LOS ANGELES — Celebrities are easy to spot in Southern California if you know what you’re looking for–specifically, handsome people in baseball hats and sunglasses.
“That’s Ted Turner in front of us,” a stranger says to me.
“Hard to tell with that hat,” I say, “but the woman with him is definitely not Jane Fonda.”
“Jane Fonda? Oh, honey, they haven’t been together for ages. Where have you been?”
Good question. Let’s see. I started the year in Florida, studying fiction and doing radio interviews between classes. Then it was Denver, Washington, Pittsburgh, Houston, Dallas, Providence, South Pasadena, Whittier, and finally, Los Angeles, home to Book Expo 2008, where the stranger and I spot Ted Turner on the escalator.
“I’ll bet he’s here promoting his new book,” the stranger says.
“Aren’t we all.”
* * *
“Hey! Have you heard about Mouse Puzzles? It’s the next Sudoku. Come on over, let me show you.”
It’s the guy in the booth next to mine. He’s a math whiz, and not a bad hawker. He came up with an idea for a new puzzle, published game books on his own, and now offers them to each and every passerby.
“Do you ever read mysteries?”
That’s my pitch. Everybody with a booth has one. That’s what Book Expo is–about one-thousand pitchmen behind banners and displays and sample material. Mostly it’s books, but there’s lots of other stuff. Candy, office equipment, library cataloging systems. Everybody’s selling something.
“Do you ever read mysteries?” I say to a middle-aged man.
He approaches. “No, but I know who does. Do you have a public relations program?”
Oops. Seems like not all the pitchmen are behind booths.
* * *
I gave away over 100 books at this year’s Book Expo. Can’t say what good it’ll do me, if any, but last year, Book Expo people took 85 copies of Big Numbers and I developed half a dozen book signings and library appearances from those contacts. I’d like to think I found some new readers, too, people who may have bought Big Money since then.
The way I look at it, mystery writers who make money on their first few books are rare. They may not even exist. The idea is to build readership with each new book in the series, finally reaching mystery stardom after, say, five or six books.
Hey, I can dream, can’t I?
* * *
“Let me ask you something, okay?”
It’s the guy on the other side of me, one of two online publishing partners from Singapore. They don’t have much of a pitch, but they don’t care about selling books either. They say they are in Los Angeles to meet women.
“If the street is named Rodeo Drive, why do people here say ‘row-DAY-o.’”
“I have no clue,” I say. “And I grew up here. I think you probably want to ask the next woman walking by in sunglasses and a baseball hat.”