Woke up at 6 AM to drive across Pennsylvania, a state that has come to seem endlessly long. I arrived an hour early and found the bookstore from my itinerary in a strip mall anchored by K-Mart. The store itself was between Famous Footware and Payless Shoes. Then I left the parking lot in search of a place that might have a bathroom, where I could change my clothes. That turned out to be a bagel place. So there I am, buying bagels in jeans and fleece, using the bathroom, and reappearing dressed for my appearance.
There was no sign in the window, no employee of the bookstore interested in saying hello. Only a table and a stack of books. If I say there were only two people there, you might feel sorry that I drove all morning for nothing, but in fact, one of the people who showed up was an honest-to-goodness fan, a woman who contacted me some time ago to tell me that she loved Loving Rachel so much she reread it and wondered where Rachel was now. And when I told her about the new book, she read that and drove to the bookstore on Saturday with her lovely, very patient 14-year-old daughter. She was more upset than I. The second person was Rachel Simon, who wrote Riding the Bus with My Sisterâ€”a book she vigorously promoted, full time for four years. Before her book’s publication she’d worked in a bookstore, so she immediately rearranged the stacks of my book, hawked the book to strangers, insisting that a few of them buy a copy, made me sign all of them, and then pulled me aside and lectured me to very good effect on the importance of marketing my own work.
The next day, a friend hosted an event at her house and about 15 people attended. It was a terrific groupâ€”very interested in the book itself and, as a group, very insistent that I get out there and promote the book.
Drove home in the pouring rain. Exhausting. Absolutely worth it.
Jane Bernstein, a professor of English and creative writing at Carnegie Mellon University, is the author of Rachel in the World: A Memoir, Loving Rachel: A Family’s Journey from Grief, Bereftâ€”A Sister’s Story, and other books. For more, visit www.janebernstein.net.