On the first Friday in March the Friends of the Library held a fundraiser in our little town. My wife is a member of the Friends, and I was brought along to set chairs.
Admission was five dollars. The food was free. The Friends sold wine and beer, and there was a live auction of some nice things. I hoped the Friends would raise enough to cover the appearance fee of the speaker, New York Times bestselling mystery author William Kent Krueger, who would be driving out from his home in the nearest large city an hour away.
We set about 75 chairs. A few minutes after the doors opened, we scoured meeting rooms and offices for more. Krueger arrived with the members of the Friends who had taken him to dinner, and he opened a suitcase and put out the trade paperbacks and hard cover books that he brought for sale. People approached him with copies of his books, and he graciously signed them. Then he moved through the crowd, engaging people in conversation for several minutes each. He insisted on paying for his own beer.
Then it was time for Krueger to speak. He took the microphone, smiled at the audience, and spoke very little about his books. He asked for applause for the Friends of the Library and urged listeners to join. He said he arrived early to drive the streets of the town, and voiced his positive impressions. He spoke about how the public library is the first thing to be cut in a municipal budget pinch, but that we need to support our libraries as the only repositories of our culture.
When Krueger spoke about his writing, he talked about the personal connections with people that helped him form his character Cork O’Connor, the Irish/Ojibwe protagonist in his series of 16 (and counting) mystery novels. He spoke about his appreciation for publishers and editors, and for bookstores and not-for-profits that had supported him in his work. He spoke about what compelled him to write his award winning stand alone novel “Ordinary Grace,” how he had been given a boatload of money for a sequel, and how after struggling with the story he tried to give the money back. Many of the people in the room had read some of his books. Very few had met him. He was warm, approachable, friendly, honest and open. By the end of his talk, everyone liked him.
The auction, the principal fundraising event, followed Krueger’s talk. He had donated two items to be auctioned off, and he bid on several items also. My wife won a very nice hand made afghan before she realized she was bidding against Krueger. There was one item in the auction that I really wanted, and I got it: my chance for literary immortality. With my winning bid, I will be the main character in a William Kent Krueger short story, to be submitted to and most assuredly published by a magazine of his choice. We exchanged email addresses, and I have provided him with plenty of information about me for the story.
After the auction Krueger went to his display of books and began signing copies. I don’t know how many he sold. He left with a lighter suitcase and a bag of money and checks.
The crowd slowly left and just a few of us were still there. Krueger asked about his appearance fee. He was handed the check, and then he tore it up for the promise that the Friends would apply the money to a specific library program.
I spoke to Krueger for only a few minutes. It was about marketing. He stressed with me what I had just witnessed, a personal outreach to and a genuine appreciation for those people who are willing to read what he has written. This approach has grown his readership, his wide circle of friends, and his career.