[Updated with corrections from Editor Charlie, who thinks I still need editing. He's right.]
I have seen the hardest-working man in literature and am in awe.
My pal Jeff Kinney, author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid
series, brought his new book tour through my county yesterday. First stop was 3 o'clock at a good independent bookstore called Copperfield's in the town of Petaluma, California, about half an hour from my home. Second stop was 7 o'clock at the Charles M. Schulz Museum & Research Center in Santa Rosa, about five minutes from my home. I tagged along.
I know Jeff because we have the same editor and publisher. I was at the 2006 New York Comic-Con the day Jeff handed his proposal to Editor Charlie, and Jeff's been gracious enough to say that he did so because my publisher Abrams had put out Mom's Cancer
(I actually heard Jeff's side of that story for the first time yesterday; modesty forbids me from repeating it, but it made me feel good). Before Jeff's first book came out, Editor Charlie got Jeff and me together so I could give him the honest straight dope about being an author. I impressed upon him that getting a book published would not change his life and the money truck would not be dumping piles of cash at his front door. Although solid advice for 99.7% of authors, it was spectacularly wrong for Jeff. He hasn't held it against me.
In 2009, I blogged about
accompanying Jeff to a signing in support of his fourth Wimpy Kid book, and compared it to being backstage with the Beatles. Now, in support of his eighth Wimpy Kid book (eighth?!
), it's more like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at Woodstock. Jeff has upped his game.
Four years ago, Jeff's entourage consisted of him and Publicist Jason. Bookstores were encouraged to come up with activities like scavenger hunts to keep the waiting kids occupied, but that was up to them. This time around, Jeff brought the entertainment with him, and the entourage consisted of Jeff, Publicist Jason (still!), two terrific employees of Jeff's named Anna and Shaelyn, plus a DJ, a fortune teller, a photo booth operator, another guy who did I don't know what, and enough equipment to open a small carnival, all in keeping with the "Hard Luck" theme of the new book (8 balls, wheel of fortune, games of chance, etc.). All that gear travels in a separate van that accompanies Jeff's rock-and-roll tour bus from town to town. He was also accompanied on this leg of the tour by Editor Charlie himself, who explained to me that the activities were Jeff's idea, all with the goal of keeping his young readers entertained.
|At Copperfield's in Petaluma, the DJ and other activities set up before Jeff arrived to keep the kids happy and busy while they waited. Later, as Jeff's signing line wound down, they disassembled and raced ahead to set up at the next location.|
|The Fortune Teller was a really great guy. He's a former school teacher and counselor, and so has a knack for sizing kids up and delivering a fortune that was sometimes eerily appropriate for them.|
|The Big Bus arrives, pulling in behind the van that'd already delivered the entertainment. That's my daughter Robin watching an impressive parallel parking job.|
|Talking with Jeff on the Big Bus as I signed a WHTTWOT for him. Anna at right wore a leopard cowl and cat make-up for one of the activities.|
|Editor Charlie, me and Jeff. Photo by my daughter Robin, who drove me to Petaluma so I wouldn't have to abandon a car there and could ride the Big Bus home. Thanks, Rob!|
A video of the line of people waiting to have their books signed by Jeff, which stretched out of the store, around the corner, down a little pedestrian alleyway, and through to the next block. For some reason I started at the back and worked my way to the front. Watch for a cameo by Editor Charlie doing the reverse at 1:10.
My admiration for Jeff's work ethic and stamina is sincere. Both Copperfield's and the Schulz Museum made 1000 free tickets available for book signing. Bear in mind that 2000 tickets doesn't mean 2000 books.
Many of Jeff's fans have the entire series and brought them all. And here's the nub:
I watched Jeff work for four or five hours and he asked every kid his or her name, made sure they each got a moment of his full attention, answered all their questions, posed for all their parents' photos (probably two out of three kids had someone there to take their picture with Jeff), smiled the whole time. I've seen authors with fewer fans shove readers through on an assembly line, no time for chat or photos, one book only, won't sign any books brought from home. Not Jeff. I don't know how he does it and I'm pretty sure I couldn't. It really was extraordinary.
|At Copperfield's, a photo with a fan. Shaelyn is getting the title pages open for the next in line.|
|Another fan, another photo. Multiply by 2000.|
|Copperfield's table has been autographed by every writer who's come through town so Jeff obliged when his signing was done. Maybe the coolest thing I saw him do all day: the son of the lady standing beside the table really wanted to be there but couldn't because he'd broken his foot. Jeff offered to call the boy, and they talked for a couple of minutes.|
After Petaluma, I boarded the Big Bus for the ride north to the Schulz Museum. Because who wouldn't? The carnival crew preceded us and had everything set up when we arrived. My wife Karen met us there, and Jeff ran around to try all the activities before settling in to sign. Again.
|Jeff and Editor Charlie inside the "Money Grab." The goal is to find the largest denomination bill you can, which predicts your future annual salary.|
|Editor Charlie, Jeff and I checking out one of the activities, a Wheel of Fortune spinning thingy.|
|Part of the signing line in the Great Hall of the Schulz Museum (note the Lucy and Charlie Brown mosaic along the back wall, where Jeff sat). Games were dispersed throughout both floors of the museum as well as the back patio. It looks sedate and organized in this photo, but in reality was a pretty raucous zoo.|
|I was briefly pressed into line duty, making sure people had all their books properly opened and stacked as they approached the signing table. Least I could do.|
|The DJ booth and dance floor at the Schulz Museum. This was early; things picked up.|
|Karen found this slip of paper on the ground and perceptively thought to take a photo of it. I don't know the context--if it was a homemade bookmark or something done as part of the event activities--but "Never give up; Education is good for you; Do your best" is solid-gold wisdom.|
|Karen was unavailable so I did the photo booth with Editor Charlie instead. |
Because we are both totally secure in our masculinity.
|Eating pizza with some Schulz Museum staffers after the signing. I asked Karen to |
bring the beer from home. You're welcome.
|After pizza, aboard the Big Bus: Jeff choosing karaoke that he forced his employees to sing to keep their jobs. I'm joking about the jobs but not the karaoke. Keep in mind that it's after 11 p.m. Pacific Time and all these people are on East Coast time (having flown in the day before). This is a level of energy to which I am unaccustomed.|
|Bidding farewell to the Big Bus and Editor Charlie in the museum parking lot. We shall meet again.|
It's not snowing, those're just water spots on the camera lens.
If anyone reading this is a Wimpy Kid fan and wants to go to a Jeff Kinney book signing, I think I can promise you a good time. If not, it won't be for lack of effort. Jeff's assembled a well-oiled machine that knows exactly how long it takes to set up a traveling side show, sign 1000 books and then move on, leaving everyone happy (except maybe the event hosts who don't know what hit them). I've never seen an author work harder for his or her fans.
I have good friends.