Wyatt Waters and I have just wrapped up a book promotion tour completing our 31st book signing in 50 days.
The good news is that we sold out of the first edition of “An Italian Palate.” The bad news is that many stores ran out of books early and could not get more copies until the second printing was released.
I am especially proud that the first printing sold out with an extremely limited release. The book was made available for sale in a handful of local, independent Mississippi bookstores, a few local gift shops, the Wyatt Waters Gallery in Clinton, Miss., and our restaurants— in all, approximately 40 Mississippi locations.
I am a huge fan of independent bookstores. Over the years I have made friends with many of Mississippi’s greatest independent booksellers and have grown to admire the role that they play in their communities.
Nine books ago, Waters and I released “A Southern Palate.” It was a once-in-a-lifetime situation where all of the stars aligned, the book gods were on our side, and the first printing sold out in three weeks. We didn’t even make it to Thanksgiving. The excitement surrounding that book was unmatched and I thought I would never see it again. This time I wanted to sit back, exhale, and enjoy the process.
I am proud to report that, even though the schedule was hectic, the book-signing events surrounding “An Italian Palate” have been a blast. Not only have I been able to hang out with my best friend and talk about the process of collaborating on a book together, I have visited with readers of this column who followed us as we crisscrossed Italy in 2011.
In the years before my first book’s release, I never quite understood the book-signing process. I can remember being in bookstores and seeing authors sitting at tables next to a stack of books. Many times no one was there to purchase a book. There was a look in the author’s eye that was hard to nail. It was one of pride and embarrassment all at once— proud that the work had paid off and ended up in a bound volume, but embarrassed that no one was there to purchase a copy. Whenever I see that scenario, I always try to buy a book. No matter if it is a manual on underwater knitting or a self-help guide that has nothing to do with my life.
We have been blessed with large crowds, recently. It hasn’t always been that way though. I have been that guy sitting at a table all alone in the middle of a bookstore, hoping someone would walk by and let me tell them about my book. I will be that guy again. I never take a book’s success for granted and I always treat book signings with a certain reverence, whether anyone attends or not.
A few years ago I was scheduled for a book signing in Brookhaven, Miss. It was one of the last scheduled dates on the tour. I was tired and, I can’t remember which book it was, but the sales had been less than stellar. I was “that guy all alone in the middle of a bookstore” several times during that promotional tour. I was nearing the end of my two hours in this small gift shop and was ready to drive home to my family.
One of the store’s employees told me that someone had just called and was driving in to get a book signed. She was going to be 15 or 20 minutes late, but she really wanted to see me. I remember agreeing to stay longer, but internally being ready to go home.
The woman finally showed up 25 minutes late. She walked over, introduced herself, sat down, and said, “I need to tell you a story.” I am sure that I faked a smile, but inside I was preparing to hear a long version of how her grandmother used to bake bread.
She held up one of my books. It was “Nobody’s Poet” a collection of stories from the first six years of this column. Many were about growing up in the South and my childhood adventures in my hometown, Hattiesburg. It had been the lowest selling and worst received book of my career. I spent many days alone at a table during that book tour.
“This book is very special to me,” she said, and then she began to tell me the story of a friend of hers who suffered from a long battle with cancer. “In the final months I would sit by his bed and read him stories out of this book. He was your age and grew up in the same era. He could relate to your stories. It was the only thing that made him smile and laugh during those final days.” She talked for 30 minutes about which stories were his favorites and how he had lived many of the same experiences in his youth. I would have sat there another three hours.
I was ashamed for being frustrated earlier about having to stay longer. What if I had left without hearing THE story that actually made that entire book project worth the effort? What if I had left without receiving what would probably be the highest compliment of my career? I began to look at all book signings differently after that.
Today I consider myself grateful and blessed whether I sell 10 books or 10,000. Thank you, Mississippi from the bottom of my heart.
Sesame Cheese Straws
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1 /2 cup butter, softened
1 tsp salt
1 /2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp sesame oil
1 /2 cup sesame seeds, toasted
Preheat oven to 375.
Process all ingredients in a food processor for about 30 seconds, or until the mixture forms a ball.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a 1/4-inch thickness.
Cut into 4-5 inch straws, one-inch wide, and place on a ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
Yield: 60-70 straws