Five Things I Learned at ALA

After a brief and incredibly productive hiatus, I’m back in blogger mode!1  This last week was an exciting one, as it officially marked the debut of Peter Nimble. Well, pre debut.

Every year the American Library Association holds an annual conference wherein a million librarians descend on an unsuspecting town.2  A post about ALA is basically a post about hanging out with amazing authors, librarians, editors, and illustrators.  Instead of name-checking all the swell people I spent time with (save that for Twitter), I’ve decided to write a post about the five things I learned from my time at ALA:

1)  Always Wear a Name Tag

For many years, I have considered myself too cool for name tags.  In the same way that I refuse to run across busy streets (why run when you can walk slow and scowl?), I also refused to wear name tags.  This changed at ALA.  As I was about to pocket my name tag, a woman beside me saw it and exclaimed “You’re taller than I thought you’d be!”3  This woman was author Jo Whittemore, and she promptly introduced me to the Texas Sweethearts author clan.  Within seconds, I was on my way to lunch with a half-dozen YA novelists who had plenty of good advice for a nervous newbie.  That never would have happened without the name tag.

I also noticed that wearing a name tag seems to improve conversation.  I forgot to wear it to a few events, and those were the same events where small talk stayed small — never really moving beyond “Where are you from?” and “Oh, the humidity!”   I realize now that the purpose of a name tag isn’t to help identify yourself on a handshake, but to help five minutes after the handshake.  It allows the person talking to you to casually glance down and remind themselves who you are … and the less time they spend thinking “What’s his name again?” the more time they can spend actually having a real conversation.


2)  Ugly Ducklings Abound

I had a chance to to talk with a number of authors and illustrators about how their careers started.  More than a few of them had published in obscurity for years before hitting it big.  Some were trapped on the midlist.  Others had their aquiring editors change jobs, leaving their books orphaned at the house.   A few were even dropped outright.  This really hit home when I heard Brian Selznick talking with Horn Book editor Roger Sutton.  He alluded to a frustrating period during which he could only get hired to draw biographies of dead presidents.  From that dark period came Hugo Cabret — a book that changed both his career and (arguably) children’s literature.  This was but one of probably a dozen stories I heard with the same trajectory.

This is a good reminder for me as I’m about to send a book I love out into the world.  This industry can be a real crap shoot.  Sometimes great books can fall through the cracks.  Sometimes terrible books are huge hits.  The key thing for a writer is to keep believing that the greatest story they will ever tell has yet to be written.

3)  Stay Humble

Related to the above lesson, I noticed how much of an impression it makes when a successful author hasn’t  lost sight of the fact that they were once merely aspiring.  This lesson was perfectly illustrated when I had the privilege of eating dinner with Abrams authors Tom Angleberger and Jeff Kinney.4  Jeff is a HUGE author.  He’s pretty much ruled the publishing industry for the last few years.  When he met both Tom and I, he asked us the same question:  “What was it like when you got the call saying you were going to be published?”  It was clearly a go-to question for him, and one that speaks to his character.  For him to ask other authors about “the call” not only graciously indicates that he considers us his peers, but also acts as a reminder that all the Wimpy Kid success he’s enjoyed is actually just gravy.  The dream-come-true part of his life has nothing to do with bestseller lists, merchandising, or feature films … it is simply that he got to be published at all.

4) Don’t Tell Lauren Myracle Anything

One night at a party, a woman with whom I had been chatting mentioned that she thought I resembled Seth Rogen — not the most flattering comparison I’ve ever gotten.5   Even worse, my wife hates Seth Rogen, and she often uses his name as a sort of shorthand to describe all that is wrong with mankind.  I mentioned this unfortunate comparison to YA author Lauren Myracle at the Newbery Banquet.  Lauren is not one to pass up this sort of information (by “this sort of information,” I mean information that will allow her to mock you), and she promptly brought it up to the whole table — at which point I was forced to sit through a serious debate over whether or not the comparison was apt.  Then she started bringing other people into the mix.  For the rest of the night, I had strangers coming up to tell me I looked like this actor.  The highlight was when an older librarian tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was “Steph Rogaine” …

I have a henceforth enacted a “Don’t tell Lauren Myracle anything” policy;  I would advise you all to do the same.

5) Librarians Love Free Crap

This weekend marked my first ever Peter Nimble signing event!  Before the big night,  a few experienced authors warned me that signings for debut authors can be humbling — nobody knows you, so why would they want to wait in a line to talk? This is probably true, but none of these authors knew that my publisher had armed me with a secret weapon:  free crap!

The above picture is of the special eyeball tote that Abrams was giving away with copies of Peter Nimble.  Within about thirty seconds of the doors opening, I had a line around the corner  — all eager to get a bag.  Here is a picture of my first ever signature for librarian and blogger @Jenbigheart:

The second day was even better, and we ran out of ARCs after 20 minutes!  Even after the books were gone, people were running up to the booth asking about the eyeball bags.


Never again will I doubt the power of SWAG.  Speaking of, for those of you who missed out on scoring a free copy of the book, know that I will be doing a ton of Peter Nimble giveaways this month, so stay posted!

  1. While I cannot promise that I will never take breaks from blogging, I can promise that I will only take breaks in order to write new books for you to read — as was the case this month.
  2. I think the actual number was something under 30,000.  But still, that’s a lot of ladies in glasses.  For a video-look at the weekend, check out Travis Jonker’s post here.
  3. I get this a lot.  Apparently I look short in my headshot.
  4. Tom’s kindness to me on this trip cannot be understated — he is truly a Gentleman among men.
  5. For the record, the most flattering comparison I’ve gotten is “they guy who plays Darth Maul” … which I’ve gotten repeatedly.

18 Comments Leave a Comment

  • Kelly says:

    Writing new books, as in, you’re working on one that’s not Peter Nimble now?? You only look about 2 inches tall in your headshot, so yeah, anything over that would surprise me. Also, Peter Nimble giveaways sound Awesome!!

  • kbryna says:

    I got to go to ALA once, when I worked (briefly) at Reading Is Fundamental. It was in Atlanta, in 2002, and it was dizzyingly awesome. I knew only one-onehundredth of the books & names & things I know now, and I was still dazzled. (Also dazzling was the fact that my RIF per diem meant that I could order a $10 dish of vanilla ice cream delivered to my room at the hilton.)
    Eyeball bag….hmmmm. A little creepy, but apropos, I guess (guess because I have not read the book). A spectacles bag would be SUPER awesome. OR! better still! A *monocle* bag!

    Someday, when Peter Nimble is in paperback and/or turns up at yard sales or rummage sales on the “children’s books for 50cents” table, but the woman at the checkout charges me as if it is an adult book, because it doesn’t LOOK like a children’s book, then I will read your book with enthusiasm and verve. OR I’ll read it when I win it. Though the only thing I have ever won in my whole life is an ENORMOUS, truly ENORMOUS, stuffed parrot from a school raffle of some kind when I was roughly 10 years old. The parrot was larger than I was, and was the cheap carnival kind that is stuffed with something strangely hard and unforgiving. I loved that parrot for the sole reason that I had *won* it.

    Congrats on a clearly very successful ALA!!!!

  • Lisa says:

    Why oh why don’t I ever get invited to these things? Even my computer-programming, non-book-reading brother has been to ALA. Books, new books, and book people all grazing around free book-related swag? That sounds like heaven to me.

    p.s. your slip is showing: eluded s/b alluded.

  • Lisa,
    Your blog is pretty fantastic! Also, thanks for the typo-spot!

    Glad to know I’ll at least have two entrants for any drawings! I should warn you, however, that no book could ever live up to a giant stuffed parrot.

  • Todd says:

    Jonathan, I was honoured to be a part of #4! Thanks for your good sportsmanship in taking all the ribbing.

  • Todd,
    It was great hanging out with you at the banquet! Being raised with two siblings, I am keenly aware that ribbing is an essential love language. My only regret is that I cannot dish it out half so well as Lauren. (I think it’s the Canadian in me.)

  • josh says:

    Congrats on one step closer to knocking that Stephanie Meyer woman off her pedestal, hombre. Buena Suerte!

  • alex says:


    i mean, i want peter nimble too, but i know where to pre-order that. i have no idea where to get the bloodshot orb handbag.

  • It was great to meet you, receive the ARC (which I can’t wait to read!), and score the coveted eyeball bag – although one of my daughters promptly claimed it when I arrived home. Best bag of the conference – hands down. Best wishes with the book, Lisa @ shelf-employed

  • Very honored that I have your first autograph! I love the illustration of the dino eating Texas. The picture will go up in my ALA wrapup post – when I write it. ;)

    Ps, yes, librarians love free crap!


  • Allison says:

    Awesome post! Sounds like you had an amazing time at ALA. Love the story about Jeff Kinney. And Lauren Myracle, hee. Hope you go again next year.

    Looking forward to Peter Nimble!

  • Matt Bird says:

    I too must have an eyeball bag!

  • Jean Reidy says:

    Wow! What a great post. I seriously need to rethink my swag. But I’m not sure a pickle hat could ever compete with an eyeball bag.
    Thanks for this fun peek at ALA11.

  • Dave Roman says:

    Great and useful post! Especially the part about name badges. People used to tell me they were not cool, but I really have come to appreciate them for the exact reasons you described!

  • Wait…this IS Seth Rogen’s blog, right? You’re funny, Seth, but not nearly as dashing and huggable as Jonathan Auxier. But hey…you cld make a Peter Nimble movie! Yeah! Cuz Peter Nimble looks JUST LIKE YOU!!!

  • Nice try, Lauren. I know this is just a ploy to get me to tell you more stuff…

  • Roboseyo says:

    I stopped liking Seth Rogan somewhere between that “Date Rape” movie and the “Racist White Overlord” movie (the one where he played the mall cop, and the one where he played the old fashioned superhero). He’s basically the Hollywood equivalent of the internet meme, “Privilege denying dude” now. Which is sad because he was really watchable back in his “Ensemble cast” 40 year old virgin days.

    My favorite Jono “looklike” was when Ben called you Turtle-face during a game of Zip-Bong (which I used to teach to my kid students).

  • Steph says:

    1. Though I didn’t get your autograph I did get Peter and am super excited!
    2. Stop worrying I rode on the bus with you and you look NOTHING like Seth Rogan!

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