I published my first poplar managerial oriented book in 1989, with my longtime friend and coauthor, Charles (Chuck) Manz. The title of the book was “SuperLeadership: Leading Others to Lead Themselves.”
Chuck and I worked very hard on the book, and… OK… I must confess we had some high hopes and dreams. I recall we talked about how we would handle it when we were interviewed on the Today show, or with Larry King. I guess it doesn’t hurt to dream, and it helps the motivation when it comes to the plodding day-by-day hard work of actually getting the book finished.
Chuck once asked me what I would do with the royalties, and I jokingly said I would buy a 45 ft. motor boat and call it “SuperLeadership”
We finished the book, and, after a long hard journey, we finally did find a publisher. We were relatively pleased with this publisher, and were totally blown away when we visited our editor in his 15th floor office overlooking Central Park in New York City. We had a discussion about promoting the book and other aspects of the publication process, but he was not very enthusiastic (and, he showed us the mock cover where my name had been misspelled!).
The book was published, and I did get some nice cooperation from the Public Information department at University of Maryland, who put out several public information releases. Also, my public speaking invitations picked up because of the book. I had sort of expected that we might “go on tour” to promote the book, but that never happened. The reality is that our publisher was better at “talk” than real action.
A few months after the publication, I received a call from the manager of the university book store in College Park Md, which was located in the student union in the middle of the campus. This was long before Amazon and Kindles, and it was a big and busy store. Also, the store had a prominent section of books by campus professors, and I had seen our book prominently displayed shortly after it was published.
The manager inquired if I would be interested in coming down for a book signing. He explained that they sometimes had faculty book signings on the Saturday’s of big football games, because the traffic through the store was extremely good. He said they would set up a table with a poster and a stack of our books.
Wow! Was I flattered! Me doing a book signing! Of course, I said yes, and we set a date. I got on the phone to our publisher immediately so that he would be sure to ship plenty of books. I think we shipped a hundred or so.
So, signing day arrived, and I got down to the book store in plenty of time. I even wore a tie for the occasion! The store had done all they had promised, and there was a table with a poster, and a big stack of books very close to the checkout counters. I brought a half-dozen thick black pens so I would be sure not to run out. I think the signing was scheduled from about 11 to 12:30 or so, in order to get the before-game traffic. I sat down excited and ready to go.
In fact, the traffic through the story was pretty heavy. There were quite a few people moving back and forth past my table. The clock moved to 10:59, and I sat, with my pen on the table, eager to start the signing.
By 11:15, I was starting to get worried. Most of the people passing by looked at me and at the poster, nervously smiled… avoided eye contact…I could see them think a bit… I could sense the “huh!” that went on in their mind as they finally realized what the table was there for. But, no paying customers yet… no one wanted a signature.
I had not brought a book of my own to read, so I started to get both embarrassed and bored at the same time. So, with nothing to do, I started to read my own book. Actually, I thought it was pretty good, but still… no customers.
I read on for a while, and I said hello to 4 or 5 people that I knew… but even my friends did not offer to buy a book. I was really embarrassed!
A little after noon, I was surprised to see that Laurie had shown up. She had driven over to the campus to support me and to see how things were going. She asked me how many I had sold, and when I said “zero”…. well…. she just started laughing, and I started to giggle too. We both laughed for a few minutes, and she said stick to it, and left. (Still, she didn’t buy a book.)
Finally, the ending time came, and I was totally mortified, but grateful the ordeal was over. The Assistant Manager came by to see how I had done, and when I said “zero sales”, he gave me a big smile. He said, “Well, it happens!” … suggesting other authors had had the same experience, but it still did not make me feel any better. I concluded it was one of the most embarrassing days of my life.
When I got home and reported the zero again to Laurie, again, we both had a big, big laugh. The whole situation seemed to be a supreme absurdity. It was depressing. I guess I knew then I would not be getting a 45 ft. boat nor an appearance on Larry King.
I don’t want to leave off on this negative note however. Over time, I realized that the reputation and visibility stemming from the book were considerable, and it was immensely valuable in my public speaking and executive development work. In my executive development, I always handed out a personally signed copy at the end of my session, and I realized that most of the people receiving the book were truly appreciative.
In addition, when the paperback version came out, I had a very gratifying experience of wandering into the book store at Chicago O’Hare Airport, and seeing a cardboard rack of our own book right next to the cashier. Since I had not yet seen the paperback version, I immediately bought a copy of my own book. I was tempted to ask the cashier if I could personally sign all of the books that were there, but I knew he would think I was crazy. (Later, Chuck told me he would sometimes go into a book store and ask to sign the copies of our book that were on the rack! Ha!)
And, several years later, when all of the counting was done, Chuck and I realized that we had sold over 100,000 copies of the book in various forms. The book was also translated into several foreign languages, and we also did a revision ten years later. This is not NY Times bestseller territory, but it was gratifying. Most of all, I did have a feeling that the message of the book had reached many people.
I wish I had a photo of me with my tie on, sitting at that table in the bookstore. I would enlarge it, frame it, and hang it over my desk with this label:
Don’t Lose Sight of Humility!
It’s great to have boundless dreams,
keep your pen on top and feet under the table
hope for at least one sale.