Well, we warned you.
Jeremy Kroeker, motorcycle adventurer and famous author, has just survived a weekend at the Calgary motorcycle show. He held down the fort at his own booth, selling books.
We told him at the start of this that he wasn’t allowed to use his new monthly column as a place to promote his own books: Motorcycle Therapy and Through Dust and Darkness, and the excellent anthology he edited recently, Motorcycle Messengers. So he doesn’t, much. Enough of that.
Instead, he tells us how it really is to be there on the floor, vying for attention with all the other hawkers among the shiny new bikes. And if you’re intrigued and live out west, he’ll be doing it all again this weekend at the Edmonton Motorcycle Show, and then the following weekend at the Vancouver Motorcycle Show. Go say hello and cheer him up. -Ed.
WHEN YOU’RE AN AUTHOR at a motorcycle trade show, it’s a battle to grab people’s attention. We are the least sexy things in the room. By the time a potential reader reaches my booth, tucked in among a forest of leather jackets and vendors selling neon signs, jewelry, and infrared garage heaters, people are already tired and their heads are buzzing. Folks wander through the aisles now in a daze, bloated on mini-donuts and spongy pizza, distracted by lovely promo girls and, of course, the motorcycles.
It’s the bikes they came to see and, really, that’s about it. I’m reduced to using drastic measures to sell my wares. I begin with hawking or, put more bluntly, blurting things to strangers.
“Hey! How’s it going?” I say, to nearly every person within earshot. If every vendor did this, the show would sound like an Egyptian souk. Fortunately, Alberta Parks is in the booth to my right. They’re handing out free maps, and their staff gets paid by the hour. To my left, a motorcycle club of sorts. They have nothing to sell and, as far as I can tell, they seem unmotivated to draw people in. They’re just there to chat. And that makes me the only hawk in my row. Advantage mine.
“Hey! How’s it going?” I say again, and this time a man slows his pace. “These are my books,” I add with a flourish. (Charley Boorman wouldn’t have to stoop to this nonsense, but no matter.) The man is standing in the aisle. When the blurting actually causes someone to pause, it’s a win. Now we’re having a conversation. Granted, it’s a rehearsed, one-sided conversation, but it’s a start.
I launch into my pitch. Even though the man hasn’t asked me anything, and even though he hasn’t even looked at me directly yet, he doesn’t seem to mind hearing more. “This is my first book,” I say picking up a copy of Motorcycle Therapy. “It’s a bestseller in Canada, and it will make you laugh. ” Sometimes I add, “That’s a money-back guarantee,” and swallow hard. I know the day will come when someone sends my book back for a full refund, and I rue the day. But for now my shtick gets a chuckle, and the man is listening.
The shows have a predictable rhythm – the burst of energy when the doors open to the public, the dead lull in the vendor aisles when the stunt show commences, the rush of people when the riders finish, and finally, on Sunday, the cricket-chirping calm from about 2 pm until closing, when all the vendors cheer and begin the long task of packing up and driving to the next show.
I’M USUALLY AT MY BOOTH ALONE, although sometimes a friend will spell me off so I can trot to the bathroom, or stroll over to look at a motorcycle or two. I can’t be away for long, though. Sometimes books go missing if they’re left alone (it’s rare), but mostly, I can’t afford to miss a sale.
Thus, I’ve found ways to entertain myself at my booth when things get slow. I keep some healthy snacks hidden under my table, and a little water. Sometimes, when fortune smiles upon me, a bored promo girl will wander over and I get to chat with someone who doesn’t care about what I have for sale.
When things get really dull and it seems I haven’t seen any new bike enthusiasts for a while, I strum my guitar. Two years ago, that annoyed every vendor around me, but now I can seamlessly play a few basic tunes, besides “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” Sometimes I even catch someone tapping a foot while I play. I stay engaged with passers-by while I strum, greeting them, and muting my guitar if they have questions.
If my fingers get tender from the strings, I’ll put the guitar down and stretch. I pull out my yoga mat and contort myself in all manners to ease the pain in my joints from standing on a hard floor all day. This creates a weird scene, especially if I’m doing downward dog and my bum breaches the table, like a great beluga taking a mighty breath. The curious amble over to see what’s up (it’s my bum!). If eye contact is made, I will blurt out from any position, even downward dog, “Hey! How’s it going? Don’t mind me, I’m just keeping limber. These are my books.”
SIGH. The light inside me gets a little dimmer every time I use a standard line or rehearsed story. It feels insincere, even though it’s not really. It’s just about efficiency. And I do break from routine if someone is actually interested in hearing more.
I sell quite a few books at these events, too, yet I’m surprised every time I make a sale. Occasionally, someone will scoop up all three of my books, or even sets of three as gifts, and I struggle to suppress my shock.
Even more shocking is when someone, having already read my work, sidles up to my table, all shy, and whispers a compliment. It’s thrilling, and humbling all at once, and I appreciate it more than I can express. Beyond the sales, it’s these moments that make the long hours, hard work, and occasional boredom worthwhile.
Oh, and the motorcycles are pretty cool, too.