The month of March 2020 will likely be remembered by Americans as the month when everything we accepted as normal got turned on its head. How strange it is to reflect on events that only transpired two weeks previous to my writing of this post. I speak not only for myself as project manager but also for the book’s author, Melissa Crandall, and for Roger Henneous’s family when I say we are extraordinarily lucky to have enjoyed a four-stop book tour for Elephant Speak: A Devoted Keeper’s Life Among the Herd in the first week of March. With gratitude, I’d like to share some of the joys of Melissa’s book tour in Oregon, which made for a successful launch week that we will all remember for a long time.
The publicity phase for Elephant Speak ramped up during the week before the launch, with features on the book and on Melissa’s upcoming tour. This included an informative feature by Amy Wang in The Oregonian and an article in The Bulletin by Brian McElhiney that highlighted bookstore events scheduled in the newspaper’s own town of Bend (also the hometown of the one and only Roger Henneous). On Tuesday, March 3, the day of the book’s release, Melissa arrived in Portland prepped for a busy week. On Wednesday, she appeared on both AM Northwest and Afternoon Live, where she was interviewed about the book. Her interviews are archived by each show and discoverable on KATU’s website.
Later that evening, our Elephant Speak launch event was hosted by the iconic Powell’s City of Books on Burnside. Melissa presented the book with warmth and perfect poise, sharing photos of Roger and the elephants as she spoke and answering a variety of questions with intelligence and humor. She thanked Ooligan Press, her traveling cohort, Roger’s family, and the rest of the crowd (an estimated 130 people in all), then signed every one of the fifty available copies of Elephant Speak, leaving me to get up and invite anyone who wanted books that night to Rogue Hall, where we would be able to sell a few more books from Ooligan’s own stash! The lesson of the tour was this: don’t underestimate the number of books you may have the opportunity to sell, especially at author events. We carried an extra box of books to each event after that, and we were glad we did.
Thursday saw a small group of us accompany Melissa to the Oregon Zoo, where she joined the regular Asian-elephant keeper’s talk by introducing the book about Roger Henneous’s life and career as a keeper and discussing his familiarity with current residents Rose-Tu and Shine. A past colleague of Roger’s and a few zoo staff who remembered him showed up in support and conversed with Melissa in the gift store while getting their copies signed. They passed on their good wishes for us to take to Roger in Bend.
Bookstore events on Friday and Saturday were held at Roundabout Books in Bend and Sunriver Books in Sunriver, respectively. Roger Henneous and his wife RoseMerrie, together with their daughters and other family, came out for both events. The Henneouses have all but adopted Melissa into their family, which is apparent as soon as you see them all together. Roger humored us by signing books at these events, making for a very special finale.
This project has taught me what the greatest powers of small presses are: focused attention on a few projects (instead of hundreds each year), strong author relationships, and intimate knowledge of a book’s story and content. These factors made all the difference in Ooligan’s ability to support Melissa, market the book to reflect its true focus, and get the book out to the right audiences via publicity and events. My last tip to all (which is especially applicable to nonfiction) is to define a book’s mission before release and then make it news. If you can’t say why your book is special, no one’s going to fill in that blank for you.
Thank you to all my fellow Ooligan managers and project-team members who helped Melissa bring this book to life. The message from Roger was this: “Crackin’ job, kids.”