As an author and editor and small press publisher I've been involved in so many book launches that I've become accustomed to big being little. I mean, lately, if we gather 20 people in and sell 5 books, I'm happy. So that's why I feel the need to share this story that erases all of that. About a year ago, a high school classmate (class of '61) and I agreed to do one of the Images of America book series on our hometown for Arcadia Publishing. Mingo Junction, Ohio is a small industrial town along the Ohio River...total population about 3,700, though it was higher during the heyday of the steel industry. We had to convince Arcadia that the town had real character and that there would be an audience for such a book. We went on intuition and faith, and so did Arcadia, which by the way, is an extremely friendly and efficient operation. In case you haven't seen the books from Arcadia, I'll tell you that they are 90% photos (vintage mostly) with author introductions and captions. It's like a yearbook for a town, only instead of one year, you cover the whoe gamut...250 years in this case, going back to the Mingo Indians meeting George Washington along the banks of Cross Creek. Anyway, after the proposal and sample photos were accepted by Arcadia, we went to work on gathering the photos...talking with the senior citizens at their center, going into shops and restaurants and bars, calling and emailing anyone who might have saved photos of the town and its times. Though there was no local archives nor an historical society, town historians did emerge. We borrowed and scanned everything, over 1000 photos in all...knowing that only 230 could fit the 127 page format.
By October of 2011, we had organized the book, gathered the photos into sections, and written the captions. We waited a couple months to see proofs,corrected those and waited again. By January we began to plan a local book party to celebrate the book and the town. The steel mill has been shut down for 2 years now, and we knew the town could use a boost. Guy Mason, my co-editor, was intimate with this fact because he serves as the town auditor. Working with the Woman's Club of Mingo Junction we came up with the elementary school gymnasium as the only place large enough for a town event. Word went out through the local paper, the Herald Star, and on the internet. Books were ordered, posters were spread around town, a cake was ordered with an image of the old Mingo Show, cookies were baked, punch was whipped up.
And so, on Saturday March 5th, the Book and Town Celebration came about. I had prepared a 15 minute slide show of some of the best photos; even there, selection was difficult and painful. A dozen members of the Woman's Club decorated the place, Guy and I showed up with our wives to help set up; Bea Dailey, one of the photographers in the book, set up a poster display, and so the doors of the gym were opened on a very rainy afternoon. Slowly the crowd filtered in, and though we had planned to save the book signing for after the program, immediately a line formed at our book table. Guy and I, who had already co-signed 60 of the books, began inscribing and selling them to eager buyers. We chatted with them, and an easy intimacy enveloped the room. At one point, we had to beg the line to take their seats for the program. I welcomed folks and declared it as not a party for Guy and me but for the town and all that it meant to everyone. After the slideshow (powerpoint), we recognized and thanked those who were most helpful; a few spoke to the crowd of neighbors. John sang "I Left My Heart in Mingo Junction," and then we invited folks to share the goodies of the reception. They began talking with each other, recognizing old faces, sharing stories of their lives, while Guy and I went back to the table to sign books. The line now wrapped around the wall of the gym. At one point Guy had to go out to his car to haul in an additional 100 books he had thought to order. In this air of intimacy, people were talking of the town and their families while buying books for family members not there and having us write notes to them.
Two hours after the doors opened, we left the school, minus a great many books. If numbers speak, 200 people had attended and 180 books were sold, another 50 already purchased were signed. Someone figured it at about 8% of the town population. I had told Guy a few days before that I would pass out if we sold 100. Instead of passing out, I felt joyful and relieved that the town was going on through our book, being absorbed by the people who lived it. Our heartfelt intention throughout the making of the book was rewarded by acceptance and celebration. I had been doing this for 25 years, yet this, friends, was and is a book celebration to never be forgotten.
Causes Larry Smith Supports
peace and justice, meditation