A Cutpurse, A Wimpy Kid, A Tremendous Crowd

Alison Morris -- February 5th, 2008

Last Thursday was a big day for Wellesley Booksmith. First, Linda Buckley-Archer made a brief stop at our store to sign stock and charm our socks off. Authors don’t get much nicer than this one! I thoroughly enjoyed the time Linda and I spent chatting, while she graciously signed copy after copy of her Gideon books for us.

Linda wrote about her visit to our store on her trip blog, which is apparently receiving 6,000 hits a day! Yowza! You know your books are popular when approximately 6,000 people are following your daily affairs.

Below Linda talks with Kristine Van Amsterdam and two of her daughters, Juliana (in the stripes) and Olivia (in orange). Missing from this photo is the third Van Amsterdam daughter, Katrina — my "teenage sidekick" and occasional guest reviewer. The Van Amsterdam family are HUGE Linda Buckley-Archer fans and have given her books away to almost everyone they know. I can’t imagine a higher compliment!

Less than an hour after Linda left the store, a crowd began assembling in our store’s Used Book Cellar, eagerly anticipating the start of our event with Jeff Kinney — the first stop on his Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules tour. When people began showing up at 5pm for a 6pm event, I knew we had reason to be worried….

As this event had garnered considerably more pre-event publicity than almost all of our previous events, I’d been figuring all week that we would probably overfill our events space, guessing that we might attract a crowd of about 150 people. As the Wellesley Free Library was unavailable the night of our event and we couldn’t move it to a school on late notice, or hope to notify people if we *did* we had to make do with what presentation space we had.

To do this we cleared all mobile bookcases out of our Used Book Cellar and set out just one row of chairs, along the back wall of the room The rest of the space was left open, so that we could seat kids on the floor and pack them as close together as seemed reasonable. I used masking tape to mark off an aisle through which Jeff could enter, exit, and "work the crowd" then stuck felt cheese to the floor in the aisle. Anyone who sat in the aisle would therefore be in danger of getting the cheese touch!! (If you’ve read Jeff’s books this will make sense to you.)

All of these preparations, though, plus seven years of events experience didn’t prepare me for the crowd we got: somewhere between 250 and 300 Jeff Kinney fans mobbed the store!! UNBELIEVABLE!

The down side of this was that not everyone got to see Jeff’s presentation — there was simply NO way we could accommodate everyone in our basement space, and having him make his presenation upstairs on the sales floor would have possibly allowed more people to hear him but even fewer would have been able to see and Jeff himself would most likely have gone hoarse. We eventually (even before the clock struck 6!) had no choice but to cut off the flow of families entering the basement. We even asked if there were adults in the room who’d give up their seats to accommodate disappointed kids. Anyone who didn’t make it into the basement for the presentation had to settle for getting some Kinney face time in the signing line. We all felt terrible about this, but what else could we do?

I was trapped in the front corner of the room during Jeff’s presentation, so my photo capabilities were SORELY limited, but I did snap a shot or two, which I’ll post here so you can see what the basement crowd scene was like. As if the angle isn’t bad enough, I didn’t have a chance to ask for photo permissions from the entire crowd so I’ve blurred these pictures quite a bit. Still, you should be able to pick up on the event "feeling" from this!

In the back right-hand corner of the room are the stairs leading up to the main sales floor. Notice that people are crowded into the stairwell too! (But, YES, there’s easy access to a fire exit on the basement level, so there was no cause for worry.)

The toughest crunch of the evening was when this sea of people left the basement to proceed upstairs for the signing line. It was slow going at first, but eventually we got everyone upstairs and lined up in order of the numbered tickets we’d handed them on the way in. I stood up on the counter at our back register to direct traffic, and the view from there, looking toward the front of our store, was like this:

 Unfortunately I didn’t turn around and a take shot of the back of our store (I had my mind on more important things!), but the back was where Jeff sat to sign books, looking very much like this throughout the evening:

We offered to get books personalized for families who couldn’t hack the wait and many took us up on the offer, thinning out the crowd somewhat, which was helpful. Those who stuck with it, though, seemed to be relatively pleased with the speed at which things were moving. Most of them spent their waiting time in EXACTLY the same fashion as Elizabeth Collins, Max Collins, and Dominic Giugliano, shown in the photo below:

All in all things went INCREDIBLY well, considering that no one knew we’d be quite this overrun for an author who has so far published just two books! Jeff was funny and gracious and sincerely happy to meet every one of his budding young fans, who asked him some surprisingly astute questions and shared some very entertaining observations. Oddly enough, the character they seem to find funniest in his books is MANNY!! During Jeff’s Q&A several cheered for the idea that he should do a book starring Manny. Jeff responded that he wasn’t sure it would work very well to write a novel starring a character with a one-word vocabulary. Ladies and gentlemen, the gauntlet has been thrown!

It’s great to see two people as down-to-earth and good-natured as Linda Buckley-Archer and Jeff Kinney finding themselves at the center of so much attention and seeing them turn so many kids on to books! Abrams Books has already sold through the entire first print run of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules which currently tops the New York Times Bestseller List in the Chapter Books category. In the number two slot sits Diary of Wimpy Kid, which has been on the list for 41 weeks. Amazing to think of the number of kids who’ve discovered it in that time. In comparison it makes our Kinney crowd look tiny!

(If you missed it, be sure to listen the interview with Jeff that aired on NPR
Saturday, Feb. 2nd.)

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