Competing for attention – the final chapter on my book tour
By the end of my US book tour, I saw myself as a tiny point of light gradually being extinguished.
This country is so big that I felt smaller with each flight. Atlanta, Tulsa, St Louis, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco – millions of people, thousands of miles, and – more to the point – tens of thousands of writers promoting their books.
At the Printers Row Lit Festival in Chicago they stood in line to see Gail Collins, a popular and witty New York Times columnist who was on before me. My heart leapt when I saw a similar queue just as I was to speak, but it turned out to be for the toilets.
I thought about the Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood who recently wrote about her early book-signing experiences. She sat in a shopping mall in Winnipeg, waiting for someone, anyone, to come and buy her book.
“Finally the door opened and a lone man came in,” she recalled. “Plonk, plonk, plonk, went his feet on the floor. He was walking right towards me! Brightly I smiled. He leaned over the table. “Where’s the Scotch Tape?” he inquired. “I think it’s at the back,” I said.”
On reflection, then, it seems like a miracle, or a mistake, that anyone would show up to hear a British journalist talk about Libya. North Africa seems very far away.
Yet in each place, 40 or so mainly middle-aged or elderly people turned up. They listen intently, laugh and gasp in the right place and ask questions. Was Gaddafi crazy? Will Muslim fundamentalists take over Libya? Should America intervene in Syria? Don’t you get scared out there?
In San Francisco, I had to do so many radio interviews I needed a “media escort” to drive me around, and I got respectable audiences at two venues.
To my surprise, the biggest audiences were in the MidWest, and smallest in Seattle, where there is a Libyan community, and a well-educated book-reading population. Only nine people turned up – three friends, three friends of friends, three strangers. I sold just one book – to a friend. (Thank you, Robin).
Then someone explained the problem – I had competition: Gail Collins was speaking a few blocks away.
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