Mimicking Stephen Colbert’s book heroic efforts to promote Edan Lepucki’s debut novel, California, bookseller Kate Rattenborg, who owns Dragonfly Books in Decorah, Iowa, is working hard to pump up sales of June Melby’s debut, My Family and Other Hazards.
The book, a memoir, is about Melby's experience growing up in a family that owned a Tom Thumb miniature golf course in north-central Wisconsin. While publisher Henry Holt declined to provide sales figures for My Family and Other Hazards--which hit shelves in July and landed at #14 on the New York Times' sports titles bestsellers list for that month--the house's v-p of publicity, Patricia Eisemann, disclosed that 25% of the book’s sales have been in Iowa’s “local and regional” bookstores. And Holt believes, as Eisemann put it, that this feat is "directly attributable" to Rattenborg, and her handselling efforts.
Dragonfly has sold 164 hardcover copies of My Life and Other Hazards, to date; the number, Rattenborg declared to PW, “is a lot for our small store.” Rattenborg said the memoir was Dragonfly's top seller in July and August; in July, My Family and Other Hazards accounted for 10% of the store's sales (in dollars).
Rattenborg, who first read an ARC of Melby’s memoir in March, printed 100 oversize bookmarks that she distributed to customers who bought My Family and Other Hazards, suggesting that they recommend the book to others. “Tell everyone you know (and those you don’t know),” the card read. “And ask them to purchase the book at an indie store.” On the flip side of the card, Rattenborg listed Melby’s national tour dates this summer and fall, and included broadcast dates and times for two major radio interviews with her, scheduled on Wisconsin Public Radio. Rattenborg also has been promoting the book on social media, including Facebook and Pinterest. Melby’s author events at other bookstores are even posted on Dragonfly’s Facebook page.
“It's easy to promote a book that is so well written and so funny,” Rattenborg told PW. “I had tears running down my cheeks when I read it--sometimes from laughter, sometimes not. It is funny, touching, unexpected in many ways.”
Rattenborg first met Melby when she read from what became the introductory pages to My Family and Other Hazards during an event at Dragonfly in 2012. The two also have geography in common. Rattenborg and Melby grew up in the same Wisconsin town (Waupaca) and now both live in Iowa. After receiving her MFA in nonfiction from the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Melby moved to Decorah a few years ago, and is a regular customer at Dragonfly, which hosted her book launch party, on July 8.
Rattenborg hasn’t just been pushing My Family and Other Hazards to her customers, either; she’s also been promoting the book to other booksellers. She nominated it as a Midwest Independent Booksellers Association Midwest Connections selection, and has suggested to other indies that they consider scheduling events with Melby at their stores.
“Kate's a real go-getter. When she puts her mind to something, she gives it 110%,” noted David Enyeart, manager at St. Paul, Minn.’s Common Good Books. Common Good hosted Melby on July 30, along with author Jeff Miller, who wrote Scoop: Notes from a Small Ice Cream Shop (Minnesota Historical Society Press, May). Common Good, Enyeart said, sold approximately 18 copies of each book at its event.
Melby is currently on tour, with stops in bookstores in Minnesota and Wisconsin this month. The tour will wind up in Los Angeles on Sept. 22, with an appearance at Book Soup.
Correction: Rattenborg and Melby both grew up in Decorah. Melby and her family spent their summers in Waupaca, Wisc.