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What to Do When You Get the Big Break
by Mary Ann Kerl

“You’ve got to get a book signing at B. Dalton in downtown Minneapolis. It’s where there’s action,” my publisher said emphatically.

I panicked.

I’d already spent countless hours setting up books signings for our “el cheap” book tour, from Oklahoma to Minnesota. Lois was going to a reunion, and we planned to stay at friends and relatives and eat apple bars in the car. Not the best accommodations, but the only offer I ever got for a tour. I didn’t like the idea of making more calls, but what could I do? A writer doesn’t say no to a publisher.

After making about a dozen calls, I got to speak to the manager.

“The only authors we get for signings are celebrities and New Yorkers,” he said.

My heart fell. I didn’t believe him, but I wasn’t about to argue.

When I told Lois, she said to try the man again.

And again.

And again.

During the fourth call, the manager—you’d think I’d remember his name, but I don’t—explained the bookstore was in a mall where hundreds of people rush through the store. Besides, a signing was for thirty minutes, rather than two hours. I told the manager I wouldn’t bother him again.

But what did my publisher say?

“Try the man again.” She had to be kidding.

I was going to say no way. Then I imagined what would happen. I didn’t like the vision, of Lois not publishing any more of my work.

The next day, I slowly dialed the number. How embarrassing!

“It’s me, Mary Ann Kerl, from Oklahoma. My publisher said I’ve got to get a signing at your store. What do you do with a lady like that?”

The manager sighed. I was relieved. I’d expected him to call the police for harassment.

Instead, he kindly said, “I don’t think your publisher understands. You’d have to be so aggressive to have a signing here.”

“She says I’m aggressive. I beg people to buy my books.”

“How many books do you sell at a signing?”

“About ten to thirty.”

“Not bad, but you’re local.”

I kept venting. “But they’re ‘cold’ sales, not from Aunt Mae. That’s the problem with being in Oklahoma. We never get a chance. If you gave me a signing, you’d make money off me.”

I gulped.

What on earth was I thinking? I’d never told a man that before. What else could I do though? I wanted to be published.

 “Besides I’m persistent,” I rambled on. “You know how I keep calling.”

“Good point.”

Months later, at the signing, hundreds of people raced in the mall.

Spotting three large poster boards, I noted Cindy Crawford, obviously, had a signing the day before me, and Mary Tyler Moore was scheduled for the next day. The manager wasn’t lying. Now what? I was a totally unknown writer, and I hadn’t told Lois I promised the man money.

I sat at a table with my books. I remained in my chair for eternity, three seconds, as I heard seconds ticking madly, like bombs exploding in my head. No one came to the table. I stood up.

Still, I couldn’t get anyone’s attention. Grabbing a copy of my book, I dashed to a man in the store. He stood in the humor section.

 “I wrote a humor book,” I said.

He turned, and I noticed he was handsome.

“Really?” Awe was on his face.

I pinched myself, a reminder I was married.

“May I show my book to you?”

“No.”

I fell out of love with the guy as quickly as I had fallen in.

“I’ll buy a copy,” he added. “I’m in a hurry.”

Suddenly, I felt like a yo-yo, snapping in and out of love. I signed the book and raced back to the table.

Next, in the crowd, I spotted a lady who nodded toward me.

Seconds later, she stood at my table and, before I could say anything, she asked, “What do you have for me?”

Stunned, I shoved a book in her hand. “You’ll love it.”

If they had a race in the Olympics for shoving-books-in-people’s-hands, I’d win.

The woman read the jacket copy. “Now I know why God told me to buy this! My husband died recently and I need a laugh.”

God told her about my book? I wanted to call the media. They’d want the story, but the lady was already at the cash register. How did I ever grow up in such a rushed society? I was born in South Dakota where people say a dozen paragraphs before an Okie finishes a two-word sentence.

In the crowd, one lady read the posters. “Who’s Mary Ann Kerl?”

“Probably a famous person we don’t know,” the other lady answered.

I baited my hook before they disappeared.

“I’m going to be famous!” I yelled.

Both ladies turned. I dropped my Okie accent, talked nonstop and made a sale to each of them, who believe I’ll become famous. God love them.

Four sales in fifteen minutes, I was counting, bombs still going off.  I needed to work faster.

Raising my book, I shouted, “Look, everyone! Come see my book!”

I could as well have been talking to bugs.

Yelling again, I added, “No obligation!”

Suddenly, the bugs morphed to bees and swarmed to me. Time to make honey. I kept talking Northern style. I could do this, I reminded myself. I spit out funny-sounding paragraphs all the time as a child. After thirty minutes, I’d sold eleven books.

“We’re so pleased,” the manager said. “Some movie stars don’t do as well.”

Today, in my queries, I still list that mega-speed book signing as a credential. Several editors, who published my books, told me that signing was why they asked to see my manuscript. A friend wrote and said my name was mentioned as a writer on a Minneapolis television station.

So, friends, keep writing, and when you get a big break, milk it for all its worth.

© Copyright 2010, Mary Ann Kerl

A freelance writer, Mary Ann Kerl also teaches online communication courses for the University of Phoenix. Over 2,000 of her articles and short stories have appeared in over 100 different publications, including Writer's Digest, The Writer, Family Circle, Home Life, Children's Digest and others. She sold 16 books to royalty companies, including Augsburg Fortress. Her latest book is Devoted to Economizing with Devoted Books.

Other articles by Mary Ann Kerl :

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