So, I’m happy to report that my book launch party at the Muscatine History and Industry Center, part of the inaugural Muscatine Second Saturday event, was a great experience. I’ve made mental notes of the things I’ll do differently and the things I’ll do again, but overall, I think the evening was a success. I, at any rate, had a great time. I’ll post pictures as soon as I get them uploaded (it’s a long, prohibitive walk to get the camera all the way to the computer, apparently), but here are some of the fun things I’ll do again:
I set up a display of items appearing from various stories to help pique interest in the book. Here is Sam Wesson’s first guitar (“The Memoirs of Sam Wesson”), Joseph’s little red wagon (“The Keeping of the Counts”), the wedding quilt that Steve and Dacey have on their bed (“Trying to Find a Corndog in Tompkins County”), and a copy of the postcard of Machu Picchu that Bryan sent to Caro (“Planet Joy”). I also displayed a copy of a photo of me and my sister Traci, to whom the book is dedicated, and which is the pattern for a picture I describe in the title story, “A Lesson in Manners.” Next to this I put on display some etiquette books, vintage and contemporary, and invited people to write down their own favorite pieces of etiquette or advice. I shared these later, for grins and giggles.
Next, I had a table displaying items “donated” by various characters. All of them play some key part in their respective stories. Amelia from “Green Space” donated a bonsai kit; Sultan, the dog from “Still Life With Dog,” donated a chew toy; Caro donated ginger tablets; Sarah from “Welcome to the Holy Land” shared one of her prayer candles; Sam Wesson contributed guitar picks; John from “Monsoon” sent wildflower seeds; Joseph sent some of his beloved footy pajamas, and so on. The flowers like those the narrator of “A Lesson in Manners” got for her sister were given away at the end of the night to our hostess, the director of the Center. I invited everyone who came to enter their name in the bowl for a drawing, and then at the end of the night drew names and gave these gifts away as door prizes. It was like having party favors, but better.
I had a couple of games planned, one of them a deportment contest, in which I meant to challenge people to carry Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette across the room balanced on their head. (It’s quite a heavy book, and it was a long room.) We never got to this event, which is perhaps a good thing as several of us grew tipsy near the close of the evening. But one challenge I did offer was for people to take a paper placemat and draw the correct placement of a formal place setting. I polished up my grandmother’s silver and my husband’s grandmother’s china for the event. The wine glasses I already had lying around (no surprise). I thought people would go nuts with this, but it proved to be terrifying. Most people steered clear. My cousin’s daughter took a go, however, and she did really well. Her prize: a book of etiquette. I’m sure she’ll read it and start correcting her mom, and I’ll hear about it.
Naturally, there were books available for sale and signing. The most brilliant thing I did all evening (even more brilliant than the champagne toast) was to put my mom at the book selling table. She sold like a pro! She told stories about the making of the book, shared praise from her friends who have already read it, and made sure everybody who bought a copy entered their name in the drawing. At the end of the evening I gave away the grand prize: a gift basket of the items Sally purchased at the store in “Sally.” I also had my usual swag on display: bookmarks, postcards about the book, business cards for the SISTERS book where “A Lesson in Manners” appears in slightly different form, and a sign-up sheet for local writers interested in Writers on the Avenue, of which I happen to be president. Mom also made sure everybody got a bookmark about the story contest I’m running based on the book (see Contests). I’m going to bring Mom to all my signings. Maybe I should make her my manager.
And, last but not least, I have to share the story of the cake.
So, because I love standard-issue bakery sheetcake in a way I probably shouldn’t talk about too much in public, I went to the local Hy-Vee and ordered a sheetcake. Marble cake, buttercream frosting, and I asked for frosting flowers, the sparkles, and trim. I thought at length about what message I wanted to include. “Congratulations” seemed weird, since I was ordering; I already do enough self-congratulation. But what else would suit? I decided to go with whimsical and told the baker I wanted the cake to say “Mind your Manners!” A pun on the book title, as I saw it, and a not-so-subtle prompt to buy the book.
“What’s with the manners?” the baker asked. So I told her the cake was for a book launch. She was impressed that I wrote a book. She told me she was writing a book. I told her to come to the next Writers on the Avenue meeting and she wrote down the date and time on the back of the order slip. I walked away feeling really great not just about having met a new writer but also knowing I was going to eat cake in a week or so. I even posted to Writers on the Avenue’s Facebook about meeting this woman and how we bonded over my book.
Then, on the day of the launch, running late from my hair and makeup appointments, I went to pick up the cake and encountered this:
There was one baker behind the counter, and she was taking a cake order for another customer. “Is there anyone who can correct a spelling error?” I cried. She said she could, if she could find the right color frosting to match. She mentioned they’d had a lot of misspellings lately. She tried, really she did, but she couldn’t find the tube of red frosting. She looked all over. I looked at my watch. I knew my friend the photographer was already at the Button Museum, because I’d asked to be there so we could do some author photos beforehand, and I knew my family was there—mom, dad, cousin, uncle, cousin’s kid—setting out food so everything would be read to go at 5. Finally I asked the baker if I could have a discount, since I was an English teacher taking a misspelled cake to my own book launch party. I almost swore, as I left the store, never to buy cake there again. But I knew I would, because I love sheetcake so much.
So I took the cake to the party. And told everybody the story of the misspelling. And took pictures of it, as you can see. I think having the story is better, now, than having a proper cake. Because we ate it, and it was delicious, and my guests at the book launch are still joking about “mining” their manners.
The moral of the story: you can have your story, and eat your cake too.
I am already looking forward to my next book launch. Cheers to that!