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My first Book Year

by Brian Clarey

She’s late. Not a huge deal — I’m late sometimes myself. Plus she’s got a 90-minute drive and a carful of books to load in.

One thing I’ve learned during my Book Year is that logistics are a bitch.

It’s been roughly 12 months since my first book, The Anxious Hipster and Other Barflies I’ve Known, came out, and in that time I’ve learned to take a casual approach to tardiness. I once rolled in 23 hours late for an event at my alma mater, Loyola University New Orleans, where I was supposed to convince the staff of the Loyola Maroon that they were not about to enter a dying profession.

So I don’t sweat it when AlexSandra Lett tells me from the road that she’s a bit behind schedule. I can cut a fellow author some slack.

Lett’s career in publishing began way back in 1984, when her weekly column about natural healing led to a book, Natural Living: From Stress to Rest. More columns and books followed, mostly business and self-help.

But then, in 1998, she holed up at Paradise Pond and knocked out the basis for what will become her first novel. That one hasn’t materialized yet.

In the meantime, she told me, she wrote a story called “Set a Spell at Grandpa’s Country Store” that ran as a column in a small North Carolina publication. That turned into another book, A Timeless Place: Let’s Set a Spell at the Country Store. She’s parlayed that one into a line of nostalgia volumes and cookbooks, all branded under the Timeless banner. You can check out her site at www.atimelessplace.com.

She also runs the lecture circuit, telling stories, talking about writing… and selling books.

I’m helping her unload them from her car now, outside the Greensboro Coliseum’s Special Events Center for the Holiday Market, where she’s agreed to sell my books — and also copies of The Man Who Became Santa Claus and Other Winter Tales by my publisher, Lorraine Ahearn — alongside her own. For a reasonable commission.

Another thing I’ve learned during my book year: Everybody gets a piece — a cut of the profit, a hedge against overhead, a piece of the sale, a fee to take credit cards. Plus there’s bar tabs, gas money, gig clothes, postage, marketing materials, sales-tax payments and the hours eaten up by constantly reminding everyone that you have a product for sale.

Also: Marketing is a pain in the ass. Lett says she’s been having some luck at specialty shows like this one, renting a booth amid the acreage of holiday knick-knackery, hanging a few banners and signs and then relentlessly pitching herself and her books to cash-heavy holiday shoppers. She says last time she worked this room she sold 160 books.

That, friends, is an awful lot of books. She’s loaded down today, with cases of the Timeless franchise she’s created testing the shocks on her Ford before we unload them and bring them to her point of sale as hundreds of the season’s first shoppers queue for tickets in the cold rain. Mostly women, for what it’s worth..

The nostalgia thing, she says, works well in rooms like this.

“But,” she says, “I’m trying to get out of it.

I don’t want people to think I can only write nostalgia.”

No writer likes to be pigeonholed. Meanwhile things don’t exactly look rosy for The Anxious Hipster today.

I’m used to it by now. I’ve lugged books down to Louisiana for lackluster crowds, read to a hometown group on Long Island while karaoke tracks played in the background, been heckled in St. Louis and performed in Greensboro, where I live and work, to audiences that could fit in a minivan.

I should also say that I have spent quality time with people I haven’t seen in 20 years, taken long trips to favored cities that I otherwise would have not, been able to talk about my writing — and read from my book! — while people sat and listened. I’ve also been privileged enough to work with some amazing musicians during my live performances. I’ll give special shout-outs to Greensboro guys Tim Betts, Chuck Cotton, Chris Carroll, Sam Fribush, Evan Olson, Ben Singer and Terry VunCannon. I got to play a gig in Garden City, NY with my childhood pal Andy Falco in the weeks after he was nominated, with his band the Infamous Stringdusters, for a Grammy. Chris Thomas King, a personal hero of mine from back in the day in Decatur Street, pulled me onstage at the Clubhouse for some bluesy spoken word. My old friend Aidan Gill, the Irish barber, agreed to carry my books in his old-time barbershop on Magazine Street in New Orleans.

My Book Year has been one of the finest of my life.

It’s not over, of course. I’m working the angles on the holiday season, booking events, lining up musicians, cashing in favors and doing what I can to put The Hipster in people’s hands.

But compared to AlexSandra Lett, I’m a piker. A greenhorn.

Of course, she’s got a few seasons under the belt since her inaugural Book Year. I’m still trying to notch my first.

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