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Cathy Robbins Thinking Aloud

About the book tour: San Diego

Jane Dumas, the heroine of the introduction, with Teepees/Casinos

Apr. 7, 2012
About the book tour: San Diego

In sunny San Diego, I had two author events in November 2011, one for the general public at the Downtown (Main) Library and another for San Diego Independent Scholars (SDIS) at the University of California at San Diego.

I spoke in the library's Wangenheim Room, the rare book room, a marvellous venue that was designed to look like a library in the home of a well-off family in the late 19th-early 20th century. Well-polished dark wood book shelves line walls, rugs cover the wood floors. Some glass cases display some of the room's treasures. One of them--not on display that evening--is a complete multi-volumed edition of Edward Curtis' original Native Americans of North America. Only about 300 were printed, and today, libraries and collectors guard those sets. In 2007, when I was living in San Diego, the library put some of the set on display in the Wangenheim Room, and I had the opportunity to see the exhibit and write about Curtis.

So this event was like a homecoming for me. About 15 people lively and engaged people attended--not bad given the warnings I had had about no one showing up! The talk was easy, because the introduction of the book was set in San Diego and the Kumeyaay of that area. So I read some of the chapter, and then threw it open for discussion. I had told the audience that some of them probably knew more about the Kumayaay than I did, and I was right!

The second event was also a homecoming. Again, while living in San Diego, I had been a member of SDIS. This is one of a half-dozen groups around the country composed of writers, scholars and intellectuals who have no academic affiliation but who work to publish valuable work in various fields. SDIS simply meets at UCSD for convenience; the university gives the group the chancellor's conference room for its monthly meeting.

I was November's featured speaker, and I was delighted to see familiar faces. This too is an active and engaged group, but they expected more and different! Besides content, they wanted to know how I had come to write the book, what challenges I faced, and other questions relating to scholarship and marketing. Like the library group, they were also knowledgeable about some of the subject matter.

San Diego ilustrates one of the lesser-known issues that authors face, namely, simply selling books at events. Bookstores are easy. They order the books from the warehouse, take care of the transactions , and handle the books after you leave (putting some on the shelf for later sale, returning those they can't sell). You just have to entertain and sign books. At both San Diego meetings, I had to sell the books myself--on a cash basis-- because neither organizations had mechanisms for charge cards or handling money. My friend Marina Bezzatti helped me out at the library, and I handled it alone at SDIS. But you have to work fast and do your own record-keeping.

Great to be back in San Diego. This is a place with a gorgeous landscape and natural environment that unfortunately has been badly damaged by urban sprawl of all types: tacky subdivisions, high-end enclaves, shopping centers that obliterate the San Diego River, a tourism and entertainment industry that threatens to slip into honky-tonk, freeways that become parking lots at rush hour. Fortunately, here and there, especially around downtown San Diego, a few graceful neighborhoods and wonderful institutions like the library survive. Can San Diego be saved? Read More 
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On the Road

March 21, 2012
About the book tour: Portland, Barnes and Noble

Since my last post (see below), I’ve been thinking about how to write about the book events. Chronologically? Geographically? Or in some other order?

Well, let’s take a look at the chain versus the indie book stores and within that categorization, I’ll write about the audience and their community.

First stop: Barnes and Noble, Portland. The chain is valiantly trying to hold on to its store patrons—thanks! Author events and book fairs are plentiful. Each store, though, differs greatly on how it organizes these activities. In Portland, the store at Lloyd Center was just terrific, thanks to events coordinator Steve Chandler. From the moment I contacted him, he has an idea in mind—a Saturday book fair devoted to American Indians with my book as the centerpiece at an afternoon author’s event. A portion of the proceeds of sales throughout the store that day would go to a Native organization serving family and youth.

With that kind of enthusiasm, I went a step beyond, too. Instead of just a talk, I contacted Karen Kitchen, the head of the Indian program in the Portland Public Schools and asked her to join me for a program on education for urban Indians, a topic I cover in one of my chapters. She rounded up a Native high schooler who spends her summers with her Navajo grandparents. I also asked Dean Azule, the head of the Native American Student Center at Portland State, to participate. He was eager to do it, and I arrived in Portland a day early to attend a meet-and-greet at the Center. Unfortunately, on the day of the event, Dean was down with the flu.

But we had a great event. I had the sense to leave most of the program to Karen and her young friend. They were inspired. Karen described the Indian program in PPS, a small one compared with Albuquerque’s, which I write about. But the issues are similar—cultural dislocation, language fluency but great richness. The young student she brought revealed a level of wisdom I did not have at her age; I even forgot to take notes on her wonderful talk—or write down her name! She is bi-tribal—from an Oregon tribe and Navajo. In her school, she said, she gets her education in science and other subjects and plays the sports she loves. Then during the summer, she goes to her grandparents on the Navajo Nation. There she listens carefully to elders and others who have other lessons to teach her. These, she said, help ground her and make her strong.

We had a good audience of about 30 people, and Steve was quite happy to sell 14 books. I will personally donate a portion of the proceeds to the Portland State Native Center.

That was Barnes and Noble Portland. Stay tuned for more.

March 8, 2012
I've been AWOL. Yes--on the road marketing Teepees/Casinos. Sales of the book are going well, and the publisher is planning a second printing.

Since November, I’ve done more than a dozen author events--talks--in San Jose, San Diego, San Francisco, Albuquerque, Portland and Seattle. Leaving boxes unopened and pictures wrapped and unhung, I went on the road just about six weeks after we had moved into our new apartment in San Francisco.

Now I'm taking a break!

We've organized the garage and hung some pictures. My lap swimming and Y workouts are on a regular schedule. I'm exploring nearby neighborhoods for provisions, going to the ballet, concerts, movies, and spending time with family and on community service.

I also have some space to think and to revel in that freedom. It gives me more time for this blog. First of all, I'd like to tell you about my marketing travels. If you dream of writing a book, you have to get it into readers' hands, and you do that with marketing. So listen up!

Each author event--sometimes called a book event--was different, and they were all the same. Some were more successful than others. Turnout is important, and in the most successful, we had up to 30 people, a large—maybe huge—number, organizers told me. The least successful was a meet-and-greet at a Barnes and Noble along the car dealer strip of Stevens Creek Blvd. in San Jose. I had a small table near the entrance with my books and some Indian items I’d brought from home. Only one person—a friend made the effort to come. I snagged a few others as they came in the door. Also not successful was the one at Elliott Bay Books in Seattle as a record snow storm barreled across the city; I was lucky that my flight out of town got off the ground before the airport was closed.

But just using turnout as a criterion, the rest were successful events: Bookworks in Albuquerque; Book Passage in Corte Madera, one of the Bay Area's top indie book store, just across the Golden Gate from the city; the main library of the San Francisco Public Library; the San Diego Public Library (downtown); San Diego Independent Scholars (La Jolla); Barnes and Noble stores at the Pruneyard in Campbell and at Lloyd Center in Portland. I also spoke to two elementary school classes at the Hillbrook School in Los Gatos; they are a different order of event!

You might think that the number of books sold is another criterion for success, but that is not the case. Over and over, I have heard from marketing people that these events are not for selling books. Rather they are for raising visibility. While I did sell books at some of them, what was more important was the publicity they generated: a full-page story in the entertainment supplement of the San Francisco Chronicle; long pieces with plenty of photos in the Santa Fe New Mexican’s Pasatiempo and in Seattle’s Real Change; in Albuquerque, a fine review in the Albuquerque Journal, a 20-minute segment on New Mexico In Focus (KNME/PBS), an hour on Native America Calling. Some publicity came from the venues themselves: Book Passage's the large-circulation newsletter ; the web sites of the San Francisco and San Diego Public Libraries; Barnes and Noble stores' publicity machine.

I was going to just mention each event in passing, but the more I think about it, the more I feel that each needs more time and space. In many ways, they all reflect the communities where they happened. I’ll noodle it and get back to you! Read More 
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