) was at the ready with Five Reasons Why This Didn’t Totally Suck as soon as I was through and feeling obviously disheartened: 1. It was good practice. 2. I signed about 30 books, which they’d ordered for the event. (I’ve heard that once they’re signed, they can’t be sent back to the publisher…) 3. The Barnes & Noble staff felt badly for me and would push the book. (“It would make a great present for grads,” one of the staff members said after the event as a sort of consolation prize.) 4. My book and the event had been advertised on their website, calendar, and on a poster at the store entrance with an unnervingly large photo of my face. And 5. The one guy who came, who was buying the book as a gift for his dad, a frequent traveler to Alaska, wouldn’t forget the personal connection we’d made.
I’ve talked to lots of booksellers and author event planners at bookstores. This has helped me understand how they think and why they do what they do. I met Sally, one of the owners of the wonderful independent Broadway Books on the East side of Portland. She had heard of the book, thought she might like it, hadn’t yet ordered it, but would, especially now that I’d stopped by. I met a young guy from Kenai in a white butcher’s coat working at the famous Pike Place Fish Market, where they toss slippery sockeyes in front of ogling tourists (like myself.) I told him about my book and he wedged one of my book postcards into a display of fish marinades and recipe books.
I landed at a Barnes & Noble inside Portland’s Lloyd Center mall. After not finding my book in any obvious location, I headed straight for the Customer Service desk where I met a young woman named Mariah. She showed me the single copy of my book shelved in “Nature.” Luckily, this one wasn’t at the usual ankle level (the curse of a last name that starts with “W”). I signed it and we chatted for a bit. Five minutes later, she had put a request in for four more copies to be ordered and had taken the single copy of the book and propped it up on a stand right at the Customer Service desk.
Sometimes, this promo business gets me down. I always feel like I’m not doing enough, and I don’t really have a sense of what’s “working” and what’s not. But then I’ll meet someone like Ellen Blassingham, a volunteer at Evergreen Radio, a radio service for the blind in Seattle, which has some 15,000 listeners. We recorded a half-hour interview in a tiny studio for a segment called “Literary News.” Ellen had read my book carefully, and had dozens of colorful sticky notes feathering off the pages to prove it. And she’d loved it—she’d loved the passages in the book that I most care about: the lyrical ones, the slow ones, the ones that riff off the richness of the natural world. For me, meeting and talking with someone who has been touched by the book is what this is all about.

1 thought on “Notes from the Road — Guestpost by Miranda Weiss”

  1. A heartening post, and a great reminder that writing, like most everything else worth doing, includes some parts we’d rather it didn’t. Teachers want only to teach but spend tons of time grading. Doctors want only to cure but run through reams of paper satisfying insurance requirements. I’ve been wallowing in Powerpoint for two weeks, prepping five presentations to promote my books, grateful for the opportunities that prompted them (I don’t do Powerpoint just for fun) but also gritting my teeth at technology that balks and mystifies and takes entirely too much time away from the novel and revising and the draft I just began. Thanks for the reminder that at the end will be real readers who will (hopefully) fall in love with a book or two and pass that on to their friends.

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