Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Princess Mia comes to town – A Meg Cabot Book Signing
There I am, standing in a sea of 9 – 16 year olds (something I haven’t done since schooldays!). There’s a buzz in the room as the crowd wait impatiently for the celebrated author to arrive. As I gaze around me I’m struck at how little girls have really changed “since I were a lass”. There’s the same self conscious behaviour, the same brittle confidence, the same embarrassment at parents.
“Moo-oom,” hisses one 11 year old, “I know they’re serving snacks, it’s not like I can’t see you know. No! I don’t want any! Moo-ooom!” It’s curious that the snacks are wolfed down by the mothers, while most of the kids say no; only 12 or 14 years old and already so horribly conscious of their appearance. And all of them are of course dressed in “regulation uniform” – skinny leg jeans, ballerinas or boots, and long hair.
There’s a commotion near the back of the bookstore and an excited buzz ripples through the crowd. “Ooh, there she is, there she is!” and Meg Cabot walks towards the podium.
“Just look at you guys!” she says, “You’re like all so gorgeous. And thank you for coming out on what I’m told is a horrible night in Cape Town!”
Appreciative squeals and giggles ripple through the crowd.
“But oh my god, where are your tiaras? Oh come on, didn’t they tell you had to wear a tiara. But like, you should have known that. Okay, so tell me, like when can you wear a tiara?” says Cabot, herself sporting a sparkly tiara on her head.
“When you visit someone,” offers one young thing.
“When we meet you?” says another.
“Of course!” says Cabot, “when you meet me. And when you get married…”
There’s nervous laughter at this.
She goes on to tell her young audience about the importance of living your dream, of life being short and it being important to do what you love. But in the same breath, she talks about the rejections.
“I had so many rejections, I had like a whole US postal bag full of them – that’s like ‘this’ big! You know I was getting so many rejections I figured, like, you know, all the publishers in New York must be on crack. There must be like, a crack epidemic. Then one of them got off it and accepted my novel…”
She talks in a kind of sing-song way, bubbling and vivacious. She talks their language and connects with them not as an adult per se, but as a sort of űbercool older sister. They in turn hang on her every word and giggle in all the right places. I find myself smiling both at how she holds them and their enthusiasm. It’s kind of, like, you know, infectious - or whatever...
I wonder how on earth she sustains it. She’s exhausted – I can sense that, her luggage has been lost and she’s clearly working to a hectic schedule on this book tour. I wonder, if faced with any of it, how I would cope. I also, looking at her audience, recognise that they are not my audience. I was never the Princess Mia sparkly, ditzy kind of teen and my writing today is most probably not for that audience either. It starts to make me wonder just who might be in any audience I might one day face.
Cabot, a prolific author, goes on to talk her about her children's books (she also writes for adults) and her ways of reaching her market. She has a Facebook account (this I already knew since I’m like, you know, “friended” to her, along with a gazillion others), a MySpace account, a Beebo account, she has a Meg Cabot.com website (where she hosts message boards and a blog) as well as a Meg Cabot.co.uk site and soon Princess Mia will be getting her own website. Her publishers are running a Meg Cabot Ambassador programme. Kids sign up to be an ambassador – they get free books, provided they promote Cabot’s books to their friends.
I’m amazed at how much of the marketing is electronic – almost the whole customer relationship management side of her marketing is done via the internet – aside from the book tours and books signings. But the key marketing focus, it strikes me, aside from having a decent product, is customer relationship management. It’s interesting that in an increasingly competitive market authors are having to focus less on their product and far more on customer relationships in order to up and sustain sales figures. It’s no longer solely about how good the book is, but it’s also about how accessible you are to your market and how you woo them. That gives authors two full time jobs rolled into one – writer/entertainer and marketer. No more sequestering yourself away in the drafty attic or garden shed, if you want to succeed.
Cabot opens the floor to questions.
“What’s your favourite book?” asks one teen.
“I love them all equally,” she says, “You know, just like your mother tells you she love all of you, all your brothers and sisters the same - like yeah…Whatever! So yeah, I love them all equally, because, like, you know, I don’t want any of them to get upset.”
“You’ve like, set the bar quite high for guys in your book…” says one girl.
“Well, yeah, but like Jesse is a ghost… But no seriously, the nice guys are out there, they’re just the ones sitting like right at the back of the classroom, too shy to talk to you.”
“Which of your books do you like the least?”
“Well, like, I don’t dislike any of them. I can’t say I do because my publishers are here.”
It’s interesting that there are questions she will not answer, questions to which she simply says, “No, I’m not going to answer that.”
“What’s the best place you’ve been to,” asks one girl.
“Cape Town! Like duh, you think I don’t know how to answer that question!”
With the questions over, Cabot moves off to do her book signings - followed by a mob of excited teens who just can’t believe their luck. Me? I duck out and head off for sushi and champagne!